Panthers vs. Oilers
Edmonton, Canada - The Florida Panthers have earned a reputation for being notoriously slow starters, but are counting on new acquisitions and a healthy David Booth to turn things around.
Florida opens its season Sunday night against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place.
Oddsmakers from online sports book BroburySports.com have made the Oilers –144 money line favorites for Sunday's game against the Panthers +133. Current MLB Public Betting Information shows that 68% of more than 341 bets for this game have been placed on the Oilers -144.
The Panthers, who have not had a winning month to open a season since 2005-06, acquired defenseman Dennis Wideman from Boston and signed left wing Chris Higgins to a one-year deal. They expect those moves, along with Booth's return, to provide a jump start.
Booth led the team with 31 goals during the 2008-09 season but missed 54 games last year due to post-concussion symptoms. He told the Panthers' official site that he's "100 percent" and excited about general manager Dale Tallon's offseason moves.
"Yeah, geez, we've got a pretty new team coming in here this season, and it looks like a good team," said Booth. "I think we're going to surprise a lot of people here."
Wideman put together back-to-back 13-goal campaigns heading into last season, but struggled until late in 2009-10. He finished with six goals and 24 assists over 76 regular-season games before recording a team-high 12 points in 13 games during the Bruins' playoff run.
Wideman should provide a huge boost on the blue line for the Panthers.
"I like it a lot. I'm getting settled in," he said. "I'm starting to get my bearings on where everything is. I'm liking a lot what I see and I'm getting excited."
Higgins recorded 20-goal campaigns in each of his first three full seasons in the league, but has moved around while struggling with injuries. He's worked hard to get back into shape and is optimistic about the upcoming season.
"It is an important year for me as far as the offensive end goes," he said. "I'm just trying to take it game-by-game and get off on the right foot is the most important thing."
It might take some time for the new pieces to gel, but goaltender Tomas Vokoun returns for his fourth season with the Panthers after posting a career-high seven shutouts and a .925 save percentage good for third in the league.
"We're not going in with any plan," coach Peter DeBoer said. "Tomas Vokoun is our starting goaltender. He's one of the best in the league. He went right after our season ended and I thought carried the Czech Republic to a world championship in the spring."
While Florida is looking to get off to a quick start, Edmonton (1-0) already did Thursday with a 4-0 win over division rival Calgary.
The Oilers were led by goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who stopped 37 shots en route to his 42nd career shutout.
"He was very steady and square to the puck," coach Tom Renney said. "He gave us a lot of confidence. He's been nothing but professional and a real solid teammate through this whole process. I don't expect that is going to change."
Jordan Eberle had an impressive NHL debut, racking up a short-handed goal and an assist in a game that he is likely to remember for quite some time.
"It was one of my nicer goals for sure," he said. "It was one of the more special ones I've had. You don't score your first NHL goal too many times."
Renney was pleased with his team's performance but told the Oilers' official site that it can't afford to get too far ahead of itself.
"I think we've just got to stay humble and realize that it's just one out of 82 games; there's going to be ups, there's going to be downs, but if we can stay on an even keel ? but carry confidence into the next game knowing that we can be a good team."The Oilers defeated Florida in a 3-2 shootout win during their last meeting Dec. 7, 2009.