Neal, Flames seek bounceback vs. struggling Panthers
When the Calgary Flames visit the Florida Panthers on Thursday, James Neal is looking to smile again -- even though he has several teeth missing.
Neal, a 31-year-old left winger with 268 career goals, took a shot to his mouth on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks. Neal took a high stick from Canucks defenseman Alex Biega, and replays showed teeth flying out of the mouth of the Flames forward.
It was the sixth time in his career that Neal has lost teeth as a result of a hockey hit, a swinging stick or a flying puck.
"I can't even explain the amount of hours I've logged in the dentist's chair," Neal told The Calgary Sun. "For whatever reason, sticks tend to hit me in the mouth."
Neal missed practice on Monday, but he returned to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday and is all set to play the Panthers.
Both the Flames (34-16-6, 74 points) and Panthers (23-24-8, 54 points) are slumping at the moment.
The Flames, who are safely in the playoff picture in the Western Conference, are on a three-game losing streak, picking up just one point during that stretch.
It's Calgary's longest skid since losing three in a row Dec. 18 to Dec. 22. Since then, they are 12-4-3, including this recent dry spell, while the surging San Jose Sharks have jumped into the Pacific Division lead.
The Panthers have lost two consecutive games, both of them at home. They have five consecutive home games remaining before they hit the road, and this was supposed to be the stretch that lifted them back into playoff contention.
So far, it hasn't happened, and the Feb. 25 trade deadline is looming. Tumors are swirling around Panthers players such as DerickBrassard and Riley Sheahan -- both recently acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins -- and Jonathan Huberdeau, a core piece for Florida for several years.
At least seven NHL scouts were in attendance for the Stars-Panthers game, including one for the Columbus Blue Jackets, which is a rumored possible destination for Huberdeau.
The Panthers, who up until recently had the No. 1 power play in the NHL from Nov. 1 forward, have slipped in that regard lately. In the past two games, including Tuesday's 3-0 loss to the Dallas Stars, the Panthers went 0-for-8 with the man advantage.
"Our power play, with the personnel we have, we should be scoring, just like we have the rest of the year," Panthers second-line center Vincent Trocheck said.
Tuesday's loss made the Panthers the last NHL team this season to get shut out.
One positive was the return of third/fourth-line center Jamie McGinn, who had been out all season due to back surgery.
"I felt fine," McGinn said after his season debut on Tuesday. "I'm trying to work and get my game back -- contribute any way I can."
McGinn did not register any shots on goal in 9:42 of ice time on Tuesday, and he was on for one of Dallas' scores.
Still, it was an amazingly quick recovery considering he had back surgery in mid-September, his second such operation since 2014. McGinn, who had 13 goals and 16 assists in 76 games last season, said being out was frustrating.
"I was in a lot of pain," McGinn told the team's website. "It was something that had to be done, but I was determined to come back this season."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 13, 2019