When the Florida Panthers found out Sasha Barkov wasn’t going to be able to play Saturday night, coach Andrew brunette did not hesitate in promoting Eetu Luostarinen to center the team’s top line.
Had this happened in a game last season, it would be hard to imagine Luostarinen getting the call.
Not to say Luostarinen did not have a solid first season with the Panthers.
Only this year, he has been taking advantage of certain opportunities — and giving Florida some added offense.
Last season, Luostarinen scored three goals in 45 games. He has that in his past five games this year.
”He started off so good last year but kind of hit a bump in the road,” coach Andrew Brunette said, explaining that Luostarinen started his 2020-21 season in Finland before joining the Panthers.
“He played prior to the season and I think he got fatigued. We relied on him a lot early in the year. He’s a really smart two-way player. This year, I feel comfortable with him on the ice at all times. He is responsible defensively and I think there’s untapped potential with him offensively. We’re still working with him through that. He’s been a real plus for us through the year.”
Luostarinen’s season started with Anton Lundell missing the start of training camp. Florida put him centering the third line in Lundell’s place and he ended up having a strong camp.
When Lundell returned, Luostarinen was scratched for the first three games. When he was put in, he fit right in and has helped the Panthers in a bunch of different situations.
Luostarinen has not only been solid in playing on the bottom two lines — he replaced Lundell again when he got hurt — and scored his first overtime goal Thursday against the Capitals.
“I thought he was a great player for us last year as well, a guy you can really trust in the defensive zone,” MacKenzie Weegar said. “He has a lot of skill that goes a little unnoticed at times. He’s stepping up … he played an unbelievable game last game. He wins a lot of face-offs, key role player for us. His confidence is just going to keep going up the more he plays.”
Luostarinen, who came to the Panthers as part of the four-player return in the Vincent Trocheck trade, got his biggest role yet with the team Saturday night when he got the call to replace Barkov and centered Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe against the Hurricanes.
While it looks like Barkov could return tonight against the Rangers, it does appear that Luostarinen’s role with the Panthers will continue to expand.
“I feel pretty good, I wanted to work on (every) part of my game on both ends and play my game,” he said. “Obviously it is a huge confidence booster to get shifts on the first line.”
NEWS AND NOTES
Brunette said that Barkov is a gametime decision after skating on Monday although Florida ran with the same four lines it used Saturday against the Hurricanes.
Barkov, if he plays, would come into the game riding a five-game scoring streak with five goals and seven points.
He also comes into the game tied with Olli Jokinen for most goals scored in club history (188).
— Spencer Knight will start against the Rangers but Sergei Bobrovsky could return Tuesday against the Devils.
— The Panthers are playing the Rangers for the first time since the 2019-20 season where they beat New York in both meetings.
How long ago was Florida’s last game in Madison Square Garden? Chris Driedger was still in Springfield as Sam Montembeault got the win as Frank Vatrano scored in a shootout as the Panthers won 6-5 on Nov. 10, 2019.
Less than a week later, Florida beat the Rangers 4-3 at home as Jonathan Huberdeau had a four point night.
— The will be the second team Gerard Gallant has been behind the bench against the Panthers as he was previously the coach of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Brunette is the fourth coach of the Panthers since Gallant was fired by the team in 2016.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK RANGERS
- WHEN: Monday, 7 p.m.
- WHERE: Madison Square Garden, New York
- TICKETS: CLICK HERE
- TV/STREAMING: Bally Sports Florida
- RADIO: WQAM 560-AM
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Rangers leads 55-31-8, 6 ties
- Odds via Bovada.lv: Florida (PL -1.5 +195) — (ML -125) — U/O 5.5
- Up next: Florida at New Jersey, Tuesday, 7; Carolina at Tampa Bay, Tuesday, 7