The Florida Panthers could have a very different look to the lineup when they visit the Ottawa Senators tonight.
On Wednesday, the Panthers brought up three players from their AHL team in Charlotte: Matt Kiersted, Aleksi Heponiemi and Cole Schwindt.
Those three are expected to play tonight with Florida likely mixing in some other players who have not played much of late.
Florida is not holding a morning skate today so take these lineup projections with a cap full of salt; we will know more this afternoon.
What we do know: Spencer Knight will be in net for the Panthers as they continue to lead the chase for the Presidents’ Trophy and the home ice advantage throughout the playoffs that comes with it.
Florida ends its regular season on Friday in Montreal and we’re not even going to guess what that lineup looks like.
UPDATE: Andrew Brunette said Thursday evening that Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Claude Giroux, MacKenzie Weegar and Gus Forsling are the regulars who will sit out — with Jonas Johansson backing up Knight.
Florida will add Kiersted, Heponiemi, Schwindt, Petteri Lindbohm, Lucas Carlsson and Maxim Mamin to the lineup.
Again, the lines are best guesses!
“We’re going to give the opportunity to some of these guys who are coming up,” Brunette said on Wednesday morning. “They have played really well down there. We’re going to try and manage it the best we can, see where we are after (Thursday) night and go from there.”
The Panthers are rewarding three of their prospects for having fine seasons with the Atlantic Division champion Checkers.
Schwindt (40 points) and Heponiemi (39) rank second and tied for third on the Checkers in scoring this season.
Kiersted, who played in seven games with the Panthers last season after signing out of North Dakota, ranks fourth among Charlotte defenseman with 20 points in 63 contests. He has played in eight games with Florida this season.
In Florida’s Covid game against Los Angeles on Dec. 16, Schwindt made his NHL debut and Kiersted scored his first NHL goal.
Heponiemi has played in 13 games with the Panthers over the past two seasons and has a goal and an assist.
Charlotte will not be without its players for any games as the team wrapped up its regular season schedule over the weekend and received a bye for the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The three newcomers to the lineup — and others being plugged in — will be asked to up the intensity from Tuesday’s 4-2 loss in Boston.
The Panthers certainly did not look like their old selves against the Bruins.
”I thought Boston did a really good job, played at a much higher level than we played at,” Brunette said. “It was good for us. We’re going to see those kind of teams and those kind of games where your space is at a premium. We weren’t particularly sharp but it was a good experience to see how hard it’s going to be. That’s what we needed last night.
“Ottawa, we know is going to play hard. Teams all want to take a shot at us. I’m sure this is going to be the same thing. We’re looking for some energy and we have had energy all year. Our guys have done a tremendous job of finding it, even on nights when they probably didn’t have to find it. … The last two nights, I don’t think we’ve had it the way we have all year. That’s completely normal. We’re looking for a little spark and I think these kids give some and maybe that will be contagious.”
— Florida will get the services of Ryan Lomberg back after he was suspended for the Boston game but will be without Anton Lundell and Radko Gudas for the final two games of the regular season.
”They are both day-to-day and will miss the next two,” Brunette said. “Hopefully ready to start (the playoffs).”
— Kiersted may look a little different than the last time he was with the Panthers as veteran defenseman Ben Chiarot took his No. 8.
The rookie defenseman will now wear the No. 3 last worn here by Keith Yandle.
— The Panthers have two road games left and their 23 road wins are already a franchise record.
Florida has won eight of their past 10 road games (8-2-0) and in those 10 games, the Panthers have outscored their opponents 39-28 by averaging 3.90 goals per game.
The 140 road goals are the most in one season in franchise history.
Sasha Barkov leads Florida with 23 goals and 47 points on the road this season — which is the most single-season road points in franchise history.
Jonathan Huberdeau has a franchise-record 31 road assists.
Of course, neither will play tonight.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT OTTAWA SENATORS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Canadian Tire Center, Ottawa
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM/SiriusXM
- Draft Kings odds — Florida favored: Money Line (-285); Puck line (-1.5, -120); Over/Under 7 (-105/-115)
- Last season: Did not play
- Season series — Tied 1-1-1: Ottawa 8, @Florida 2 (Dec. 14); @Florida 3, Ottawa 0(March 3); Florida 3, @Ottawa 3 SO (March 26)
- All-time regular season series: Ottawa leads 56-42-5, ties
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 8 Sam Bennett // 10 Anthony Duclair
98 Maxim Mamin // 13 Sam Reinhart // 20 Aleksi Heponiemi
19 Joe Thornton // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 79 Cole Schwindt
94 Ryan Lomberg // 55 Noel Acciari // 70 Patric Hornqvist
8 Ben Chiarot // 3 Matt Kiersted
40 Petteri Lindbohm // 62 Brandon Montour
32 Lucas Carlsson // 18 Robert Hagg
30 Spencer Knight
35 Jonas Johansson
Scratched: Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Claude Giroux, Mason Marchment, MacKenzie Weegar, Gus Forsling, Sergei Bobrovsky
Injured: Markus Nutivaara (LTIR), Aaron Ekblad (LTIR), Anton Lundell (UBI), Radko Gudas (LBI)
PROJECTED OTTAWA SENATORS LINEUP
7 Brady Tkachuk // 9 Josh Norris // 19 Drake Batherton
10 Alex Formenton // 18 Tim Stutzle // 17 Adam Gaudette
45 Parker Kelly // 27 Dylan Gambrell // 16 Austin Watson
71 Chris Tierney // 47 Mark Kastelic // 49 Scott Sabourin
72 Thomas Chabot // 23 Travis Hamonic
26 Erik Brannstrom // 2 Artem Zub
5 Nick Holden // 22 Nikita Zaitsev
31 Anton Forsberg
32 Filip Gustavsson
Ottawa Senators lines courtesy DailyFaceoff.com