The Florida Panthers’ regular season ends on April 6, but “Decision Time” could come on the night of Feb. 23 – if not a bit sooner.
After beating the visiting Vegas Golden Knights 3-1 on Saturday night, the Panthers (21-21-8, 50 points) are still a below-.500 club (counting the losses in overtime/shootouts). They are nine points out of the playoffs, and they have five teams to leapfrog to get that spot.
The Panthers have 32 games left in the regular season, and this was the part of the schedule when they got scorching hot last year. But GM Dale Tallon is not going to wait until April 6. His Panthers have 10 more games before the Feb. 25 trade deadline – nine of them at home. The last of those nine home games is on Feb. 23 against the Los Angeles Kings.
That home stretch represents an extraordinary opportunity for the Panthers to make a run. If they do, Tallon could be a buyer at the deadline. If they don’t, Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan – who made their Panthers debuts on Saturday – will likely be among the first players traded by Tallon.
But they likely wouldn’t be the last, with top names such as Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov possibly used as trade bait.
Beyond that, here are some takeaways regarding the Panthers:
1: Welcome: Brassard picked up one assist on Saturday, playing 15:32, including 25 seconds on the power play.
Sheahan posted zero points but was perhaps more impressive due to the hard-nosed style he displayed. He got 15:34 of ice time, including 32 seconds on the penalty kill.
“We loved them,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “Of course, we loved (the traded Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann). Those are big losses. But (Brassard and Sheahan) were awesome for us tonight.
“(Sheahan) is really good on draws. ‘Brass’ is a really skilled player. They are fun to watch, and we’re happy to have them.”
Although Brassard and Sheahan are centers, the Panthers are using them as right wingers. Brassard joined a line with center Vincent Trocheck and Hoffman. Sheahan joined a line with rookie center Henrik Borgstrom and Frank Vatrano.
2: Welcome back: Defenseman MacKenzie Weegar returned after missing four games due to a concussion. He was paired with Josh Brown on the Panthers’ third unit.
With Weegar in, Brown’s former partner, Ian McCoshen, was made a healthy scratch.
3: Connections: Brassard played previously with Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle when both of them were with the New York Rangers.
Brassard also trains with Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson in the offseason.
“I knew a few guys, and the fact that I came here with (Sheahan), another teammate, I think it helps you feel comfortable,” Brassard said.
“(Friday), when I was coming (to the Panthers), I was excited. And (Saturday morning), when I learned I was playing with (Hoffman and Trocheck) – that’s what I’m looking for. I can do my job with those two guys. They’re talented players, and they compete.”
4: Quick work: Barkov needed just 12 seconds to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. It was two seconds short of the Panthers record for quickest goal, which was set by Johan Garpenlov in 1996 and tied by Barkov in 2016.
“I couldn’t believe I scored so early,” said Barkov, who was followed on the Panthers scoresheet by Hoffman and Vatrano (empty-netter).
5: Winning effort: Those three goals stood up because backup goalie James Reimer was outstanding, making 34 saves.
“We had some huge saves from Reimer when we needed to keep the score tied,” Hoffman said.
Reimer is 10-8-5 this season with a 3.06 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage. Starter Roberto Luongo is 10-12-1 with a 3.17 GAA and an .895 save percentage.
Ironically, both have allowed the same number of goals this season – 73.