The recharged Panthers, riding the wave of an 11-game winning streak heading into a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place late Sunday, will continue their tour of the Pacific Division in Vancouver on Monday night.
Roberto Luongo will get the nod in net Monday night against the Vancouver Canucks, his former club. Luongo returns to face the team he spent eight seasons with and left as its all-time leader in shutouts (38) and wins (252).
Luongo, who was reunited with the Panthers in the 2013-14 season after his time with the Canucks, still has fond memories of his time in Vancouver.
“It’s just special,” Luongo said. “Obviously, I spent a lot of time in my career there, made a lot of friends, so it’s always a fun game.”
Luongo faced an overwhelming amount of media attention from his days in Vancouver but isn’t worried about the pressure of returning to Rogers Arena for the second time.
“At the end of the day, we’re there to try to win a hockey game and get the two points, so we want to make sure the focus is on that,” he said
The Panthers have played moderately well against Western Conference squads, going 7-6-1 for the season before their game against the Oilers on Sunday. Surprisingly, the Panthers are 2-4-1 against the weaker Pacific Division this season, and the Canucks can’t be taken lightly.
On Sunday, the Panthers played a Oilers team that has been fairly successful at Rexall Place this season, going 12-8-1 overall at home. Given all their skill and confidence playing at home, the Oilers were keen to end the Panthers’ team-record winning streak.
“They got some good, strong firepower upfront,” said Aaron Ekblad, who entered Sunday’s contest with nine goals and 19 points. “Leon Draisaitl and [Taylor] Hall and [Jordan] Eberle are great players, and they’re not to be underestimated at all.”
▪ Panthers’ defenseman and Edmonton native Alex Petrovic is excited about playing in the arena in which he learned about the NHL as a child. After years of being away from Edmonton, Petrovic embraced the downtime in his hometown to connect with loved ones.
“I haven’t been back here [Edmonton] for four years now, so it’s nice to be home,” he said. “I got to see some family and friends away from the rink.”
Petrovic did his best to gather Panthers fans for the Edmonton game after buying 45 tickets for family and friends. It’s a bittersweet situation for the 23-year-old, who played his first and last time at Rexall, as the Oilers will move into a Rogers Place next season.
“Growing up, I came to a lot of Oilers games, seen a lot of pretty good hockey players in the rink,” he said. “For me, I’m pretty lucky to be here — there’s a lot of history at the rink — and it brings back a lot of memories, so it’s pretty special.”
▪ Goalie Al Montoya made his first start against the Oilers, allowing Luongo the time to rest and prepare for the game against the Canucks. Both goalies have been outstanding this season.
In 33 starts this season, Luongo has gone 19-11-3, with a 2.06 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. Montoya is 6-1-1 with a 1.69 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage.
Monday: Panthers at Canucks
When/where: 10 p.m.; Rogers Arena, Vancouver.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Series: Vancouver leads 13-9-6.
Scouting report: Roberto Luongo is 2-1-1 in four starts against the Canucks since coming back to the Panthers in 2013. Florida won the previous meeting 5-4 in a shootout on Dec. 20, and Luongo also won in his return to Vancouver last January 3-1.