San Jose Sharks at Florida Panthers game preview
SUNRISE, Fla. — It’s not last season anymore.
That’s obvious, of course, but what it means in a hockey context is that the San Jose Sharks (7-6-0) and the Florida Panthers (6-6-1) are battling to regain their form.
Both teams will be trying to rekindle that magic from last season on Thursday when the Sharks visit the Panthers. San Jose made the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in its history last season and Florida set the franchise record with 47 victories.
Recent events show signs of improvement.
The Sharks snapped a three-game losing streak by winning on the road and dominating one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, beating the Washington Capitals 3-0 on Tuesday.
"That win was big for us just to kind of right the ship for us a little bit," said Sharks goalie Martin Jones, who made 24 saves. "Everything kind of went our way."
For the Panthers, starting goalie Roberto Luongo broke a personal four-game losing streak by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 on Monday.
Even better for Florida is the fact that it is starting to get healthier.
Forward Jussi Jokinen, who has missed the past nine games due to a knee injury, is set to return on Thursday against the Sharks.
"He’s ready to play," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant confirmed.
Florida center Nick Bjugstad, who has yet to play this season due to a broken hand, is set to return next week.
The Panthers also made a trade on Wednesday, acquiring former New York Rangers defenseman Dylan McIlrath, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound bruiser.
Florida dealt the Rangers a conditional seventh-round draft pick and 28-year-old defenseman Steven Kampfer, who has been a healthy scratch in 12 of 13 games this season. The Rangers sent Kampfer to their AHL affiliate, so he is a non-factor, for now at least.
McIlrath, 24, could actually help the Panthers. He was a first-round pick, No. 10 overall, in 2010, but has been unable to crack New York’s lineup of top-seven defenseman.
Part of the problem for McIlrath is that he doesn’t play the speed and puck-moving game the Rangers prefer. But with the Panthers, his toughness could be an asset if they indeed use him.
Interestingly, the Sharks played the power game all the way to their first Western Conference title last season. But then in the offseason, general manager Doug Wilson added speed by acquiring David Schlemko and Mikkel Boedker as free-agent signings.
Neither player has made much of an impact so far, combining for a total of just five points.
The Sharks were outstanding on the road last season with a 28-10-3 record. They are off to a 3-4-0 start in 2016-17, including that big win over Washington on Tuesday.
The Panthers will have a couple of advantages on Thursday that have nothing to do with personnel – they are home and did not have to travel. They also have one more day’s rest in between games than San Jose.
Panthers backup goalie James Reimer played for San Jose last season, but is not expected to start on Thursday.
San Jose was fourth in the NHL in average goals per game last season, and the Sharks’ power play is one of the most dynamic units in the NHL. That top unit includes forwards Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau along with defenseman Brent Burns at the point.