ELMONT, N.Y. — The Florida Panthers and New York Islanders have gotten to know each other quite well over the last few years.
New York knocked Florida out of the postseason twice, once via a Game 6 overtime winner by John Tavares in the first round of 2016 and most recently a four-game series loss in the Best-of-5 2020 qualifying round.
A lot has changed for those two teams over the past few seasons.
Tavares is in the fifth season of the seven-year, $77 million deal he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 2018 offseason, the Islanders missed the postseason for the first time in three years and the Panthers essentially have a completely different roster than they did when these two teams faced off in the Toronto bubble.
Both teams open the 2022-23 season after making a big change this offseason as the two feature new head coaches.
Lane Lambert took over the reigns of the Islanders from Barry Trotz after the two-time Jack Adams Award-winner was fired following a disappointing 37-35-10 campaign.
Paul Maurice was brought in by the Panthers after their historic 58-18-6 Presidents’ Trophy-winning season ended with a disappointing second-round sweep by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lambert, a first-year head coach who spent many years as an assistant alongside Trotz, looks to help sustain the system that helped New York make it to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals in 2020 and 2021 while adding his own flavor to it.
“We’ve had success in the past, you know, and we didn’t make the playoffs last year. That’s the bottom line,” Lambert told NYI Hockey Now.
”So the slate is clean. It’s not looking backwards anymore. It’s about looking forwards completely.”
Maurice, the NHL’s active leader in wins by a head coach, wants to help the Panthers add an extra wrinkle to Florida’s electrifying, high-flying offense to help them become more successful in the playoffs.
”There is a lot of good here,” Maurice said during his introductory press conference.
“I think when you look at historical teams; there are a number of powerful teams and Florida is now one of them. If you want to go back to Detroit in the mid-90s, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay a few years ago … the talent comes first and it needs to be developed and gotten to a certain level. Then there is the next phase and it is not necessarily measured by regular season points or goals for.
“It’s that transition into all the hard things, the investment of the entire group to drive yourself when adversity comes, you’re ready for it. You have earned the right to survive that adversity.”
While both head coaches have had a whole offseason and a six-game exhibition slate to install their systems, it takes regular season games for the team to get used to it completely.
”You can practice the systems as much as you want, but the games [are different],” Panthers captain Sasha Barkov said.
”You will see the video and everything after the games and learn from that because that is where it all comes. You can still practice it at practice but, in the game, it needs to be perfect.”
After a training camp that saw six of its 12 forwards miss time with injury, Florida is really helped by opening its season against a team going through similar issues.
”Yesterday’s practice was probably the first one where everyone was on the ice,” Maurice said after Thursday’s morning skate.
”There is a lot of newness here, whether we are great tonight or not, that is not our endpoint. We build off each game and we need some adversity to learn from and to face it head on and learn from it.”
New York — a team that specializes in its physical, defensive system — serves as a good litmus test to see if the Panthers learned from its grueling training camp filled with puck battles and defensive play.
”This is a game we have to get good at,” Maurice said.
”I think we have a certain style that we excel at. We have a lot of speed through the neutral zone and certainly some playmakers with skill, but this is a game closer to what you see in the playoffs. The best teams are highly-skilled but they can also play this game.
“We want to build on that every time we play a team has a tight-checking game. We want to be really good in those games and be really comfortable in that style of game.”
MORNING SKATE NOTES
- Radko Gudas and Marc Staal did not skate with the team during Thursday’s optional morning skate but will be good to go for the game, per Paul Maurice.
- Matt Kiersted (IR) made the trip with the team and skated in a regular red practice jersey.
- Sergei Bobrovsky will start in net for the Panthers.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK ISLANDERS
- When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: UBS Arena; Elmont, N.Y.
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 54-32-11, 8 ties