I have always pulled for the Panthers a little bit since they took the Beezer from us (via Vancouver) and thus have a tinge of sadness for how badly they stink. But only a tinge; these guys get to live and play in Florida when it isn't stiflingly humid and hurricane season. Plus, playing down in the Sunbelt means playing with no pressure as the rest of the NHL doesn't care about them. The Rangers often use their F-L-A road trips as holiday vacations and this year is no exception as they will be there on Thanksgiving and New Years. Hopefully they are able to celebrate and still skate away with two points over a team that has been building/rebuilding since their inception.
Familiar Foes: Tomas Vokoun alone makes the Panthers a competitive team. Bryan McCabe now wears their C while Cory Stillman and former Ranger Radek Dvorak are still quietly collecting NHL paychecks in the sun. Nathan Horton is gone but the Ranger-killer Stephen Weiss is still in Sunrise and David Booth should be mostly recovered from his horrible head aches from last season. This may finally be the year that long-time Panther prospects Michal Repik, Shawn Matthias (seen getting the 'business' from Rozy) and Michael Frolik show they are busts. May.
N00bz: Dave Tallon took over the team and immediately started bringing in a mix of players to build a new foundation for the franchise. He had to give up blueline stalwart Keith Ballard but got back the tough Steve Bernier and super-skilled Michael Grabner. Dennis Wideman came in the Horton trade to replace Ballard, and Florida added another Bruin in big Byron Bitz. Apparently Florida wasn't happy with former Ranger-property Steve MacIntyre as their tough guy so they signed Andrew Peters to help the feisty Mike Duco out with the police actions. Speaking of former Rangers, Chris "at least he tries" Higgins was also brought in; hopefully Smithtown can get his game back down there - I always pull for the local kids (as long as they aren't Islanders). The most underrated move made by Tallon may be the signing of Mike Weaver. Weaver is a steady defenseman who should help solidify the blueline while providing a good example to youngsters Keaton Ellerby, Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson.
Last Year: Saturday, Nov. 21st3-2 Panthers win; Wednesday, November 25th 2-1 Ranger shootout win; Wednesday, December 23rd 4-1 Ranger win; and Saturday, April 3rd 4-1 Ranger win.
This Year: Friday, November 26th in Florida; Sunday, January 2nd in Florida; Tuesday, January 25th @ MSG; Tuesday, March 22nd @ MSG.
What They Mean To Blue: The Rangers have historically struggled with younger, hungrier teams but even with all of the changes made, there shouldn't be much struggle this season - all of those new pieces need time to grow together. The Blueshirts got six out of eight points from them last season and anything less would be a disappointment this time around.