Panthers still sniff postseason; Coyotes eye next year (Jan 23, 2017)
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- This wasn't the trail the Florida Panthers or Arizona Coyotes expected to blaze this season. For one team, there is still time to get back on track.
Coming off their first Atlantic Division title last year, and just the second division title in franchise history, Florida had an active offseason, signing free agents Keith Yandle, James Reimer, Jason Demers and Jonathan Marchessault, among others.
Instead of taking another step forward, the Panthers fired coach Gerard Gallant, a finalist for the Jack Adams Award in 2015-16, after an 11-10-1 start.
The team has also been ravaged by injuries. Center Aleksander Barkov has been out since Dec. 30 with an upper-body injury. Center Nick Bjugstad has been out since Jan. 7 with a groin injury, and also missed time with a broken hand earlier this season.
Left winger Jonathan Huberdeau hasn't played this season due to an Achilles injury and defenseman Alex Petrovic is still week-to-week with an ankle injury.
As a result, the Panthers found themselves two points off the Eastern Conference playoff face before Saturday's games.
"Everybody has injuries and we're not using it as an excuse -- we're not going to let anybody use it -- we just have to be more consistent from coaches to veterans to young kids," Florida coach Tom Rowe said Sunday after the Panthers practiced at Gila River Arena, a day before their game against the Coyotes on Monday. "We had a real good discussion today of keeping things positive. When things are going great, it's easy to be positive, it's easy to be happy; everybody's patting each other on the back. The real test of a good team, a real-high character team is how you handle the adversity."
While Bjugstad could return soon, the Panthers know they can't rely on the return of Barkov and Huberdeau, two-thirds of their top line, as they try to stay in the postseason picture.
"You can't expect or wait for guys to come back," said center Vincent Trocheck, who leads the team in goals (17), points (32), and is averaging the most ice time among Florida's forwards (21:40) and the third-most among all NHL forwards behind Chicago's Patrick Kane and Anaheim's Ryan Kesler.
"You never know when guys will get healthy, or if they'll get healthy. We have the team that we have so we have to play our hardest with the guys we have. We've got to be the ones to make a push for the playoffs."
The goals are more modest for the Coyotes. Arizona is going to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight season. The Coyotes trailed the final Western Conference wild-card spot by 17 points on Saturday. Coach Dave Tippett is just hoping to see the type of progression from his youth-laden roster that has been evident in the play of recent American Hockey League call-ups Brendan Perlini (seven goals in 21 games) and Christian Fischer, who had a goal in his NHL debut on Saturday, a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay.
"To make sure we are fully committed to doing whatever it takes to win on a given night, that's what we have to do," Tippett said. "Some nights it's going to work out, and some nights it's not, but the other team has got to know that we're a hard, hard opponent. If we do that, it'll be interesting to see how many more wins we get here."
Coyotes right winger Jordan Martinook missed Saturday's game with an upper-body injury and is listed as day to day. Left winger Max Domi (hand) is out until after the All-Star break and center Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is out of his cast but the team still has not set a timeline for his return.
Mike Smith is expected to start in goal for Arizona; Roberto Luongo is expected to start for Florida.