Improving Panthers host Kings in tough test

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers, who are getting noteworthy performances from Brandon Montour, Carter Verhaeghe and Matthew Tkachuk, host the Los Angeles Kings on Friday night in Sunrise, Fla.

Although Florida has lost its past two games, the Panthers are 7-3-2 since Jan. 3 — a hopeful sign for a franchise that struggled through the first half of the season.

“We’re a much (better) hockey team than we were a month ago,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

Indeed, since Jan. 1, the Panthers have converted on 41.5 percent of their power-play chances, ranking No. 1 in the NHL during that span.

One key is Montour, whose seven-game points streak is tied with Keith Yandle (2018-19) and MacKenzie Weegar (2020-21) for the longest in franchise history by a defenseman.

Montour has already eclipsed his career high with 41 points (eight goals, 33 assists), eighth among NHL blueliners through Wednesday’s action.

Tkachuk ranks eighth in the NHL in scoring with 62 points, and Verhaeghe has a career-high 25 goals.

Verhaeghe has six power-play goals this season. In his three previous NHL seasons — totaling 173 games — Verhaeghe had just two goals with the man advantage.

“I’m trying to shoot more,” Verhaeghe said, “and I’m playing with great players.”

On the defensive side of the Panthers’ ledger, it will be interesting to see which goalie gets the start. Due to injuries to Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight, Alex Lyon was recalled from the minors.

Lyon has played in four consecutive games, and the Panthers are 2-1-1 in those contests. Yet, Lyon was burned in Tuesday’s 7-6 overtime loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In those four games, Lyon has a 4.30 goals-against average.

Meanwhile, the Kings arrive in South Florida on a two-game win streak. They are 2-1-0 on a tough road trip that still includes games against the Panthers, who had the best record in the NHL’s regular season in 2021-22; the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have won two Stanley Cup titles in the past three years; and the Carolina Hurricanes, who lead the Metropolitan Division.

The Kings are supposed to be rebuilding, but they entered Thursday in playoff position thanks in large part to Pheonix Copley, their suddenly hot goalie from the North Pole in Alaska.

Copley, 31, played just two NHL games in the past three seasons. This year, though, he is 14-3-0 with a 2.80 GAA. He has started the Kings’ past four games, taking the top job away from Jonathan Quick, the team’s aging star.

Quick, 37, is a three-time All-Star and a two-time Stanley Cup champ. But he is just 8-11-4 with a 3.34 GAA this season. In fact, he is on pace for the second-worst GAA of his career.

Copley made 28 saves in the Kings’ most recent victory, a 4-3 overtime decision at Philadelphia on Tuesday.

“He bailed us out,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar said of Copley’s performance against the Flyers.

Copley, in a nod to his North Pole roots, has images of candy canes on his mask.

Offensively, the Kings are led by Adrian Kempe’s 19 goals. Kevin Fiala, who had the overtime goal to beat the Flyers, tops Los Angeles with 34 assists and 51 points.

–Field Level Media

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x