Time: 7:00 PM EST
Place: BB&T Center
TV: FS-D, FS-F
Radio: 97.1 FM The Ticket/1270 AM
Panthers Blog: Litter Box Cats
The Red Wings come into tonight’s game after a weekend spent beating up on the Blue Jackets in what were two of their better performances on the season. They handled Columbus from start to finish all weekend, something Detroit can rarely claim against any team. It was particularly refreshing after a three game stretch that may have been their worst of the season. The Wings are hoping to ride that momentum into their game tonight against the Florida Panthers.
Tonight marks the seventh meeting between these teams, with their season series closing out on Thursday. To this point the Panthers have won four of the six previous games between these two so Detroit will need to take both of these back to backs to even the season series. Not an easy task given the Panthers are currently sitting comfortably in playoff position in the Central Division.
The Wings will need their top players to go toe to toe with those of the Panthers to have a chance. Larkin, Mantha, Fabbri, and a potential breakout from Zadina may all be necessary. The good news at practice yesterday is some of the players whose status was up in the air after the weekend look to be returning soon if not tonight. Blashill indicated that although Gagner and recently recalled Givani Smith were not on the ice, they are expected to play tonight. Bobby Ryan and Jonathan Bernier skate before practice, a good sign for the long term prospects of those two albeit unlikely they are available tonight. Blashill noted that Ryan should be out no longer than a week and that Bernier should begin practicing soon.
But with the openings that creates in the immediate term, expect Svechnikov to remain in the lineup and Smith to get another chance to make an impression. That is exactly the kind of youthful injection that gets fans excited to watch this team. On the back end, Stetcher continues to look like the odd man out for now.
As far as goaltending goes, wait to see updates later today as to whether Blashill continues to ride the hot hand with Pickard or goes back to giving Greiss another shot. It was very telling this weekend when in back to back games, Pickard received both starts, albeit with pretty minimal work in either. But he came up with saves when called upon which is more than Greiss can say for most of the season. In particular, his last start against Nashville when he was chased from the net in less than 10 minutes was awful.
Detroit’s opponent tonight, the Panthers, were riding high with a surprisingly strong season. But they were dealt a difficult blow on Sunday night, when Aaron Ekblad went down awkwardly on his leg after bumping with a Dallas player in the corner. Unfortunately his leg got caught under him, and he was in a clearly in distress before being stretchered off the ice. It was released yesterday that he had a broken leg and would be out at least 12 weeks. With Ekblad out for the season, the Panthers probably have enough of a cushion to still get to the playoffs, but without him it’ll be difficult for them to make any noise when they get there. He was having a terrific season and to see it end this way for the defender is tough.
Florida will try to use Ekblad as a rallying cry for the rest of the team. They’ll need to fill his 25:00 of ice time. Look for a committee of players to fill the gap. It’s possible Anton Stralman returns to the active roster after being sent to the taxi squad just days ago. The Panthers are probably thankful in hindsight that he wasn’t claimed on waivers just days before Ekblad’s injury, but they haven’t recalled him yet. The team is already rumored to be looking to add to their defense through trade now.
The Panthers still have a terrific leader up front with Jonathan Huberdeau posting 40 points so far this season. But they are missing their leader Aleksander Barkov for the past week or so. Likewise Patric Hornqvist, who has had a productive season, has been out. Their leading goal scorer with 15 goals is Carter Verhaeghe, and he has done his best to fill that gap.
In net, Chris Driedger continues to push Sergei Bobrovsky, as he has outpaced the veteran netminder statistically and has pushed them to a near 50/50 split in starts. The Wings will likely see both goalies in this final series with the Panthers. Keep an eye for game day updates but until then Bobrovsky is the expected starter tonight after Driedger got the last start on Sunday.
Given the injuries that are piling up to their key players, the Panthers still managed to sneak away with two wins over Dallas on the weekend. But they will have their hands full with this Wings team, especially now after the Ekblad injury. It’s a prime opportunity for the Wings to stretch a win streak to three.