When the Panthers play host at BankAtlantic Center this evening to the top team in the Eastern Conference in the New York Rangers, they’ll do so with new faces in the lineup and a familiar face out of action.
Nick Tarnasky, acquired Thursday from Nashville in exchange for Wade Belak, will be in the lineup this evening as will top prospect Shawn Matthias
Missing tonight will be Nathan Horton, who sustained a deep leg cut during Wednesday’s game against the Devils and will likely be out through next week’s road trip through New York and Washington.
Craig Anderson, who stopped 24 shots in relief Wednesday of Tomas Vokoun against New Jersey, gets his first career start against the Rangers, who lead the east with 34 points (16-7-2).
Tarnasky, 24, is a 6-2, 224-pound forward who had one assist in 11 games this season with the Predators while averaging 5:38 of ice time. A former ninth-round draft pick (287th overall) in 2003, Tarnasky had six goals and four assists for Tampa in 80 games last season.
Coach Peter DeBoer said Tarnasky will likely play on the wing this evening. He added that he will fill a similar role as Belak but be “a little more versatile as far as filling some different roles.”
GM Jacques Martin echoed DeBoer’s comments.
“I think he brings us more speed,” said Martin of Tarnasky. “He’s more of a physical presence, a player who can play more than Wade and help us on the forecheck and finish checks. We’re trying to get a line that can kind of swing momentum. You send them out there and bang people.
“You’re trying to get players to meet the needs of your coach. With Wade it was difficult to play him.”
DeBoer said team’s who don’t start well need to shake things up.
“Wade is a good man, he’s good at his job,” he said. “I think when you’ve had the start we’ve had, sitting in the standings, you have to expect changes are going to happen. Whether or not they’re warranted or whether or not the individual deserves to be moved, it really at this point doesn’t have a lot to do with it. Sometimes you just have to shake things up.”
DeBoer hopes Matthias can help shake things up as well. One of the Panthers’ top prospects, Matthias has struggled a bit in the American Hockey League with the Panthers’ Rochester affiliate. Rochester is a lowly 2-16-0-1, and Matthias has three goals and one assist in 19 games while being a minus-19. DeBoer said he’s hoping Matthias, who was flying in from Rochester Friday morning, can “inject some energy.”
“We know what he can do, he’s obviously a top prospect in the organization,” he said. “I don’t think things have gone as well as he’s wanted down in Rochester. Hopefully, this is an opportunity for him to send a message to the organization that he’s close and ready to play.”
Horton is “doubtful” for the upcoming road trip, according to DeBoer. “It was kind of a fluky thing,” he said of Horton’s injury. “There was a collision of three players and somebody’s skate came up and cut him. It cut right through the boot of the skate and it’s pretty significant.”STILLMAN IMPROVING SLOWLY
Cory Stillman said Friday morning he continues to make some progress in returning from symptoms of a concussion he suffered back on Nov. 2 in Atlanta.
“We’re moving along slowly,” Stillman said. “Obviously, you want to end this as quick as you can and we want to take the right steps. Right now they’re slow steps.”
Stillman has been exercising and is hoping he can start skating sometime in the “next couple days.” Stillman returned to play two games Nov. 12 and 14 before he experienced symptoms again.
“Maybe we’re a little more cautious this time, but it will pay off in the end.”