SUNRISE — Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice said there will be a lot of “familiarity” when the Calgary Flames visit FLA Live Arena on Saturday afternoon.
Florida and Calgary were involved in one of the biggest offseason trades in NHL history back in July with two 100-point scorers and a top-pairing defenseman all being involved in the first sign-and-trade deal in league history.
For the first time in their careers, Matthew Tkachuk, Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar will oppose the teams who drafted and developed them when the two teams meet today.
“There will be some homecomings and some conversations across enemy lines when they know each other so well,’’ Maurice said.
The players involved is the obvious storyline coming into today’s game but the truth of the matter is, both teams really need the two points.
Both Florida and Calgary were expected to be at the top of its respective divisions — and that may still happen — but have both struggled to find their way in the early goings thus far.
Neither team holds a playoff spot coming into Saturday with Florida losing two of its past three games.
Calgary recently snapped a seven-game losing streak.
The Panthers certainly want to end this five-game homestand with a win before flying to Columbus this evening.
“Both teams are kind of grinding for wins right now,” Maurice said. “Once that puck drops, it will come down to the teams and the game.”
Florida had to play down a man in Thursday’s loss to the Dallas Stars after captain Sasha Barkov was ruled out with a non-Covid illness.
Although Barkov did not practice Friday, Maurice was optimistic he would be able to play in Saturday’s homecoming with Huberdeau joking perhaps his former linemate would “pass me the puck” one more time.
“We’re optimistic for tomorrow,” Maurice said. “He had a pretty strong uptick.”
UPDATE: Barkov is in.
Going back to the subject of Huberdeau and Weegar, Aaron Ekblad said it will certainly be strange seeing his two close friends across the ice wearing the Calgary ‘C’ on their chest.
Those three players sort of grew up together within the Panthers’ organization, huberdeau being drafted third overall in 2011 with Weegar coming aboard in 2013 and Ekblad a year later.
Ekblad said this will be the first time the three of them have ever played against each other aside from a practice.
“It is going to weird seeing them in the ‘C of Red’,” Ekblad said. “It is going to be funny matching up against them. We did that in practice so you kind of know their tendencies and it will be cool.”
As for chirping?
”Huby not so much, Weegs most likely,’’ Ekblad said. “He is non-stop talking. I am sure getting under my skin is something he wants to do but I have seen it all before from him. They’re my friends, no doubt, but the two points is what matters. I am not going to be hitting them in the head or anything but I play hard against everyone on the ice regardless of who they are.”
— Spencer Knight replaced Sergei Bobrovsky for the second period of Thursday’s game after Dallas walked through Florida’s sleepy defense and took a 4-0 lead.
Knight is expected to start today with Bobrovsky going Sunday in Columbus.
Bobrovsky, after all, is 8-1-1 against the Blue Jackets since joining the Panthers and has not lost to them since 2020.
In his past two seasons, Bobrovsky is 7-0 against the Jackets with a 92 save percentage.
UPDATE: Knight starts.
PANTHERS ON DECK
CALGARY FLAMES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV: Bally Sports Florida; NHL Network
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Florida favored: Money Line (-135); Puck line (-1.5, +185); Over/Under 6 (-115/-105)
- Last season: Split 1-1
- All-time regular season series: Calgary leads 22-11-3, 3 ties
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
27 Eetu Luostarinen // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
94 Ryan Lomberg // 9 Sam Bennett // 6 Colin White
21 Nick Cousins // 12 Eric Staal // 70 Patric Hornqvist
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
62 Brandon Montour // 18 Marc Staal
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
30 Spencer Knight
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
Injured: Anthony Duclair (LTIR-Achilles)
PROJECTED CALGARY FLAMES LINEUP
63 Adam Ruzicka // 28 Elias Lindholm // 73 Tyler Toffoli
29 Dillon Dube // 91 Nazem Kadri // 88 Andrew Mangiapane
10 Jonathan huberdeau // 11 Mikael Backlund // 20 Blake Coleman
17 Milan Lucic // 22 Trevor Lewis // 24 Brett Ritchie
55 Noah Hanifin // 4 Rasmus Andersson
16 Nikita Zadorov // 52 MacKenzie Weegar
48 Dennis Gilbert // 8 Chris Tanev
25 Jacob Markstrom
80 Daniel Vladar