We’re now a day away from the puck dropping for the first of two international games between the Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets. The teams spent the last four days in Finland touring, relaxing and bonding. With the sight-seeing portion of the trip all but over, their focus shifts to the games.
Puck Drop Preview: NHL Global Series
Coming into Thursday’s game, the Panthers sit tied with the New Jersey Devils for least amount of games in the entire NHL (nine). Combine that with the fact that they’ve only won twice, its clear Florida needs to get some traction. They sputtered out of the gate this year, and hope the NHL Global Series turns things around for them.
On the other hand, the Jets view these games as necessary to keep pace with the top of the Central Division. When they left for Finland, Winnipeg sat one point out of first in the division. However, they’re now back three, tied for fourth in the division. They’d like to get out of Helsinki back on top of the Central.
Florida Panthers – Desperation Kicking in
Whether their next game was to be in Finland, at home, or anywhere else in the world, the Panthers were gonna be desperate for a win. Early projections from around the league had Florida frequently listed as a wild card team for this year’s playoff picture. Within their own locker room, they felt the same way. Unfortunately, though, the results haven’t reflected that expectation and the frustration is beginning to bleed through into their on-ice play.
Sitting last in the East, the Panthers still don’t have a regulation win; their two came from overtime and shootout victories (one apiece). Despite all but one of their games coming down to a single goal, Florida consistently finds themselves on the wrong side of the victory. Captain Aleksander Barkov expects his team to come out strong in Finland, especially since these games are in his home country.
“When the puck drops, it’s game on,” said Barkov in a post-practice interview on the NHL Global Series. “It doesn’t matter where you play, you want to get those points. We came here to try to win those games and we’re going to do everything we can to win. I know it’s going to be really nice to play here.”
Winnipeg Jets – Hope for Individual Inspiration
As previously stated, the Jets have been good so far this season. They’re 7-4-1 and get to play twice against a team struggling to perform. That being said, there’s room for improvement especially on an individual level for players on their roster. They won’t be taking these games lightly, as it would be quite a disappointment to fall flat with all the emotions surrounding this matchup.
Under the spotlight more than any other Jet is forward Patrik Laine. He hopes playing two games in his home country will help him find the scoring touch that helped him reach 44 goals last year. So far, Laine struggled his way to only five points in 12 games.
In an interview earlier this week, Laine acknowledged his struggles but re-affirmed his focus on the team as a whole. He, “just overall…kind of feels like the pucks are bouncing, and when I’m trying to get it out of the zone it feels like it’s going to hit something and stay inside”. Rather than focusing on strictly scoring goals, Laine believes improving on smaller details will get him back on track. Ultimately, he plans to, “try to play the same game [I] always play and not worry about the spotlight.”
NHL Global Series Underway Thursday
Expect quite the show from these NHL Global Series games. Both teams arrived days early to both enjoy Finland and get extra time for rest and preparation. Each team has a lot on the line already, something rare for games so early in the year. Add the emotions from Laine and Barkov playing games in their homeland and you’ve got a perfect storm brewing.
Winnipeg needs their stars to get going. They don’t want to chase the rest of the Central all season, and these games could be the difference in such a competitive division. Florida needs their goaltending to improve. With injured starter Roberto Luongo a full participant in practices, this could happen sooner than later. Unfortunately, he isn’t expected to play either of these games, but the extra time off for travel helped reduce the total amount of games he has to miss. The Panthers hope that every other bit of anticipation will be enough to get them some success in Finland.
Because the games take place in Helsinki, the start times will be quite a bit earlier than usual for a weekday. Both Thursday and Friday, the Jets and Panthers matchups are scheduled for 2:00 pm EST. If you have to miss one or both of them, follow our postgame coverage for all the details!
Main Photo: WINNIPEG, MB – MAY 20: Connor Hellebuyck #37 of the Winnipeg Jets makes a save during the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell MTS Place on May 20, 2018, in Winnipeg, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead/Getty Images)