The Panthers (17-17-7) have struggled to find their footing in the early goings of recent games, falling behind 1-0 in each of their last seven contests. In that span, they’ve surrendered the first goal four times in the first two minutes, including at 1:29 during Tuesday’s 5-1 loss in Pittsburgh.
“We know we weren’t good enough,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said of that loss to the Penguins. “Again, it wasn’t a great start. The onus is on everybody – veterans, young guys, goalies. We need a couple saves early. We can’t be chasing games.
“We know where we’re at as a team. We talked a lot about yesterday about what we need to do in the second half to try and make the playoffs. It’s got to start on road trips like this. You’ve got to put some points in the bank and everybody’s got to contribute.”
Asked about his team’s recent slow starts, Boughner pointed to a few keys areas of concern.
“We always say the right things and we mean the right things, but it’s just a matter of going out and doing it,” Boughner said. “For me, I said it earlier, you need a couple saves early. You can’t be chasing the game. You can’t be opening up in the first period trying to catch up because that’s when you get out of your structure, so that’s number one.
“[Number] two, it’s just managing your game. Both teams are going to make mistakes. You saw that the other night in Pittsburgh. I think they made as many mistakes as we did, but it’s the big mistakes that kill you. Not trying to let anybody behind ya, just managing the game and being ready to compete when the puck drops.”
The first of three big games on their trek through Western Canada, the Panthers unveiled a few revamped forward lines during today’s morning skate, with one of the most notable moves being Denis Malgin moving up to the first line alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov.
Additionally, Jared McCann will center the second line, while rookie Henrik Borgstrom goes down to the third. McCann will be flanked by two of the team’s top-scoring wingers in Evgenii Dadonov and Mike Hoffman, while Borgstrom will work with Frank Vatrano and Troy Brouwer.
Boughner said these moves will not only provide a spark, but make the team much deeper.
“I think it allows us to be a little deeper up front and not worry about the matchups that we’re going to need on the road, both tonight and tomorrow night,” he said. “Obviously they’re two teams that can score. It allows a little more depth for changes more than anything.”
Malgin, who has spent most of this season on the third line, has posted nine points in 27 games.
“He’s a good player,” Huberdeau said of his new linemate. “He’s a small, silky player. It should be good. We’re trying to mix and match and find some line combinations. Obviously we’re going to work hard and hopefully it can work.”
On the other end of the ice, the Panthers’ game plan likely starts and ends with containing Connor McDavid. The reigning Art Ross Trophy winner, McDavid currently ranks fifth in NHL scoring with 63 points in 42 games, leading the Oilers in both goals (24) and assists (39).
“Obviously they have one of the best players in the league,” said Huberdeau, who paces the Panthers with 46 points. “We know they’re a fast team up front. We’ve just got to manage the puck well and play in their zone as much as possible.”
The Panthers topped the Oilers 4-1 during their last meeting back on Nov. 8 at BB&T Center in Sunrise. Since then, Edmonton, like Florida, has struggled to separate itself from the .500 mark. As it stands now, they currently sit at 20-20-3, winning just two of their last 10 games overall.
Entering the second half of the season, Florida hopes tonight’s game can be a turning point.
“I think both teams are definitely pretty frustrated with the way the season’s gone so far,” Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson said of the matchup. “I think both teams are pretty resilient, though, in a sense that they’re not going to give up right now… I think games like these show a lot of pride, and that’s kind of our motivating factor.”
— Mike Hoffman ranks first on the Panthers in goals (20), power-play goals (10) and shots on goals (135). Scoring his 20th goal of the season on Tuesday in Pittsburgh, the 29-year-old winger became the fastest first-year Panther in franchise history reach the 20-goal mark.
— Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov has registered 15 points (six goals, nine assists) over his last 11 games. The 23-year-old center also ranks tied for second in the NHL in takeaways (58), while his 23:07 of ice time per game places him first in the NHL among forwards.
— Evgenii Dadonov ranks second on Florida in goals (17), while also leading the team in even-strength goals (11). The 29-year-old winger ranks fourth on the team with 36 points, including 11 (six goals, five assists) over his last 16 games.
— An All-Star this season, Keith Yandle ranks first among Florida’s blueliners in points (35) and assists (29), while his 22 power-play points on the season places him fifth in the NHL and first among all defensemen.
— Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau has recorded 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) over his last 21 games. The 25-year-old winger also leads the team in points (46), assists (35) and multi-point games (17) this season.
— Aaron Ekblad leads Florida’s blueliners with eight goals. With one more goal, the 22-year-old will surpass Robert Svehla (61) for the most goals by a defenseman in franchise history.
— The Panthers have registered at least one power-play goal in 26 of their last 32 games.
— Florida has gone a perfect 13-for-13 on the penalty kill over its last five games.
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME
James Reimer (8-7-4, 3.18 GAA, .896 SV%) vs. Cam Talbot (8-12-2, 3.20 GAA, .896 SV%)
Reimer will return to the net for the Panthers after turning away 14 of 15 shots during a relief appearance against the Penguins. The 30-year-old backup has settled into a nice groove as of late, going 3-0-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and .929 save percentage over his last five appearances. In his career against Edmonton, he has gone 6-2-1 with a pair of shutouts.
Talbot will make his third straight start for the Oilers, returning to the net after allowing four goals on 17 shots during Tuesday’s 7-2 loss at San Jose. The 31-year-old owns a 1-3-1 record over his last seven appearances, posting a .897 save percentage in that span. In eight career starts against Florida, he has gone 5-3-0 with 2.74 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Denis Malgin
Mike Hoffman – Jared McCann – Evgenii Dadonov
Frank Vatrano – Henrik Borgstrom – Troy Brouwer
Micheal Haley – Juho Lammikko – Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle – Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson – Mark Pysyk
Bogdan Kiselevich – MacKenzie Weegar
Scratches: Ian McCoshen, Jayce Hawryluk, Nick Bjugstad (upper body)
Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Jamie McGinn (back), Vincent Trocheck (ankle)
– Jan. 7: D Ian McCoshen was recalled from Springfield (AHL)
– Jan. 7: D Chris Wideman was loaned to Springfield (AHL)
– Dec. 30: D Alexander Petrovic was traded to Edmonton for D Chris Wideman and a 2019 third-round pick.
– Dec. 29: G Michael Hutchinson was traded to Toronto for a 2020 fifth-round pick.
HOW TO WATCH
When: Thursday, Jan. 10, 9:00 p.m.
Where: Rogers Place – Edmonton, AB
TV: Fox Sports Florida
Florida Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
Watch Party: Thanks to the new “Territory on Tap” program, every road game now offers a chance for a watch party in South Florida! To see which local bars and restaurants will have drink specials and giveaways for today’s game, visit the official “Territory on Tap” page!