The Florida Panthers managed to win their division last season after a decade of futility, leading many to hail Dave Tallon as a genius who pulled off a single season rebuild. I was fairly skeptical, noting how they had a worse goal differential than the Habs who had the mis-fortune to be last in the East and that Florida was winning a wildly disproportionate amount of close games which lead me to call them a fluke team.
Florida doesn't seem to hold to set line combinations recently, injuries and poor play have resulted in large numbers of lineup shakeups. I've gone with their most frequently used units in their last game to reconstruct what they might ice tonight but that could easily be out the window 10 minutes into this match.
Last season the Panthers largely got by with the lines centered by Weiss and Goc which were fairly effective at keeping the game even, despite not being prolific scorers themselves. Marcel Goc in particular was terrific at playing defensively in difficult situations. This year the competitive talent of the top Florida lines seems to have collapsed due to diminishing talent surrounding the two of them. Fleichmann-Weiss-Versteeg was their top line last year and continues in that role. They'd be excellent as the 2nd line of a contending squad, as a top line they leave something to be desired. Mueller's unit is decent enough on offense but isn't that great in managed minutes. Our old friend Kovalev is an offensive specialist of no great distinction at this point. Overall this isn't a dangerous group.
Campbell-Garrison was a good 1st pairing last season, giving strong results in tough minutes as an effective two-way duo that was the best part of the Panther's team. This year Campbell gets Karlsson's boat anchor in Flip Kuba and the two of them are getting embaracingly crushed out there this season. Campbell has declined to a -9.25 shot attempts per hour Dman after being +4.43 the year before and is a fairly deservedly -5 on 5on5 this year.
Kulikov-Weaver is the Panther's one effective unit, with Kulikov being the Panther's single positive possession as well as single positive goal differential (+2) defenseman.
Gudbranson and Strachan are embarrassingly bad as a third pairing, getting lit up in soft minutes. This is likely to continue because they just plain aren't very good. Not to knock Gudbranson but I get a big Luke Schenn vibe off his career.
Florida leans on Campbell on the man-advantage and mainly uses their top forward line with Kovalev at times inserted to play wing while Kulikov sits. The man advantage tends to be hilariously ineffective with Kulikov (1.87 goals for per 60. ~+40 corsi, which is wretched) which explains the usage. With Campbell on the ice they are scoring at a decent clip this season (8.65 goals per hour, about career average for Markov) but are far below average in terms of getting possession and shots so are likely a below average unit in truth. Their first forward unit's numbers are below average, their second unit's numbers are wretched and Kovalev only really helps in comparison to Kulikov.
They were a decent PP team last season with similar personnel and were strong with both Kulikov and Garrison playing with Campbell so this probably isn't an issue of players, unless Campbell has lost a major step.
Florida's PK is pretty crummy. Their top unit is below average, their second unit is worse and God help them when Gudbranson is on the ice. They just aren't very good and should be vulnerable to the Markov lead Habs.
Florida doesn't have much that is scary about them this season. They have last change so I'd guess the most important thing is to avoid letting their top line play against Montreal's depth players but overall there shouldn't be a need for Therrien to heavily match lines beyond keeping Galchenyuk away from defensive zone draws against Weiss.
Florida is near the bottom in the league in fenwick close this year, being 46.15% and 12th in the East after being a respectable 50.35% the previous year. They are last in the East with a -16 goal differential and have Jose Theodore as a starting goaltender and a .872 team Save%. They are only good at the powerplay so far (19.6%) and that is likely unsustainable. They are one of the worst teams in the East and this should be a very winnable game for Mtl. But you could have said similar things about Toronto and look at how that worked out.
By reader request I'm starting to keep track of notable impeding UFA's the Habs will play. Today Stephen Weiss is that player, a pretty decent top six center man that should attract a lot of interest if he decides to quit Florida this summer.