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Claude Giroux, new-look Panthers to face Canadiens

Mar 18, 2022; Anaheim, California, USA; Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson (36) blocks a shot against Florida Panthers center Sam Bennett (9) during the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Star forward Claude Giroux is among three trade acquisitions set to make their debuts for the Florida Panthers on Thursday night against the host Montreal Canadiens.

The Panthers acquired Giroux from the Philadelphia Flyers prior to the NHL trade deadline on Monday. They also picked up defensemen Ben Chiarot and Robert Hagg from the Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres, respectively.

Florida, which leads the NHL in most goals scored, figures to be even more dangerous with Giroux. The 34-year-old was placed on the top line and the No. 1 power-play unit in Tuesday’s practice.

“Everyone is excited,” Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. “(Giroux) is a great player. He did a lot in Philly.”

Giroux was a first-round pick in 2006 and had been the longest-tenured captain in Flyers history. He led the Flyers in points seven times, and he finished top-three in the league in 2012, 2014 and 2018.

Chiarot, 30, is considered the second-biggest move made by the Panthers at the deadline, and he has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in his past nine games. The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder led Montreal in ice time during the playoffs as the Canadiens made an improbable run to the 2021 Stanley Cup Final.

Hagg, 27, was Philadelphia’s second-round pick in the 2013 NHL, and he knows Giroux well since he only left the Flyers after last season. Hagg collected 13 goals and 34 assists to go along with a plus-13 rating during his time in Philadelphia.

“We’ll welcome them really well,” Barkov said. “We have great guys (already on the roster), on and off the ice.”

Indeed, the Panthers lead the Atlantic Division standings with 90 points.

Montreal, meanwhile, is last in the Atlantic with just 44 points.

After making that spirited run to the Stanley Cup Final last year, the Canadiens fired general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Dominique Ducharme.

Former star player Martin St. Louis, 46, is the new coach, and he has directed Montreal to a 9-6-3 record.

That includes Monday night’s 3-2 overtime loss to the visiting Boston Bruins, a defeat that came just a few hours after Montreal’s new general manager, Kent Hughes, dumped Andrew Hammond, Brett Kulak and Artturi Lehkonen at the trade deadline.

“Given the circumstances,” St. Louis said, “it was a really good effort by our team.”

This season’s team has had very little good luck.

Goalie Carey Price has been out all season due to knee surgery. Top defenseman Shea Weber has also not played this season due to injuries, and reportedly is likely to retire.

Beyond that, several players fled Montreal in free agency following last season, including Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Mike Hoffman and Christian Dvorak, the two biggest offseason acquisitions, have combined for just 39 points this season.

So, Montreal is rebuilding around young forwards Nick Suzuki, 22, and rookie Cole Caufield, 21. Suzuki leads Montreal in goals (17), assists (29) and points (46), while Caufield is second on the team in points with 30.

Montreal ranks last in the NHL in goals scored per game (2.51) and goals-against (3.76).

Florida beat Montreal 5-2 in the teams’ only meeting this season.

–Field Level Media