NHL: Improved performances on agenda for Panthers, Canucks


Both among the bottom tier in the NHL in goals allowed, the Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks each will be looking for a grittier performance when they meet Thursday in Vancouver.

The Panthers are winless (0-1-2) in their past three games, and have gone 1-3-3 with 33 goals allowed in their past seven. The seven-game slump has been bookended by Florida’s two highest goals-conceded totals of the season — a 6-4 loss to the Dallas Stars on Nov. 17, and Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.

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“When we play the right way within our system, it makes it tough on opposition,” forward Sam Reinhart said. “I think we ought to shift our focus a little bit and get back to the defensive side of the game.”

Aleksander Barkov’s absence surely hasn’t helped matters, as Florida’s captain has missed three consecutive games due to a non-COVID illness. Head coach Paul Maurice said Barkov has been “feeling better,” but it isn’t clear if he’ll be ready to rejoin the team by Thursday.

Other players have been picking up the offensive slack with Barkov sidelined. Gustav Forsling has nine assists over his past nine games, while Aaron Ekblad has seven points (three goals, four assists) during the course of a five-game points streak.

Spencer Knight’s solid play (2.74 goals against average, .914 save percentage) has started to earn him more playing time over Sergei Bobrovsky, and Knight will likely be back in net on Thursday. The Panthers’ defensive breakdowns led to a tough night for Bobrovsky against the Flames, as the goalie allowed six goals on 23 shots.

Vancouver is also looking to rebound from a tough loss, after dropping a 5-1 result on home ice to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. The defeat interrupted the Canucks’ best stretch of the season, after Vancouver went 5-1-0 in the six games prior to the setback against Washington.

The loss came down to effort, in the view of Canucks forward J.T. Miller.

“It’s disappointing when you come out and don’t execute and don’t really compete, get out-competed pretty much period by period there,” Miller said. “It’s frustrating because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level. They didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just out-battled us.”

Miller has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) during a nine-game points streak.

The Canucks also have moved into a virtual goalie timeshare, as Thatcher Demko’s early-season struggles have created more opportunities for backup Spencer Martin. Since Martin started against the Capitals, Demko might be likelier to get the nod against Florida.

Opponents have feasted on the power play against Vancouver for much of the season, but the Canucks’ penalty-kill unit has been starting to tighten up. The Canucks are 14-for-17 on the penalty kill over their past seven games.

Vancouver’s Luke Schenn has 2,937 career hits, nine away from tying Brooks Orpik’s NHL record for most hits by a defenseman.

–Field Level Media

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