The Vancouver Canucks, who have lost five straight road games, could be facing a major controversy when they visit the Florida Panthers on Saturday night in Sunrise, Fla.
It will be interesting to see if Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau keeps star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the bench.
The 31-year-old Ekman-Larsson, who was acquired via trade with the Arizona Coyotes in July 2021, was benched for Thursday’s 5-4 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is in the fourth season of an eight-year, $66 million contract.
A Canucks alternate captain, Ekman-Larsson has 19 points in 40 games this season, which is a better pace than his 29 points in 79 games in 2021-2022.
However, he was plus-five last season. This season, he has a minus-14 rating, which is the worst among Vancouver’s defensemen. Ekman-Larsson’s goals-against per 60 minutes have risen from 1.99 last season to 3.61 in the current campaign.
“I think he can be better,” Boudreau said. “But we have a lot of guys who can be better. Now it’s about accountability.
“(The benching) is something you don’t want to do. He’s arguably our best defenseman, but sometimes you have to (act) when you think it’s the best thing for the team. That’s apparently where I am.”
It was Ekman-Larsson’s first healthy scratch since March 29, 2011, when he was a 19-year-old rookie. He now has a full no-movement clause in his contract, and he carries a yearly cap hit of $7.25 million.
Boudreau, meanwhile, may be on the hot seat as the Canucks have lost three straight games overall, allowing 17 goals during that span.
The Panthers had no trouble with Vancouver’s defense, either, beating the Canucks 5-1 on Dec. 1.
Florida’s Sam Bennett tallied twice in that game, and Matthew Tkachuk had one score and two assists. Spencer Knight got the win, making 32 saves.
The Panthers are coming off a 4-2 loss at the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night.
Vancouver will actually have the shorter trip to the arena on Saturday as the Canucks will make the trek from Tampa.
As for the Panthers’ loss on Thursday, Florida coach Paul Maurice was upset his squad couldn’t convert on a 5-on-3 power play in the third period.
“That was the turning point,” Maurice said.
With Knight now on injured reserve, the Panthers are likely to start Sergei Bobrovsky in goal on Saturday. Bobrovsky is 10-13-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average and an .895 save percentage. Those numbers are down from last season, when Bobrovsky led the league in wins (39-7-3, 2.67 GAA, .913 SP).
Offensively, Tkachuk leads the Panthers in goals (22) and assists (30). He has a five-game points streak with five goals and four assists during that span.
But Panthers star Aleksander Barkov has struggled this season with just 10 goals and 23 assists. That’s still 33 points in 33 games, but Barkov — Florida’s captain — has a higher standard. Last season, he scored a career-high 39 goals and had 88 points in 67 games.
Elias Pettersson leads Vancouver in points (50). Bo Horvat tops the squad in goals (29), and Quinn Hughes has the most assists (33).
–Field Level Media