On the day the Florida Panthers played host to the Los Angeles Kings back in December, coach Andrew Brunette did not know who was going to be in his team’s lineup — and honestly did not know whether the game would be played at all.
The Panthers were slammed with positive Covid-19 tests in the days leading up to the game and were simply running out of bodies.
Florida ended up calling up four players from their minor league squad in Charlotte but still only dressed 16 skaters — two fewer than usual — and the Kings took full advantage, leaving Sunrise with a 4-1 win.
The Panthers’ season would be put on pause the next day due to the Covid outbreak.
Sunday night in Los Angeles, the two teams meet again and this time the script has been flipped.
The Florida Panthers are now at full strength (for the most part) while the Kings are calling up players from their AHL team in nearby Ontario, Calif., for tonight’s game.
The recalls from the Ontario Reign are not due to Covid but to injuries.
On Sunday, Los Angeles announced it was recalling three players with the expectation they will play against the Panthers.
Florida, meanwhile, is still missing Anton Lundell, Ryan Lomberg and Joe Thornton (more on him below) but otherwise icing its usual lineup.
”We are going to get an LA team that plays really fast, plays hard and does not give you much,” Brunette said.
“It doesn’t really matter who we didn’t have in the lineup, it’s going to be that type of game against them all the time. We have to be ready to play.
“We’re concentrating on playing our game regardless of who is in the lineup for either side. They are very well coached, very well structured and do not give you a lot. We’re going to have to fight for every inch of ice regardless of who is in their lineup.”
While this is the second meeting between the two teams, it will be the first time a number of Panthers have faced the Kings this season.
The list of players absent from the last game on Dec. 16 is a long one and includes Sasha Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett, Gus Forsling and Radko Gudas.
Between Covid and injuries at the time, Florida was missing half of its team in that loss to the Kings.
“I think it’s going to be a completely different game on both ends,” said Anthony Duclair, who had 11 shot attempts in over 20 minutes of playing time in December. “We didn’t have our full team last time but I liked the way our … we had guys playing in their first game and they did pretty well.
“But that’s behind us now. We’re on a roll right now and we want to keep that going, get this (trip) off on the right foot on the California side.”
Sergei Bobrovsky did face the Kings in that loss but will not start Saturday as Brunette confirmed Spencer Knight gets the net tonight.
Florida is expected to have Bobrovsky start Tuesday in San Jose and Thursday in Vegas with Knight return Friday night in Anaheim.
Jonathan Quick, who made 41 saves against the depleted Panthers in December, returns to the net Sunday at the building formerly known as the Staples Center.
It will be Game No. 700 for Quick — all with the Kings.
“He doesn’t give up on anything, doesn’t give anything for free,’’ Brunette said. “His competitive nature is unsurpassed over the past 12-14 years I have seen him. He is ultra-competitive and you have to make sure when you get an opportunity to put it away. He has the uncanny ability to never give up on a play.”
MORNING SKATE UPDATE
Brunette confirmed that Thornton is “close” to a return so you can probably bet the family farm he gets activated off Injured Reserve in time for Tuesday’s game against the Sharks.
It will be Thornton’s first game back at SAP Center since leaving the Sharks as a free agent in 2020.
Thornton spent parts of 15 seasons (1,104 games) in San Jose following his 2005 trade from Boston and is one of the most revered players in that franchise’s history.
The Panthers currently have no open roster spots — Jonas Johansson is on a conditioning stint in Charlotte and counts against the roster — so Florida would have to make a move to activate Thornton.
Thornton was placed on IR in February and has not played since Jan. 31 in Columbus. He has four goals and six points in 24 games with the Panthers this season.
— Maxim Mamin appears to remain on Florida’s top line Sunday night playing alongside Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe.
If Mamin plays tonight, as expected, he has two games remaining before he would have to go through waivers to be sent to Charlotte.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT LOS ANGELES KINGS
- When: Sunday, 10 p.m.
- Where: Crypto.Com Arena, Los Angeles
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560, SiriusXM
- FanDuel odds — Florida favored: Money Line (-235); Puck line (-1.5, +112); Over/Under 6.5 (-115/-105)
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Los Angeles leads 22-14-0, 3 ties
- Season series — Los Angeles leads 1-0: Los Angeles 4, @Florida 1 (Dec. 16)