The Vegas Golden Knights (25-15-3) take on statistically, the best team in the NHL Thursday night in the Florida Panthers (29-9-5). The Panthers have been on an absolute tear this season with a +50 goal differential and a 21-3 home record. They are led in scoring by likely Hart-trophy candidate Jonathan Huberdeau who has 58 points in 43 games played. It will be a tough task for the Golden Knights as they look to continue their solid playoff-like road trip against yet another tough team.
“(The Panthers have) tons of offense and then can score a bunch of different ways… they are deep and they are skilled and they are playing with a lot of confidence,” said Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer.
The Golden Knights could be welcoming back Alec Martinez and/or Max Pacioretty Thursday night. Head coach Peter DeBoer did not specify if either player would play, rather that the Golden Knights had five lines and seven defensemen for the first time since training camp at practice.
The goaltending matchup is expected to be Robin Lehner versus Spencer Knight. Lehner is coming off a 34-save shutout against the Washington Capitals which was his first of the season. Knight will play for the Panthers as Sergei Bobrovsky has played the last two for the Panthers.
It will be a homecoming to many Golden Knights as Jonathan Marchessault, Peter DeBoer, and Evgenii Dadonov return to Florida. Reilly Smith, who is currently in COVID-19 protocols also played in the Panthers organization.
For Dadonov, this will be his first return to Sunrise since the Panthers let him walk as a free agent in 2020 to sign with the Ottawa Senators. “It’s a little weird of a feeling now but it’s kind of exciting, said Dadonov.”
This game marks the first time in 705 days that the Panthers and Golden Knights will play each other. The Golden Knights are 4-1-1 all-time against the Panthers.
Keys to The Game
Bodies in Front of The Net
An area of which that the Golden Knights lacked on Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes was getting bodies in front of the net. There was a specific instance when Zach Whitecloud took a shot and the puck simply laid in front of Frederick Andersen for a good two-to-three seconds before he could cover. No Golden Knights were even in the vicinity of being able to cash in on the rebound chances.
Up against a young goaltender in Knight, the Golden Knights will need to screen the goaltender with bodies in front of the net. Nicolas Roy has done well at this all season, and perhaps he can bang in a rebound goal or tip in a shot tonight in Florida.
Stay out of the Box
The Golden Knights have taken five penalties in back-to-back games. While they have lucked out and only been scored on once in this span, this is a “recipe for disaster” according to Golden Knights head coach Peter DeBoer.
“Typically it is either fatigue or that you are defending too much and when you are playing good teams on the road like we are on this trip these teams put you under a lot of pressure and we have to handle that without going to the box,” said DeBoer.
The Panthers have an overall average powerplay but with weapons like Barkov, Huberdeau, and Ekblad, it will not be wise for the Golden Knights to give the Panthers the man advantage.
The Potential Return of Martinez
While not confirmed, Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez could very well finally make his return to the lineup Thursday night. He has missed since November 11th with a facial laceration. He and Max Pacioretty (wrist) both are traveling with the Golden Knights on this road trip which is bout to be 75% completed.
The Golden Knights had a full day of rest in Southern Florida to hit the beach and relax on Wednesday. Hopefully, this helped nurture and speed up the recovery process for the Golden Knight’s injured players.
Projected Vegas Golden Knights Line Combinations
Max Pacioretty- Chandler Stephenson- Mark Stone
Jonathan Marchessault- William Karlsson– Reilly Smith
Mattias Janmark- Nicolas Roy- Evgenii Dadonov
William Carrier- Nolan Patrick- Keegan Kolesar
Nicolas Hague- Alex Pietrangelo
Shea Theodore- Zach Whitecloud
Brayden McNabb- Dylan Coghlan
Robin Lehner/Laurent Brossoit
Vegas Golden Knights Special Teams
20.54% Powerplay (14th) and 78.51% Penalty Kill (19th)
PP1: Roy, Karlsson, Janmark, Marchessault, Theodore
PP2: Stephenson, Dadonov, Patrick, Coghlan, Pietrangelo
PK1: Karlsson, Kolesar, McNabb, Pietrangelo
PK2: Stephenson, Janmark, Hutton, Hague
Injured Reserve/COVID-19 Protocols/Scratches/Taxi Squad
Jack Eichel (neck), Alec Martinez (face)
Ben Hutton (scratched), Brett Howden (scratched), Michael Amadio (scratched), Jake Leschyshyn (scratched), Daniil Miromanov (scratched), Jonas Rondbjerg (scratched), Logan Thompson (scratched)
Projected Florida Panthers Line Combinations
Carter Verhaeghe- Aleksander Barkov- Maxim Mamin
Jonathan Huberdeau- Sam Bennett- Anthony Duclair
Mason Marchment- Anton Lundell- Sam Reinhart
Ryan Lomberg- Eetu Luostarinen- Owen Tippett
Mackenzie Weegar- Aaron Ekblad
Brandon Montour- Radko Gudas
Chase Priskie- Lucas Carlsson
Spencer Knight/Sergei Bobrovsky
Florida Panthers Special Teams
20.86% Powerplay (13th) and 80.60% Penalty Kill (15th)
PP1- Reinhart, Duclair, Huberdeau, Barkov, Ekblad
PP2- Bennett, Lundell, Tippett, Verhaege, Montour
PK1- Luostarinen, Huberdeau, Weegar, Ekblad
PK2- Lomberg, Barkov, Carlsson, Gudas
Injured Reserve/COVID-19 Protocols/Scratches
Noel Acciari, Markus Nutivaara, Olli Juolevi, Patric Hornqvist, Jonas Johansson, Gustav Forsling, Joe Thornton (scratched), Frank Vatrano (scratched)
How to Watch/Listen
4:00 pm on ESPN+ and Fox Sports 98.9 FM Radio