Rested Panthers ready for Knights
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle leads all active NHL players in consecutive games played, a streak that will hit 677 on Friday against the visiting Vegas Golden Knights.
Yandle's streak shot up to No. 1 this past Sunday when it was announced that Anaheim Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano was suspended two games for a hit he put on Adrian Kempe of the Los Angeles Kings.
As proud of Yandle as the Panthers are, they are looking for a different kind of streak. It's called a winning streak, and the Panthers (18-19-6) are in dire need since they have lost four of their past five games.
The Panthers haven't played a game since last Friday's 4-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.
Meanwhile, the Golden Knights (30-11-3) lead the Western Conference with 63 points after defeating the host Tampa Bay Lightning -- who lead the NHL in points -- 4-1 on Thursday night.
Vegas has been nearly unbeatable at home this season (18-2-2) but a bit vulnerable on the road (12-9-1).
The Golden Knights, a first-year expansion team, are led by three former Panthers -- coach Gerard Gallant, points leader Jonathan Marchessault (16 goals, 26 assists) and winger Reilly Smith, who is third on the team in points (12 goals, 24 assists).
Gallant said he has been impressed with the improvement shown by Marchessault.
"'Marchy' has worked really hard to become a complete hockey player," Gallant told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "The biggest thing was that he had to get better defensively. He had to pay more attention to the defensive zone.
"We all knew he was good with the puck and is never afraid to shoot. But he is improved defensively, and his whole line (Smith and William Karlsson) has taken a lot of pride in their defense.
"I think any player who puts his mind to it can do that. He's got talent and skill and confidence in himself. But he wanted to develop a 200-foot game, and he's done that."
Gallant has done a masterful job of getting this team to gel so quickly. The Knights have also overcome injuries. Four players are on injured reserve: goalie Oscar Dansk (lower body) and defensemen Jonathon Merrill (lower body), Luca Sbisa (left hand) and Clayton Stoner (abdominal).
In addition, left winger Tomas Nosek is day-to-day with an unspecified injury.
However, Vegas center Cody Eakin returned on Thursday night when Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 28 saves to earn the two-game season sweep over Tampa Bay.
Clearly, the Knights are on a roll, and it would behoove the Panthers to get off to a good start due to this startling statistic: Vegas is 19-1-0 when scoring first.
Updated January 18, 2018