The Sharks (13-8-2) start a good old-fashioned Florida back to back tonight with their second and last meeting of the season with the Florida Panthers (10-12-2). The Panthers are nothing short of a disaster this year. New and old general manager Dale Tallon seems to have molded his decision making practice so far as an attempt to undo every move his predecessor made, and the team is worse for it: a situation with which our American readers can no doubt empathize.
The Sharks scored twice en route to a 2-0 shut out loss to the Panthers on 16 November in San Jose, a game most fondly remembered for starting the Peter DeBoer dart board trend in the league's Toronto offices. That makes tonight's game against his former protege, Panthers head coach Bob Bougner, important to DeBoer: "I just told our guys today, there's no way we can go 0-2 against these guys and me listen to that all summer. This is a big one for us."
The Panthers have held serve at .500 since that game, with a 3-3-0 record to show for it. Holding serve isn't good enough, however, as the Cats will need a miracle to qualify for the postseason at this point. Nobody told goaltender Roberto Luongo that their season is over, apparently, as he's gone 5-2-0 in his last seven starts, with a goals against average of 1.97 and a save percentage of .941. The Panthers' top line is still dangerous, where Jonathan Huberdeau leads the team in points (25) and assists (17), and center Aleksander Barkov leads all NHL forwards in average ice time with 22:34.
Backup goaltender and frozen wonderland Aaron Dell starts for the Sharks for the second time in a row for the first time in his career. Including his most recent outing, a 22 save performance on 23 shots in a 3-1 win in Philadelphia, Dell has shown himself to be a capable NHL goalie, and one wonders if he's destined to follow the Cameron J. Talbot career path as he is set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this year.
Hopefully the Sharks can live in the present, avoid looking forward to the dominant Tampa Bay Lightning tomorrow evening, and lock up two points against one of the Eastern conference's bottom feeders.
Timo Meier -- Joe Thornton -- Joe Pavelski
Melker Karlsson -- Logan Couture -- Tomas Hertl
Jannik Hansen -- Chris Tierney -- Mikkel Boedker
Kevin Labanc -- Ryan Carpenter -- Joel Ward
Marc-Edouard Vlasic -- Justin Braun
Brenden Dillon -- Brent Burns
Joakim Ryan -- Dylan DeMelo
Scratched: Daniel O'Regan
Injured: Joonas Donskoi (lower body), Paul Martin (ankle), Barclay Goodrow (upper body), Tim Heed (upper body)
Jones has been deemed healthy enough to back up Dell tonight, as Antoine Bibeau was reassigned back to the AHL today. Labanc will draw into the lineup for the tragically injured Donskoi, and Carpenter will slot in for O'Regan for the former's homecoming as a good Orlando boy.
Jonathan Huberdeau -- Aleksander Barkov -- Denis Malgin
Jamie McGinn -- Vincent Trocheck -- Nick Bjugstad
Henrik Haapala -- Jared McCann -- Radim Vrbata
Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie -- Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle -- Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson -- MacKenzie Weegar
Mark Pysyk -- Alex Petrovic
Scratched: Connor Brickley, Ian McCoshen, Dryden Hunt
Injured: Evgenii Dadonov (upper body)
Vrbata is set to return for the first time since taking a puck to the face on his first shift in LA on 18 November. He's missed the Panthers' last five games.
Also, what is the deal with this team and players whose names have a Mc or a Mac in them? There are four in tonight's line up, one scratched, three in their minor league affiliates (Matt MacKenzie, Brandon McNally, Stephen MacAuley), and their ECHL affiliate, the Cincinatti Cyclones, is coached by Matt MacDonald.
That seems like a lot. Do they know something that we don't? Is this the bold new direction ice hockey is taking? Does their jersey department have a massive surplus of Ms and Cs and this is their most effective way to address it? What an enigma!
Where to watch
Broadcast: FS-F, NBCSCA
Stream: NHL.tv / NHL App
Radio: 98.5 KFOX / NHL App / Sharks App