SUNRISE, Fla. - In the first game since it was announced that Roberto Luongo would miss "an extended period of time" with a lower-body injury, the Florida Panthers will turn to James Reimer in net as the team welcomes the offensively-gifted Winnipeg Jets to the BB&T Center on Thursday.
Luongo, 38, was injured in Monday's 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders. The injury, coach Bob Boughner said, is unrelated to the veteran's surgically repaired hip, but is still expected to keep him out of the lineup for multiple weeks. Playing some of his best hockey in recent memory, Luongo had a .928 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average this season prior to the injury.
"It's a big loss," Boughner said after Thursday's morning skate. "He's been one of our best players for the last month and a half. I thought he was playing some of his best hockey. Now, as a team, we've got to step up and make sure that we hold the fort and give Reims as much support as we can."
With Luongo out, the reigns have been passed to Reimer.
In 14 games this season, Reimer has posted a 4-6-3 record with a 3.67 goals-against average and a .892 save percentage. There have been significant signs of improvement in recent games, however, as the 29-year-old owns a 1-2-1 record with a .903 save percentage over his last four starts.
"It's too bad and it's real unfortunate," Reimer said. "Hopefully he can heal up quick and come back as soon as possible. In his absence, obviously, as a team we know what we've got to do. We're not happy with where we are. We've got to step up and hopefully string some wins together."
The Panthers (10-13-4) have points in back-to-back games, but have lost four of their last six overall. They currently trail the Montreal Canadiens by five points for third place in the Atlantic Division, but need to leapfrog over three other teams (Ottawa, Detroit, Boston) to get there.
Each of Florida's last two losses has come in overtime.
"It's just a matter of burying your chances at the right time," Boughner said. "I like our team in the shootout, but we just didn't get it done the other night [against New York]. The game could have easily gone our way, but it didn't. But today's a new day. We're playing a tough team tonight and we all know we have to be ready to try and get two points out of this team."
The Jets (17-7-4) are coming off a surprising 5-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday. They enter tonight's game boasting the league's fifth-ranked offense (3.35 goals per game) and third-ranked power play (26.73 percent). Patrik Laine has been lethal on the man advantage for Winnipeg this season, with nine of his 14 goals coming on the power play.
"We look forward to it," defenseman Aaron Ekblad said of the challenge. "I've been playing here for a good few years now, but I didn't always play against top lines. I look forward to the challenge every night of playing against top lines, playing against guys like Laine."
Although they currently rank 29th in the league on the penalty kill, Florida has been much better when down a man in recent weeks, allowing just four power-play goals over its last 11 games. Boughner said the team has been doing a much better job of executing the minutia of the penalty kill, such as clearing pucks, winning face-offs and getting big saves.
The Panthers hope those little things will add up to a big win against the Jets.
"There's a lot of little things, but I think most importantly it's the details," Boughner said.
- Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Jets center Mark Scheifele were teammates on the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts for two seasons (2011-2013). The Jets selected Scheifele with the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, while Ekblad was taken by the Panthers first overall in 2014.
- Panthers center Aleksander Barkov and Jets winger Patrik Laine both hail from Tampere, Finland. The duo played together for Team Finland at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
- Jonathan Huberdeau enters tonight's game with four points (1-3-4) over his last four games. With an assist on Dec. 2 at Carolina, the 24-year-old winger registered his 148th career helper, passing Brian Campbell for sole possession for 10th place on the franchise's all-time assists list.
- This is the 88th meeting between the Jets and Panthers, with Florida owning a 35-34-5-13 all-time record and a 21-16-1-6 home record against Winnipeg.
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad
Jamie McGinn - Vincent Trocheck - Denis Malgin
Dryden Hunt - Jared McCann - Radim Vrbata
Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
Ian McCoshen - Alex Petrovic
Scratches: Connor Brickley, MacKenzie Weegar, Roberto Luongo
Injured Reserve: Evgenii Dadonov (upper-body; games missed: 5)
- Dec. 6: G Harri Sateri recalled from Springfield (AHL)
- Dec. 5: F Henrik Haapala loaned to Springfield (AHL)
- Nov. 30: F Evgenii Dadonov placed on IR
- Nov. 30: F Radim Vrbata activated from IR
- Nov. 27: F Denis Malgin recalled from Springfield (AHL)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Thursday, Dec. 7, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL TV coverage: FOX Sports Florida (check local listings)
Florida Panthers Radio Network Presented by HARD Lifestyle Beverages: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) *WAXE Start Time: 8PM
Where to stream it: FOX Sports GO and NHL.TV (outside state of Florida)