After leaving last night’s game against the rival Tampa Bay Lightning with an apparent head injury, it has now been confirmed that Florida Panthers star defenseman Aaron Ekblad suffered a concussion. To add insult to injury – or really injury to injury – Ekblad’s teammate Denis Malgin also received a concussion diagnosis after missing last night’s game. Speaking with Miami Herald reporter George Richards following their 3-2 loss, Florida head coach and general manager Tom Rowe confirmed the injuries.
While Malgin’s concussion event is harder to pinpoint since he was ruled out prior to the game and thus must have sustained the injury in the Panthers’ prior game against the Minnesota Wild, the origin of Ekblad’s injury is obvious. Ekblad took an elbow to the head from Lightning winger Gabriel Dumont, who drove him into the glass and down to the ice. Ekblad left the game and did not return. Should Ekblad be out long-term, the 20-year-old’s absence will surely be felt in South Florida. Ekblad, the 2015 Calder Trophy winner, has been the Panthers’ most reliable blue liner since he was drafted #1 overall three years ago. This season, Ekblad is averaging the second-most time on ice for Florida, behind only Keith Yandle, and has contributed 10 goals and 11 assists thus far. However, his offensive and defensive play have slipped in 2016-17, but then again, so has the play of the entire team. Meanwhile, Malgin is a big loss in his own right as well. The rookie center has skated in 42 games this season, at just 20 years old. While Malgin has just four goals and four assists, he has been a threat at both ends of the ice in his bottom-six role.
Normally, the loss of two players at once would hurt any team. For Florida at this point in the year though, it could be the death knell on their season. The Panthers have won just once in their last nine games and has not won in regulation since February 20th, the final contest of a five-game win streak. The team is without any sort of win since the NHL Trade Deadline on March 1st. While many applauded the Panthers for acquiring Thomas Vanek from the Detroit Red Wings at the relatively low cost of a third-round pick, others felt that it was a waste, as he alone would not be enough to get Florida to the postseason. Their recent play seems to support this hypothesis. Granted, the Panthers recent stretch of games has included difficult match-ups against the Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and Ottawa Senators, but Florida also dropped games against the Dallas Stars and Philadelphia Flyers and had to go to a shootout against the Carolina Hurricanes to get their lone win. Things aren’t about to get any easier either. The injuries to Ekblad and Malgin come at an inopportune time, as the Panthers’ next four games are against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, and Pittsburgh Penguins. By this time next week, Florida’s playoff run could already be over.