The Florida Panthers are just three games into their season, but they are already facing an emergency.
Florida, which will play host to the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night in Sunrise, Fla., is dealing with injuries to defensemen Aaron Ekblad (lower body) and Brandon Montour (upper body).
Ekblad will be placed on long-term injured reserve, general manager Bill Zito said Wednesday morning. Montour also was ruled out for Wednesday’s game.
After Ekblad went down Monday during a 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Panthers played with just four defensemen.
On the penalty kill, the Panthers used star forward Aleksander Barkov as a defender.
“It was not an easy night,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said, in a bit of an understatement. “It was not a smooth night by any means.”
With Ekblad out, Panthers defenseman Gustav Forsling played a team-high 28:14 against Boston. Fellow defenseman Marc Staal led Florida in hits and blocked shots, with five and six, respectively. Radko Gudas and Josh Mahura are the other healthy defensemen for Florida, which recalled blue-liners Lucas Carlsson and Matt Kiersted from Charlotte of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis on Wednesday.
“It’s unfortunate when guys go out,” Panthers center Colin White said, “especially when you start the game already short on the back end.”
Despite the injuries, the Panthers went 2-1-0 on their season-opening road trip, beating the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres.
The game versus the Flyers marks the start of a three-contest homestand.
“I can’t wait for it,” White said of Wednesday’s home opener. “Any time you (win) over 50 percent on the road, it’s nice. Now we get to go home and play three games there. It’s super exciting.”
On Wednesday, Florida’s banged-up defensive crew will get tested by a Flyers squad that is off to a perfect 3-0-0 start under new coach John Tortorella, who was hired in June.
Tortorella, perhaps the most intense and demanding coach in the NHL, is now running his fifth franchise in a career that began in 1999.
Under Tortorella, the Flyers have now beaten New Jersey, Vancouver and Tampa Bay, allowing two goals in each game.
Goalie Carter Hart, 24, has earned all three wins. Last season, he went just 13-24-7 with a 3.16 goals-against average in a career-high 44 starts.
Hart made 36 saves Tuesday in a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay, beating the Lightning for the first time in his career (1-5-1).
The Flyers — like the Panthers — are also dealing with injuries on their back end as Rasmus Ristolainen (lower-body injury), Cam Atkinson (upper-body injury) and Ryan Ellis (pelvis) sat out the Tampa Bay game.
Philadelphia, which rallied from a 2-0, second-period deficit to beat Tampa Bay, still had six healthy defensemen it used in the victory, including power-play specialist Tony DeAngelo and rising star Ivan Provorov.
Owen Tippett, former Panthers forward and first-round pick, won’t get to face his old team, however, as he is on injured reserve due to an upper-body injury.
“We hope we’re building a mindset of resiliency,” Tortorella said of the comeback win over Tampa Bay in which the Flyers persevered despite the injuries. “I think each time it happens that way and you succeed, it builds it for you.”
–Field Level Media