Panthers stuggling without Eklbad after big hit from Oilers' Hendricks

Hot and not

StastnyPaul Stastny, St. Louis Blues
Stastny led the way in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, collecting a goal and three assists while finishing a plus-3 on the night.

MitchellWillie Mitchell, Florida Panthers
The Panthers' captain had a rough night in the team's 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers, finishing a minus-4 as the Panthers lost their fourth straight after a 12-game winning streak.

Are you still convinced the Panthers are a playoff team?

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: First, I'd have Matt Hendricks of the Edmonton Oilers -- who was suspended for three games last week after a hit from behind on Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad -- on my team any day. On Monday, Hendricks and the Oilers handed Florida its fourth loss in a row (0-3-1) after a franchise-record 12-game win streak, a loss that came without Ekblad in the lineup due to a concussion suffered on the hit from Hendricks. The suspension seemed fair at the time, but seeing Hendricks log 15:46 in ice time Monday -- including an important 3:40 on the penalty kill as the Panthers went 0-for-4 on the power play -- while Ekblad has just resumed skating doesn't seem fair. In fact, Monday's game reminded us that supplemental discipline is just that, discipline rather than justice. The Panthers remain in first place in the Atlantic Division, but they are a different team without Ekblad, just as the Los Angeles Kings are without Drew Doughty or the Ottawa Senators are without Erik Karlsson. So, how will the Panthers fare without Ekblad long-term vis-à-vis staying in a playoff spot? And if you could go back in time, would you hand down harsher discipline for the hard-nosed Hendricks?

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: The Hendricks suspension was fair. Not much else the NHL Player Safety folks can do on that. But you're right, Scotty, it stinks for the Panthers. However, they were due to come back to earth, with or without Ekblad. Are they a playoff team? No question in my mind, but they're not a first-place team on the level of the Kings or Washington Capitals or Chicago Blackhawks. Florida will have ups and down like the rest of the Atlantic Division, and the entire league for that matter. Which brings me to another Florida team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom I picked in September to win the Atlantic. They're finally on a roll, winning five straight, and they host the Oilers on Tuesday. A win tonight by the Bolts and they'd be just three points behind the first-place Panthers. The ongoing Jonathan Drouin trade talks apparently have zero impact as far as being a distraction for Tampa Bay.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: Like Pierre, I thought the Hendricks suspension was about right. Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun nailed the topic in a column he wrote following the hit. The problem in this case wasn't the NHL's supplemental discipline system, but rather a flawed hockey culture that compelled Hendricks to hit Ekblad in the first place. If nothing else, we're learning the value of Ekblad to the Panthers and how delicate their success really is. Any team building depth in its organization will lean heavily on its stars, and the Panthers definitely do that with Ekblad, Roberto Luongo, Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov. That's why their recent winning streak was so critical, not because it put them in position to win the division (which they won't), but because it built up a nice playoff cushion to weather times like these.

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: Not having a player like Ekblad in the lineup certainly hampers Florida's ability to win games, but the best teams should find a way to be successful without star players. Also, any team that enjoys a 12-game winning streak normally deals with the ebbs and flows in the aftermath, though perhaps the Blackhawks -- in the midst of an 11-game winning streak -- could be the exception to that rule. Anyway, the Panthers will be a playoff team and they have the ability to make some noise in the postseason. To answer your question, Scotty, Hendricks served his suspension for the Ekblad hit and the league did all it could in that situation. I know some people will argue the suspended player should remain sidelined until the injured player returns to action, but there are too many variables involved in these situations to allow that to happen.

Around the league