The Panthers, shorthanded due to injuries and a COVID-19 breakout, couldn’t keep up with the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night, falling 4-1 in Sunrise. The loss, Florida’s third in a row, sent the Panthers to 18-7-4 on the season. Los Angeles improved to 13-10-5 (and 3-0-1 in its last four games) with the win.
Matt Kierstad, who was called up from the AHL affiliate in Charlotte on Thursday due to the outbreak, got the Panthers on the board first with his first career NHL goal, but Los Angeles took over from there, tying the score less than three minutes later on a goal by Olli Maatta, then adding two goals in the second period (by Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown) and one in the third period (by Arthur Kaliyev).
10 different players registered points for the Kings, and Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped 41 of 42 shots. For the Panthers, Grigori Denisenko made his season debut, tallying three shots, two blocks, one hit, and a slashing penalty in 15:30 of ice time, and Cole Schwindt made his NHL debut, logging five hits and a takeaway in 9:27 of ice time.
Several teams in the NHL, NBA, and NFL have been wrecked by positive COVID-19 tests this week, and the Panthers were one of them. Seven players were held out on Thursday night due to COVID protocols after the virus spread throughout the team.
When Sam Bennett, Radko Gudas, Brandon Montour, Carter Verhaeghe, and Ryan Lomberg (who also missed Tuesday’s game) were all ruled out on Wednesday for the game against the Kings, It seemed apparent that the team was in the midst of a breakout and more players could be added to that list.
Two more were added to that list on Thursday, as Aaron Ekblad and Frank Vatrano were ruled out. To get the number of available skaters back to 16 (two short of the regular 18), the Panthers called up Kierstad, Denisenko, Schwindt, and Chase Priskie from Charlotte. In the midst of the roster shuffling, they also loaned Spencer Knight to Charlotte.
A few games have been postponed, but it seems as though sports leagues are determined to push through this latest wave of breakouts and continue playing. If it continues to get worse, however, they may have to make some tough decisions, whether that means adjusting the COVID-19 protocols or pausing the season.
The Show Goes On
Despite missing a significant chunk of their regular lineup, the Panthers fought all night. They out-shot Los Angeles 42-31 and out-hit the Kings 30 to 21. They also had 17 takeaways to L.A.’s five (but 12 giveaways to L.A.’s five).
Although being down so many key contributors was frustrating, the Panthers understood the health and safety reasons behind it and weren’t using it as an excuse. They knew they still had to get prepared to play against the Kings.
“It’s about everybody staying safe and being healthy. It’s not easy seeing some guys go into protocol, but we have to play and have to be ready.”– Jonathan Huberdeau, on playing the Kings without several players
(‘Kings add to short-handed Panthers’woes with 4-1 victory’ – AP)
On a positive note, two Panthers achieved firsts on Thursday night. Kierstad, a 23-year-old defenseman who has appeared in five games for Florida this season (and seven last season), scored his first NHL goal 14:56 into the first period, taking a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau and backhanding it past Quick.
Schwindt, a 20-year-old center taken by the Panthers in the 3rd round (81st overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, made his NHL debut. It was a whirlwind day for the Ontario native, who got the call after having played each of the previous two nights for Charlotte. “I didn’t have much trouble getting legs for tonight,” Schwindt quipped after the game, “I tried to have a pregame nap when I got into Florida here this afternoon and there was no chance I was falling asleep.”
A Bit of a Skid
Thursday night’s loss to Los Angeles was the Panthers’ third straight regulation loss, the longest such streak for them so far this season. They lost four straight games in early November, but they were able to snatch a point in two of those games via overtime and a shootout.
The Panthers have dropped from first place in the NHL to third place in the Atlantic Division. They have a chance to regain the top spot and stop the skid when they travel to Minnesota on Saturday (Dec. 18) for the first game of a two-game midwestern road trip.
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Saturday’s game against the Wild (19-8-2) is a matinee, with puck drop scheduled for 2:00 PM ET. The Kings play on the road against the Carolina Hurricanes (20-7-1) Saturday night at 7:00 PM ET.
Grant is a freelance writer covering the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets for THW. He started his own sports blog (Head in the Game) in 2013 and worked in the sports information department while at Trine University, from where he graduated in 2019. You can follow Grant on Twitter @G_Tingley.