(Photo credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports)
It's a good news/bad news situation for the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers, who return home to face the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night, are on a roll with six wins in their past seven games. The Panthers also have both of their star defensemen - Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour - back from offseason shoulder surgeries.
After they combined for 111 points last season, Ekblad and Montour made their 2023-24 debuts on Friday in a 2-1 road win against the Anaheim Ducks.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, center/team captain Aleksander Barkov went down with a knee injury just 57 seconds into the third period. He did not return, and his status going forward is unclear.
"You don't like to see a guy like that go down," Panthers defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said. "I hope Barky is OK."
On the positive side for the Panthers, they are 6-1-0 at home, and Edmonton is just 2-6-0 on the road. It creates foreshadowing that bodes well for Florida as it gets set for three straight home games.
The Panthers are getting solid goaltending from starter Sergei Bobrovsky and backup Anthony Stolarz. Bobrovsky is 8-4-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average. Stolarz is 3-1-0 with a 2.28 goals-against average, including Friday's win which included 34 saves against his former team - nine of them against high-danger shots.
The Panthers are 7-0-1 this season when leading after two periods - a nod to their exceptional goaltending.
Bobrovsky is likely to get the start on Monday, and he's expected to play in front of Montour, who logged a game-high 24 minutes on Friday. Ekblad also got heavy usage with 20 minutes, although neither player earned a point.
"We went through five months of grueling rehab and physical therapy," Ekblad said. "It was a long road. But it's sweet to get back in the lineup and win."
The Oilers, meanwhile, have won three of their past four games, scoring four goals in each contest.
However, the Oilers blew a 4-3 lead in the final 11-plus minutes on Saturday, losing 6-4 to the host Tampa Bay Lightning.
"It's not a matter of scoring more goals," Oilers forward Derek Ryan said. "It's a matter of keeping the puck out of our own net. That's a recurring theme."
That theme helped get Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft fired on Nov. 12. Rookie coach Kris Knoblauch has gone 2-1-0 since taking over for Woodcroft.
Knoblauch, who spent the past four years coaching the New York Rangers' American Hockey League affiliate, coached Oilers superstar Connor McDavid for three years in the Ontario Hockey League. He called it an "unbelievable opportunity" to lead the Oilers.
Indeed, the Oilers made the playoffs in each of the past two years, only to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup champions each time. A 2-9-1 start brought about the coaching change.
McDavid, who at age 26 already has led the NHL in points five times, took a high stick to the face in Saturday's first period. He remained in the game but was held without a point.
By his lofty standards, McDavid is off to a slow start with four goals and nine assists in 14 games.
Leon Draisaitl leads Edmonton in assists (15) and points (21). Zach Hyman leads the team with eight goals.
Oilers starting goalie Stuart Skinner is 4-6-1 with a 3.39 goals-against average.
--Field Level Media