The heavily-injured Florida Panthers find themselves starting a three-game gauntlet against two of the best teams in the league — and they start with the upstart New Jersey Devils.
Florida’s injury (and illness) woes started when captain Sasha Barkov started to feel sick in the middle of a win over the Washington Capitals on Nov. 15.
With the number of players who went down nearing double digits, they have gone 5-7-3 since.
“There have been some plays that we have not been able to complete and there are things we have not been able to get done,” Maurice said.
“That is true defensively as well. We have not been able to kill plays and get stops by the net, and a lot of it is because you have guys from the minors in the lineup. But the effort and the compete is there and we have to keep that when these guys start getting back in the lineup.”
Florida is set to get a couple of key reinforcements back with superstar forward Matthew Tkachuk set to return from a one-game absence from an illness and Radko Gudas being a game-time decision to return from a concussion he has been dealing with for the past two weeks.
Still, there have been holes in the Panthers’ base games that have allowed some winnable contests to get away from them.
On Tuesday, it was horrid special teams play that let the Pittsburgh Penguins walk away with a 4-2 win via two power play goals and a shorthanded goal that got things started.
“We have played a game that I have liked in chunks,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
“I like the way we played 5-on-5 against Pittsburgh and, certainly, the Columbus game… It has been the right game but we just want to keep pushing that. What we have dealt with in injuries, we will slowly start to get these guys back, but we want that base consistency to grow.”
The Panthers will have their work cut out for them if they want to claw back into the playoff picture before the holiday break.
New Jersey currently has the third-best record in the league with a core led by one of the league’s most electrifying players in Jack Hughes.
While they have dropped to a pedestrian 5-3-2 in their last 10 after starting the year with the league’s best record, they still have a deep lineup full of young players and a fast-paced offense that ex-Panthers coach Andrew Brunette has a hand in coaching.
After a date with the league-leading Bruins, the Panthers will be facing these Devils again on Wednesday in Sunrise.
“These guys have a skill level where they don’t need much to make space,” Maurice said.
“They are almost a younger version of Pittsburgh with the number of pucks they knock down and the number of forechecks they win that are not physical that they win because they are so quick and have great skill with their hands. We have to move it as fast as we can and when we have the puck, it has to go North.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW JERSEY DEVILS
- When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: Prudential Center, Newark
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Draft Kings odds — Devils favored: Moneyline (-140); Puck line (-1.5, +180); Over/Under 6.5 (-125/+105)
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Devils lead 56-33-7, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Monday at Boston Bruins
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
27 Eetu Luostarinen // 9 Sam Bennett // 13 Sam Reinhart
94 Ryan Lomberg // 12 Eric Staal // 21 Nick Cousins
20 Aleksi Heponiemi // 22 Zac Dalpe // 14 Grigori Denisenko
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas*
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
30 Spencer Knight
Injured: Anthony Duclair (LTIR-Achilles), Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Anton Lundell (UBI), Colin White (UBI), Chris Tierney (UBI)
Scratched: Matt Kiersted
*Radko Gudas is a game-time decision after missing each of the last six games with a concussion.
PROJECTED NEW JERSEY DEVILS LINEUP
90 Tomas Tatar // 13 Nico Hichier // 49 Fabian Zetterlund
17 Yegor Sharangovich // 86 Jack Hughes // 63 Jesper Bratt
44 Miles Wood // 56 Erik Haula // 91 Dawson Mercer
70 Jesper Boqvist // 20 Michael McLeod // 10 Alexander Holtz
71 Jonas Siegenthaler // 7 Dougie Hamilton
33 Ryan Graves // 6 John Marino
2 Brendan Smith // 88 Kevin Bahl
41 Vitek Vanecek
40 Akira Schmid
New Jersey Devils lines via Amanda Stein.