SUNRISE, Fla. — The Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers, both only five games from the halfway point of the regular season, already find themselves in trouble in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Flyers (15-13-8) have lost three of their past four games and sit six points out of playoff position.
Florida (15-16-5) has won three games in a row, but the Panthers have dug themselves a serious hole in the standings. They are nine points out of playoff position.
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On Thursday night, the Panthers will host the Flyers at the BB&T Center in a game between teams desperate for points.
The Panthers, at least, have played well lately, and much of the credit goes to backup goalie James Reimer, who has started nine consecutive games in place of injured starter Roberto Luongo.
“I think it’s a matter of settling in,” Reimer said after Florida beat the Ottawa Senators 1-0 on Saturday night.
That was the last game played by the Panthers, who took off for the holidays knowing they finally hit their stride. In the two games prior to Ottawa, Florida beat the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 and the Minnesota Wild 4-2.
Add it up, and Reimer has allowed just five goals in his past three games. For the season, he is 9-9-4 with a 3.15 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage.
“I’ve tried to keep it simple, and I think that’s helped me,” Reimer said. “I’ve felt good the past couple of games, seeing the puck.”
The Ottawa game was Reimer’s first shutout of the season, and he said there was a certain amount of good fortune involved.
“There were a couple of posts and a couple of big blocks (by teammates) when (Ottawa) had open nets,” Reimer said. “Anytime you get a shutout, it’s indicative of how hard your teammates work in front of you.”
The Panthers enter the Thursday game fairly healthy, although two players are questionable to suit up against the Flyers: defenseman Ian McCoshen and forward Jamie McGinn. Both missed the past two games because of upper-body injuries.
Other than Reimer, the three hottest Panthers at the moment are centers Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau, who are tied for the team lead with 35 points, and Aleksander Barkov (32 points). Huberdeau and Trocheck, who plays on the second line, lead Florida with 14 goals.
As for the Flyers, goalie Brian Elliott is expected to start Thursday, and he has been solid with a 13-8-7 record, a 2.59 GAA and .916 save percentage.
In Philadelphia’s most recent game, Elliott made 35 saves but lost 2-1 in a shootout at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday. The only goal allowed by Elliott was on a power play.
Much like Reimer, Elliott has been playing heavy minutes with 11 straight starts. His main backup, Michal Neuvirth, is out with an injury.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol seemed satisfied with not just Elliott but everyone on his roster after the tough loss to Columbus.
“We got a real good effort,” Hakstol said.
True, the Flyers picked up a point, but they also will need to pick up the pace if they are to get into the postseason.
The Flyers’ top three scorers are right winger Jakub Voracek (44 points), center Claude Giroux (42 points) and center Sean Couturier (32 points, team-high 16 goals).
Giroux has been particularly hot with 14 points, including 12 assists, in his past nine games.
In addition to those veterans, the Flyers are also breaking in three rookies this season: center Nolan Patrick and defensemen Robert Hagg and Travis Sanheim. Patrick, the second overall pick in the 2017 draft, has two goals and five assists in 27 games.