FLORIDA PANTHERSThe injury bug took its first big bite out of the Panthers this week. First it was captain and MVP caliber forward Aleksander Barkov who missed a game. Patric Hornqvist went down a few days later, costing the team two of its top three goal scorers at the time.
While neither injury was thought to be too severe as of this writing, the same cannot be said for defenseman Aaron Ekblad - the first overall pick in 2014, the team’s No. 1 defenseman and a breakout Norris Trophy candidate. He left Sunday’s win against Dallas and the Panthers expect to be without him for a significant amount of time.
Despite the losses, the Panthers, who had dropped two games in Chicago to start the week, were able to snap their first three-game losing streak of the season with back-to-back wins against Dallas over the weekend. Up next is a pair of two-game series against Detroit and Columbus, the bottom-ranked teams in the Central Division, at home. Florida retains a tight hold on third in that divisional race, with leaders Tampa and Carolina each within two points.
The Panthers made an AHL roster move on Sunday, recalling forward Aleksi Heponiemi to their taxi squad from the Syracuse Crunch. Heponiemi, who scored the overtime winner in his NHL debut earlier this season, had not played for Syracuse since Feb. 17.
DID IT FOR EKKY ❤️ pic.twitter.com/MDvBVT6vCV— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) March 29, 2021
SYRACUSE CRUNCHThe Crunch got two of their three scheduled games in this week and won both on strong offensive showings – a 6-3 win against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday and a 4-3 victory against Rochester on Friday. For the second straight week, their Saturday game was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols affecting the Utica Comets.
Forward Grigori Denisenko, in his first game back from the Panthers, scored an overtime winner on Friday to give the Crunch their fourth straight win. The temporary joint affiliation between Florida and Tampa Bay is now 7-5-1 on the season.
Deni with the game-winner! 💯 pic.twitter.com/ssQVk3rKpA— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) March 27, 2021
GREENVILLE SWAMP RABBITSOur ECHL affiliate started a three-in-three against Jacksonville with a Friday loss, only to rebound with victories on Saturday and Sunday.
A pair of Panthers prospects factored heavily on the team’s scoring over the weekend, with Greg Meireles, recently back from Syracuse, scoring the overtime winner on Saturday. Patrick Bajkov had three points in that game and followed that up with a pair of assists on Sunday.
The Swamp Rabbits, now up to third in the Eastern Division, will play four games against this week against South Carolina, one of the teams chasing them for a playoff spot. The series starts on Wednesday and then continues with the usual weekend three-in-three starting Friday.
IN OTHER NEWS
- Martin Necas is on absolute fire for the Hurricanes. After scoring this beautiful goal against Columbus on Thursday – his second in as many games – and setting up the overtime winner, he followed that up with a career-high four points in a big-time game against Tampa Bay on Saturday. His recent outburst has him near a point-per-game pace, as his 28 points in 30 outings rank second on the team behind new linemate Sebastian Aho.
UPDATE: The NHL named Necas its Second Star of the Week. It's the second weekly honor he's received this month, as he was named Third Star on March 8.
We might've had an OT winner, but this was just so filthy pic.twitter.com/4k97kMFgNn— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) March 26, 2021
- Alex Nedeljkovic also continues to impress with Carolina. His second shutout of the season and a 33-save performance last week have him among the NHL’s leaders for goals-against average (2.05 – sixth) and save percentage (.929 – fifth).
Shutout No. ✌ for Ned pic.twitter.com/BFW6NWKo9r— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) March 23, 2021
- This Panthers article profiles forward prospect Ty Smilanic, a third-round pick in last year’s draft whose excellent freshman season with Quinnipiac ended with an NCAA tournament loss on Saturday.
- Goalie prospect Spencer Knight, who unexpectedly added an NCAA Goaltender of the Year nomination to his list of potential awards, also exited the NCAA tournament as his Boston College Eagles suffered a loss to St. Cloud State on Sunday.
- Aside from Nedeljkovic, a handful of other former Checkers goaltenders started NHL games in the past week. First Dustin Tokarski, recently called to the Buffalo Sabres’ active roster, played his first two NHL games since 2016 and played well despite the Sabres’ continued struggles.
- Anton Forsberg, who waited a long time for the opportunity, had an excellent debut for the Ottawa Senators on Thursday. He stopped 38 of 41 shots in an overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
- Finally, Keith Kinkaid, who the Checkers snapped up from the Montreal organization shortly before the unexpected end to the 2019-20 season last March, has played eight games for the New York Rangers this month.
- A two-assist effort on Tuesday continued Janne Kuokkanen’s steady scoring pace. He’s got 10 points (4g, 6a) in his last 12 games for the New Jersey Devils.
- Here’s a story from the San Diego Gulls on Andrew Poturalski, who is tied for third in AHL scoring with 21 points in 23 games.
🗣: “He has a look in his eye this year that he isn’t going to be stopped.”— San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) March 22, 2021
Coming off an injured-filled season that cost him 33 games last year, @APots94 is back and better than ever.