The Ottawa Senators continue their Florida road trip tonight with a match-up against the Panthers. If the Tampa Bay Lightning were a tough match-up for the Sens,then you’ve got to believe that the Panthers will pose a nearly equal challenge. The days of banking on an easy two points in Miami are long gone at this stage. The good news is that the Sens have already prevailed over Florida this season: an 8-2 thrashing that was the very definition of a Sens’ing. The better news is that one of the standouts from that stellar performance, Josh Norris, returns to the line-up after an extended stay on the Injured Reserve. Are we setting ourselves up for another shocking upset?
For the Sens to stay close with the Panthers, they’ll likely need a strong showing from their defense and goalie; Florida is scoring a remarkable 4.08 goals per game, the best mark in the league, and the highest rate from any team over the last 25 years. Yes, you could say the Panthers have some firepower.
Here’s how DJ Smith is expected to line them up tonight:
Formenton - Stützle - Brown
Paul - White - Ennis
Kelly - Gambrell - Watson
Chbabot - Zub
Holden - Zaitsev
Brannstrom - Brown
- The Panthers, like virtually all the elite teams, are a deep, skilled group, but if the Sens want to have a chance tonight they’ll first and foremost need to keep Jonathan Huberdeau in check. The big winger is third in scoring with 75 points in 53 games — just two behind Connor McDavid for the league lead. He may not get the same publicity as some of the other big names, but I suspect he’ll be in the running for the Hart trophy when it’s all said and done.
- One thing to note about the Panthers is just how dominant they are at 5v5 where they widely outshoot, out-chance, and outscore the opposition: Florida is +43 (!) in 5v5 goal differential and have scored a remarkable 146 goals, 11 more than the next closest team (the Sens have scored just 96 goals at 5v5 this season). The biggest issue facing the squad as they gear up for a play-off run is their mediocre special teams.
- With Norris returning to the lineup, Adam Gaudette will be the healthy scratch tonight. Gaudette’s provided a fair bit of offense, and he’s been about as good as you could hope for from a waiver claim, but it also doesn’t look like he’s in the team’s long term plans and he’s struggled a bit of late so this scratch is fairly unsurprising. Part of it is also likely due to Smith’s desire to have a fourth line with a specific identity, one that Parker Kelly, Dylan Gambrell and Austin Watson embody a lot more readily than Gaudette. It’s not the route that I would go, but one of Smith’s characteristics as a head coach has been a pretty steady commitment to a grinder/energy fourth line and he’s the one who does the actual coaching around here!
- Anton Forsberg gets the start tonight after Matt Murray allowed five goals on Tuesday against the Lightning. You’d be hard pressed to say Murray played badly but five goals against is five goals against, and Forsberg has been just as good of late.
- Josh Brown did not practice yesterday and Smith said that the rearguard was banged up, and could be a gametime decision. If Brown sits, then Dillon Heatherington will draw in alongside Erik Brännström on the third pair.
- Puck drop is 7 PM ET. You can watch on TSN5, RDS2 or listen along on TSN1200
Stats are, as always, courtesy of NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick:
|Penalty Kill %||80.5||13th||75.1||26th|
|Corsi % (5v5 SVA)||47.91||21st||49.03||19th|
|xGF % (5v5 SVA)||47.10||24th||47.34||23rd|
|Goals||Josh Norris||33||Jared McCann||25|
|Assists||Tim Stützle||32||Yanni Gourde||26|
|Points||Brady Tkachuk||59||Jared McCann, Yanni Gourde (tied)||43|
|Shots||Brady Tkachuk||261||Jared McCann||174|
|Time on Ice/GP||Thomas Chabot (inj.)||26:23||Adam Larsson||22:10|