The Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers — two well-rested teams — will meet on Saturday night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.
Detroit has been off since losing 5-2 to the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. Florida has been off since losing 6-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday.
For the Red Wings, losing has become commonplace. They have lost four games in a row and 16 of 18 as they head toward what will likely result in their fourth straight year out of the playoffs.
This from a franchise that made the playoffs for 25 straight season starting in 1990 (1990-2004, 2005-16; skipping the 2004-05 campaign due to the NHL lockout) and winning Stanley Cup titles in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008.
If there was any good news for Detroit in its loss to Arizona, it was the return of starting goalie Jimmy Howard, who had missed 10 straight games due to a lower-body injury.
“Physically, I felt fine. I had fun being back out there,” said the 35-year-old Howard, who was named to the All-Star Game for the third time in his career last season.
This season, though, hasn’t been fun overall as Howard has gone 2-12-1 with a 4.02 goals-against average and an .887 save percentage.
The Red Wings also have backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, 31. He is 7-10-2 with a 3.24 GAA and an .897 save percentage.
Florida is expected to counter with backup goalie Chris Driedger, saving Sergei Bobrovsky for Sunday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Driedger, 25, is 2-1-0 with a 1.69 GAA and a .948 save percentage. He had never started an NHL game prior to this season.
Florida’s offense is powered by winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who has scored a goal in three straight games. He tops the Panthers in assists (34) and points (48) and is tied with Brett Connolly for the team lead in goals (14).
Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov is second on the team with 40 points.
It will be interesting to see how the Panthers perform on Saturday. They had that poor performance against Tampa Bay and then went into the Christmas break without an immediate chance to redeem themselves.
“It was a disappointing way to go into the break,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said.
The Panthers, who are 11-7-2 at home this season, should have a distinct advantage against the Red Wings.
Detroit, which is 4-12-2 on the road this season, lost 4-0 to the Panthers in Sunrise on Nov. 2. That was the teams’ only meeting so far this season, and Bobrovsky earned the shutout while Huberdeau had two goals and Barkov and Connolly had one each.
The Red Wings, who hired former captain Steve Yzerman as their general manager in April, are trying to rebuild the team into what it was when he led them to three Stanley Cup titles.
Yzerman knows it’s going to take quite a bit of time to turn things around, and it doesn’t help Detroit that its second-leading scorer, winger Anthony Mantha, was placed on injured reserve on Sunday due to an upper-body issue. He scored a career-best 25 goals last season.
Danny DeKeyser, considered Detroit’s top defenseman, is also out.
Meanwhile, the Panthers recalled defenseman Riley Stillman on Friday. He could help, especially if top-pair defenseman Aaron Ekblad — who is questionable with a shoulder injury suffered against the Lightning — is forced to sit out against Detroit.
Ekblad has missed just one game over the past three seasons.
–Field Level Media