Edmonton Oilers at Florida Panthers game preview
TV: FOX Sports Florida
Time: Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers, coming off the first 5-0-0 road trip in franchise history, return home to face the NHL’s brightest young star.
That, in a nutshell, is the appealing matchup set for the BB&T Center on Wednesday night, when the Panthers (28-20-10) host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers (32-20-8).
This will be McDavid’s first game at the Panthers. The second-year superstar with elite speed entered Tuesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning with 67 points, which ranked him ahead of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and every other player in the NHL.
Tampa Bay held McDavid without a point.
Meanwhile, Florida’s most recent game was a 2-1 victory at the St. Louis Blues as the Panthers got the winning goal by Vinny Trocheck wth just 4.6 seconds left.
“For a second there, it felt like we won the Stanley Cup,” Trocheck told the media after he set the record for the latest game-winning goal in franchise history. “With four seconds on the clock, we showed a lot of poise.”
That has been happening a lot lately for the Panthers, who have won eight of their past nine games, including six by one goal.
The Panthers, who have 66 points after 58 games, have used their current five-game win streak to propel themselves into a third-place tie in the Atlantic Division with the Boston Bruins. The Panthers have one game in hand over the Bruins.
Another team factoring heavily in the race for the final guaranteed playoff spot in the Atlantic is the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have 65 points. The Leafs are even with the Panthers in games played but have one fewer win.
Only a 6-3 home loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 9 has kept Florida from entering Wednesday on a nine-game win streak. In those nine games, Florida is averaging 3.9 goals while allowing 2.9.
Trocheck has at least one point in six straight games. For the season, he leads the Panthers in goals (21) and points (42).
Now the Panthers will try to avenge a 4-3 overtime loss at Edmonton on Jan. 18. McDavid won that game with a spectacular overtime goal, showing yet again why he was the first overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
McDavid, who turned 20 last month, was named the Oilers’ captain at the start of this season. He thus became the youngest captain in NHL history, and he is considered the league’s most exciting prospect in a decade.
Earlier this season, he reached 100 career points in just 92 games. Only three players in NHL history have reached 100 faster.
This season, he has 20 goals and leads the league in assists (47). He has already surpassed his rookie-season numbers when he had 16 goals and 32 assists in 45 games.
Ironically, McDavid got that 100-point milestone in last month’s win over the Panthers, a team he terrorized that night with two assists in addition to the winning goal.
McDavid’s OT goal came with just 2.6 seconds left in the extra period.
“It was nice to beat the clock,” McDavid told the media that night. “I’ve had two goals this season kind of called back due to the clock.”
Time, though, is most definitely on McDavid’s side in terms of his career.
Despite being so young, he is already considered perhaps the best skater in the league, turning opponents inside-out with ease. His puck skills are ridiculously good, and his hockey IQ is way beyond his years.
That’s why McDavid’s impact has been predicted for years now to ultimately equal that of the game’s greats — Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Crosby and Ovechkin.
If that plays out, McDavid will be in special company, indeed.
In other story lines for Wednesday’s game:
— Panthers backup goalie James Reimer is 6-0-1 in his past seven games.
— The Oilers are hoping to end an 11-year playoff drought.
— Florida is third in the league on its penalty kill.