High-flying Panthers take on burned-out Flames
The Florida Panthers are breathing rarefied air as they take their show on the road.
Heading into Tuesday’s clash with the Calgary Flames that kicks off a five-game road trip, the Panthers sit atop the league standings, are riding a four-game winning streak, and boast an 8-0-1 record in their last nine outings.
“The joy that they’re playing with right now is contagious,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said Saturday after his team thrashed the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Panthers have scored at least four goals in nine consecutive outings, and — thanks to Saturday’s 9-2 rout — have scored 21 goals in the past three.
“Confidence is a big thing in the NHL, and I can tell you firsthand that every guy in that room has a lot of confidence,” said defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, who collected four points in the big win. “We all have a lot of confidence right now. Even the coaching staff has a lot of confidence back there. They’ve done a great job getting us ready and making adjustments throughout the game.”
The list of Panthers players with hot hands right now is exceedingly long, but it’s notable that forward Jonathan Huberdeau has amassed 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) during an eight-game point streak.
The Flames, who were atop the Western Conference in early December but now sit outside a playoff position, are in a freefall. Calgary is on a four-game losing streak, which started with a road defeat against the Panthers, and has won just two of its past 10 games.
The Flames are coming off a disappointing return to home ice in a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday, arguably their most dismal performance of the season.
This is a team that opened the season with a 15-4-5 record but has been outscored in the past four games by a 20-7 margin, losing each by at least three goals.
“We have confidence,” insisted defenseman Nikita Zadorov. “We’re in kind of a tough stretch right now, but I don’t think we lost the confidence, definitely.
“There’s lots of experience in this dressing room that have been through what we’re going through in their careers. If young guys didn’t, then we talk about that. I know I’ve been through bad stretches as well. Like, all you have to do — we’ve got to look back at what made us so successful at the start of the year. That’s checking.”
Although admitting his team has had its share of adversity — a COVID-19 outbreak impacted almost everybody on the roster as well as the coaching staff, and then they had a litany of other games postponed — coach Darryl Sutter said his team’s defensive play and lack of emotion have caused their swoon.
After losing to Ottawa, the Flames had some tough practices to remind them what’s necessary to return to form.
“It starts right now in the practices. Each individual,” defenseman Noah Hanifin said. “It’s a collective group effort, but each individual needs to find a way to get to that next level for the team and push each other in practice.
“We’re brothers in here, but we can push each other a bit more and get on each other in a positive manner to get that emotion up and get that compete up in games. That’s on each of us to do that.”
–Field Level Media