SUNRISE — Florida Panthers coach Andrew Brunette will roll his team out on the ice for the first time in almost two weeks on Wednesday night not knowing how much rust his team is going to show. In this case, the New York Rangers are in the same situation.
Although the Rangers did not have the time off Florida did, Gerard Gallant’s bunch was close.
Florida’s last game before the league shutdown was Dec. 16; the Rangers played the following night.
The Panthers will not only be getting Sasha Barkov and Mason Marchment back, but it appears Jonathan Huberdeau will play as well.
Huberdeau, a player Gallant knows very well not only from his time with the Panthers but he was also Huberdeau’s junior coach with the Saint John Sea Dogs, had been in Covid protocol this week but was on the ice Wednesday morning.
Gallant will be missing a handful of players due to Covid protocol with the Rangers calling up six players for Taxi Squad 2.0.
Florida went from having seven players on the Covid list to four and now are at two.
Defenseman Olli Juolevi is expected to miss Wednesday’s return.
”There’s no playbook for it,” Brunette said. “It’s fluid, like we talked about two weeks ago. We’re day-to-day but we have numbers and we’re kind of trending in the right direction. We’re piecing it together every day. We had a great group at practice, had guys filling holes on special teams and plugging gaps.
”Everyone is going through it and it is a little bit of a challenge day-in, day out.”
The Panthers, like other NHL teams, are used to having gaps in their schedule due to All-Star breaks and player bye weeks but this was obviously different.
With the Covid situation, the Panthers were shutdown after their practice on Dec. 17 and did not return to the ice until Sunday afternoon.
As Brunette said, the Rangers had to go through it as well.
No one really knows how either team will react when the puck drops Wednesday night.
“They may not have gone through what we did, but they had that break too,” Brunette said. “You come back and … it’s always an uncomfortable feeling because you don’t know who you are going to lose next. It’s almost like you are walking on eggshells, trying not to look at your phone or pick up calls because you don’t know the next guy out.
“But every team is going through it at different levels. I am hoping we went through the hardest part of it. Now we can get our game back, get our guys back and get back to the level we are accustomed to playing the past year-and-a-half.”
As for the Rangers, they come into the game with losses in four of six after a season-best seven game winning streak.
Gallant said he was happy with how his team looked upon their return from the unscheduled break.
“They looked real good actually,” Gallant said after his team’s practice on Monday. “We get off the ice, thought we had a good practice, and I see eight guys still out there doing line work.
“They want to be back and ready to go. It has been tough on them mentally, wondering when we would go again with games being cancelled. You’re ready to play a game. The break was good, but I think we want to play on Wednesday.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
RANGERS AT PANTHERS
- When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WKIS 99.9 FM-2
- NHL Betting Odds from FanDuel: Florida favored (PL -1.5 +138) — (ML -178) — U/O 6.5
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Rangers lead 56-31-8, 6 ties
- This season: @New York 4, Florida 3 (Nov. 8)
- Up next: Tampa Bay at Florida, Thursday, 7; New York at Tampa Bay, Friday, 7
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 10 Anthony Duclair
11 Jonathan Huberdeau // 9 Sam Bennett // 13 Sam Reinhart
98 Maxim Mamin // 15 Anton Lundell // 17 Mason Marchment
94 Ryan Lomberg // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 70 Patric Hornqvist
52 MacKenzie Weegar // 5 Aaron Ekblad
42 Gus Forsling // 7 Radko Gudas
32 Lucas Carlsson // 62 Brandon Montour
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
30 Spencer Knight
Scratched: Jonas Johansson, Joe Thornton, Owen Tippett, Frank Vatrano
Injured: Noel Acciari (LTIR), Markus Nutivaara (LTIR)
Covid Protocol: Olli Juolevi
PROJECTED NEW YORK RANGERS LINEUP
20 Chris Kreider // 92 Mika Zibanejad // 24 Kaapo Kakko
10 Artemi Panarin // 16 Ryan Strome // 29 Dryden Hunt
13 Alexis LaFreniere // 72 Filip Chytil // 15 Julien Gauthier
14 Greg McKegg // 21 Barclay Goodrow // 75 Ryan Reaves
25 Libor Hajek // 23 Adam Fox
79 K’Andre Miller // 8 Jacob Trouba
12 Patrik Nemeth // 27 Nils Lundkvist
31 Igor Shesterkin
71 Keith Kinkaid