The Florida Panthers face an interesting road trip through California fresh off a four-game winning streak after taking down Chicago at Sunrise. The team flew off to the West Coast shortly after last Sunday’s noon game concluded. They arrived at Cali with time to spare ahead of some big matchups.
HEY MR CARTERRRR pic.twitter.com/jSKJ6HbTLo
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) November 12, 2023
The Panthers Go West
The three-game road trip includes the team’s first meeting with the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. Both games in the Greater Los Angeles area are against two teams off to good starts. And as is the case with the Panthers they are better off than expected before the season. Prior to the Panthers touchdown at LAX, the Cats will face off against a team in a much more dramatic situation. As the Panthers kickstart the road trip at San Jose, they will have a great chance to hit the ground running.
Play the Team in Front
The NHL season consists of 82 games where every team faces every other team at least twice. It is way too easy to over-relax and be deceived by a team’s record. The Panthers cannot afford to take those chances. When visiting the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center, the Cats will have to abstain from any narrative and play the game the way they know. Despite being barely 14 games into the season, the Cats will end their season series with the Sharks Tuesday night. Their first meeting was much closer than it needed to be and was virtually a one-score game. Florida scored an empty net goal as the insurance goal. A new reunion with fan favorite, Anthony Duclair will take place next Tuesday. The Duke and his speed can make it a long night for the jet-lagged Panthers.
The Sharks managed to keep it close with the Eastern Conference Champions and that speaks as loud for both teams. The Sharks left Sunrise believing they could go head-to-head with one of the best. The Panthers left content, but a tad worried as they struggled with a winless team. The Sharks are no longer winless, they avoided the accolade for the worst start in NHL history, and now possess a record of 2-12-1. It is not only about records but what we see on the ice. The Sharks are not good. The Panthers are. This game should not be one in which the Panthers trail from behind. As unpredictable as the NHL may be on any given night, Florida ought to control the game from start to finish.
Sam Bennett‘s return to the lineup and a big special teams performance last time out should carry on momentum for the Cats. The Panthers scored twice on the man advantage against the Blackhawks and hope for similar success against the Sharks.
Panthers at Kings: Tough Battleground
Following the, on paper, easiest matchup of the Panthers road trip, a visit to Crypto.com Arena lies ahead. Put plain and simple: the Panthers struggle a lot in Los Angeles. In recent years the Kings on the road has become one of the toughest opponents for this organization. The Panthers have won two of the last ten visits to the West Coast main attraction. The rink sold its naming rights but it has not become easier for the visiting Cats.
The Kings possess a top-5 PK unit allowing barely 13% of PP success. The Panthers will have to take down that big dominant shutdown defensive system to win. The Panthers have proved their defensive worth, despite missing Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour. A tall task will fall upon Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Gustav Forsling when facing Quinton Byfield, Adrian Kempe, and Anze Kopitar, among other Kings.
The goaltending may be a determining aspect as both teams lack a consistent backup. Both Anthony Stolarz and Pheonix Copley are far back from starting tenders Sergei Bobrovsky and Cam Talbot, respectively. Whoever starts in net for the Kings and Panthers may have a big say on the final score.
Closing it Out at Anaheim Where Ducks and Mice Make a Living
The last stop in the Florida Panthers Californian road trip will be at the Honda Center. The Anaheim Ducks sit fourth in the Pacific Division and have shown true potential when taking down league juggernauts. Although inconsistent, the Ducks had a six-game winning streak which featured wins over Vegas and Boston. Both snapped unbeaten runs from the Golden Knights and the Bruins, although the latter one was in overtime. The Ducks are finally closer to playoffs than a rebuild. Filled with young talent and rising stars, they can give any team in the NHL a run for their money.
Not to be taken for granted, the Ducks feature two former Panthers who may be in for great games against their ex-clubs. Radko Gudas, signed during the summer free agency, and Frank Vatrano, signed after a short stay with the Rangers, are some players to watch when the Panthers meet with the Ducks on Saturday the 18th. Vatrano leads Anaheim in goals with a total tally of 11, while Gudas is also off to a big start in his department. ‘The Butcher’ leads the team in hits, as the Panthers are well aware of, and in penalty minutes. Florida cannot expect any light treatment from Radko and should be prepared for a gritty battle with sparks flying.
The Panthers need to address the young firepower the Ducks possess and contain Mason McTavish, rookie Leo Carlsson, and Trevor Zegras, although the latter has not been a big part of the Ducks offence so far this season and is injured. At Anaheim, where Disneyland is, it is no surprise the league’s youngsters are having a blast. The Panthers will get to work in a town where ducks and mice run the show, looking to set themselves at the top of the foodchain.
Much More than Six Points
The Florida Panthers road trip in California is not just about winning and collecting the most points from it. The long flight to the West Coast and the different time zones make this trip one every Eastern franchise looks forward to having behind them as soon as possible. For the Cats, there is an added value to return to Sunrise. And the reason for it is the possible return from Ekblad and Montour, as Paul Maurice suggested recently.
Quote from Maurice on Ekblad/Montour:
“Their rehab and recovery has been very, very good. … There’s a chance that near the end of the trip and then when we come back for the homestand off the West Coast we could see one or two of them.”
— Jameson Olive (@JamesonCoop) November 6, 2023
Getting back home with a positive record and adding their two best defenders could grant this Panthers team a huge boost. Second in the Atlantic Division and with a tough schedule ahead, with divisional meetings, the Panthers are crossing out the days for their team to be back fully healthy. The sky is the limit for Florida and they know it as well as anybody else. When the team is firing on all cylinders they are hard to contain and they seem to be just getting started.
Main Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports