After spending the past 11 days on the road, the Florida Panthers are back home in sunny South Florida.
It was a trip full of adventure, from dog sledding in Bamff to checking out the sights of Seattle to trying to stay indoors as much as possible in the frozen tundra of Winnipeg.
”It’s really cold here,” Mason Marchment said after scoring two goals and assisting on another in Florida’s 5-3 win over Winnipeg on Tuesday night. “It will be nice to get outside, get some sun. It’ll also be nice to be able to get back out in front of our fans and that will be huge.”
The Panthers also won three of the five games which was the reason they went west in the first place.
For a team that embarked on this road trip just a game over .500 away from home, well, that’s a bit of an improvement.
Sure, 3-2 isn’t an earth-shattering record especially for a team the caliber of the Panthers.
Yet considering this was the longest road trip of the season — the Panthers flew an estimated 5,500 miles on six seperate flights — that’s not too bad.
Now the Panthers are back in the comforts of home, a place they have a league-best 21 wins with just three losses.
The Panthers now face a bigger challenge than they faced on their five-game western swing as the Vegas Golden Knights come to Sunrise.
It’s well-known in hockey circles that the first home game coming off a long road trip is usually a team’s worst. The legs are a little rubbery, their timing off.
And Vegas is now running on east coast time having lost in overtime at Carolina on Tuesday.
While the Panthers were flying home from Mannitoba on Wednesday, the Golden Knights were already basking in the sun having landed in Fort Lauderdale a few hours after losing in Raleigh.
Still, having a team like Vegas in town could shake the Panthers out of their jetlag.
Pete DeBoer’s team again leads the Pacific Division and is one of the betting favorites to challenge for the Stanley Cup.
The Panthers, for the most part, have been up to the challenge when it comes to playing the best teams in the league — especially at home.
Florida has beaten the likes of Tampa Bay, Carolina, the Rangers, Colorado, Pittsburgh, Washington, etc. The Panthers’ three home losses have come, believe it or not, to the expansion Kraken, Ottawa and Los Angeles.
Vegas is not the kind of team that will sneak up on the Panthers. They know what is waiting for them come Thursday night.
Vegas has had Florida influencers since its very start when Gerard Gallant took over as coach and the Panthers gave up two players — Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith — in the 2017 expansion draft.
Since then, Gallant was fired and replaced by DeBoer and the team added Evgenii Dadonov this past offseason.
This will be Dadonov’s first return to Sunrise since the Panthers let him walk to Ottawa as a free agent in 2020.
Smith is now in the final year of the five-year contract he signed with the Panthers, the $25 million deal Dale Tallon did not want to pay hence the reason he went to Vegas in the first place.
In his six games against the Panthers since, Smith has reminded Florida of its decision in a big way, scoring four goals with seven points. He went onto the Covid list Monday and did not play Tuesday in Carolina.
Marchessault is expected to play — and he has two goals and eight points in six games against his former team.
— After flying on Wednesday and having played the past two games, don’t be surprised to see Sergei Bobrovsky get the night off Thursday.
With the Panthers playing three games in a four-day span before their extended All-Star break, Florida will need to use Spencer Knight and would like him to feel like he is in a bit of a rhythm.
Thursday could be that opportunity.
UPDATE: Andrew Brunette confirmed Knight will play tonight and Gus Forsling, fresh off the Covid list, will be a game-time decision although he was back on the second pairing at the morning skate.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, SiriusXM
- NHL Betting Odds from BetUS: Florida favored (Money Line -165) — (Puck Line -1.5 +145) — Over/Under 6.5 (-125/+105)
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Vegas leads 4-1-1
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 98 Maxim Mamin
11 Jonathan Huberdeau // 8 Sam Bennett // 10 Anthony Duclair
17 Mason Marchment // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
94 Ryan Lomberg // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 74 Owen Tippett
52 MacKenzie Weegar // 5 Aaron Ekblad
42 Gus Forsling // 7 Radko Gudas
32 Lucas Carlsson // 62 Brandon Montour
30 Spencer Knight
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
Scratched: Joe Thornton, Frank Vatrano, Jonas Johansson
Taxi squad: Matt Kiersted, Aleksi Heponiemi, Chase Priskie
Injured: Noel Acciari (LTIR), Markus Nutivaara (LTIR), Olli Juolevi (IR), Patric Hornqvist (d2d)
Covid Protocol: None
PROJECTED VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS LINEUP
63 Evgenii Dadonov // 20 Chandler Stephenson // 61 Mark Stone
22 Mark Amadio // 71 William Karlsson // 81 Jonathan Marchessault
28 Will Carrier // 10 Nicolas Roy // 26 Mattias Janmark
21 Brett Howden // 41 Nolan Patrick // 55 Keegan Kolesar
14 Nicolas Hague // 7 Alex Pietrangelo
27 Shea Theodore // 2 Zach Whitecloud
3 Brayden McNabb // 52 Dylan Coghlan
90 Robin Lehner
39 Lauren Brossoit