Draisaitl, Oilers out to continue playoff march against Panthers

NHL

The Florida Panthers will host the Edmonton Oilers and a superstar on Saturday.

No, not that superstar. Not Connor McDavid, who at age 23 already twice has led the NHL in points.

McDavid, who has 30 goals and 81 points in 55 games, is out due to a quad injury.

That means that Edmonton’s other superstar – 24-year-old center Leon Draisaitl – has taken center stage.

Despite his young career, Draisaitl is known as the greatest player ever to come out of Germany. His 50 goals last season ranked second in the NHL and easily set the record for a Germany native. This season, he leads the NHL with 90 points.

The third overall player selected in the 2014 NHL Draft, Draisaitl was asked if he would like to win the NHL’s scoring title this season.

“Sure, that would be nice,” said Draisaitl, whose father, Peter, played for the German national team in three Olympics. “What athlete wouldn’t like to win a trophy like that?”

But even with two of the world’s best players in McDavid and Draisaitl, the Oilers are just 13th in the league in scoring.

Overall, though, the Oilers are doing well. After missing the postseason in 12 of the past 13 years, the Oilers are currently in playoff position. And after going through eight coaches in a decade, Dave Tippett, who is in his first season running the Oilers, has the No. 1 power-play unit in the league.

The Panthers, who have the 25th-ranked penalty-kill unit in the league, may have a tough time matching up with Edmonton’s power play on Saturday, should they get in that situation.

Florida has other issues as well. The Panthers got booed and blown out at their home arena on Thursday, losing 6-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who received a seven-year, $70 million contract from Florida last summer, was removed after just one period against Philadelphia. Bobrovsky allowed three goals on nine shots, and two of the scores came after he allowed rebounds, which has been a particular problem for him this season.

Bobrovsky is 0-4-1 in his past five starts. His slump has mirrored that of the Panthers, who had built a season-best, six-game win streak that was interrupted by the All-Star Game. Since the break, Florida is 2-5-1.

Following Thursday’s loss, the Panthers held a players-only meeting.

“We’ve got to play harder,” said Panthers center Aleksander Barkov, who is also Florida’s captain. “We can’t afford to lose anymore.”

Indeed, the Panthers – who are not currently in playoff position – need to get on a roll, and they will hope center Noel Acciari’s injury is serious.

Acciari, fourth on the Panthers with 19 goals, left Thursday’s game due to an upper-body injury but is expected to be available to play on Saturday. The Panthers, who beat the Oilers 6-2 in Edmonton on Oct. 27, are already without center Brian Boyle (upper body).

It will be interesting to see who the Panthers start in goal: Bobrovsky (20-17-5, 3.32 GAA, .896 save percentage) or rookie Sam Montembeault (5-2-1, 3.44 GAA, .886 SP).

Edmonton has split starts this season between a pair of veteran goalies: Mike Smith (15-10-4, 2.93 GAA, .904 SP) and Mikko Koskinen (15-11-2, 2.91 GAA, .909 SP).

Smith made 34 saves and allowed just two goals in Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the host Tampa Bay Lightning. The go-ahead goal came shorthanded, exposing an Oilers weakness. They have allowed 10 “shorties” this season, the second-highest total in the league.

Besides McDavid, who will miss his third straight game, the Oilers are also without wingers James Neal (foot) and Joakim Nygard (upper body) and defenseman Kris Russell (concussion).

–Field Level Media

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