Yandles 866-game streak may continue in Panthers season opener

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Keith Yandle may play Sunday and extend his streak of 866 consecutive NHL games, when the Florida Panthers open their season against the Chicago Blackhawks at BB&T Center (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, TVAS, SN, FS-F, NBCSCH, NHL.TV).

Florida coach Joel Quenneville had said Friday that it was unlikely that the defenseman was among the top-six rotation for the Panthers. That changed Saturday in the final practice of training camp when Yandle joined the game group for the second part of practice and featured heavily in the special teams portion of practice.

“Yeah, we looked at our power play all camp, said Quenneville, noting that defenseman Aaron Ekblad had served as the primary quarterback on the power-play unit. “‘Yands’ hadn’t really gotten a turn on the power play. We put him out there today … I thought he did a great job. I mean, it looked like it was a whole different power play. … We’ll see how it goes going into tomorrow’s game.”

Yandle, who holds the longest current games played streak in the NHL, has not missed a game since March 22, 2009, when he was with the Arizona Coyotes. He has played every game for the past 11 seasons, including 69 in 2019-20 before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

The streak is the fourth-longest in NHL history behind Doug Jarvis (964), Garry Unger (914) and Steve Larmer (884).

Yandle scored 45 points (five goals, 40 assists) last season, including 21 points on the power play, which was the eighth-highest total among defenseman in the NHL. In 976 career NHL games, Yandle has 573 points (99 goals, 474 assists), including 264 points (37 goals, 227 assists) on the power play.

Despite those credentials, Florida was strongly considering making the 34-year-old a healthy scratch.

“Obviously everybody wants to play, but we’ve got some tough decisions and that’s been one right now that if we have to [make it on] Sunday, he’s not going to be in the lineup,” Quenneville said on the NHL @TheRink podcast Friday.

“We’re looking at a lot of young guys here coming into camp. The opportunity for him right now is a little tight right now and tough, but things could change quickly in our business. In the course of a season like this year you never know, you might have to go 10 or 11 deep on the back end. That’s where it’s at. So it’s a situation where his spot, it’s not where he wants to be.”

Florida was scheduled to start the season with back-to-back home games against the Dallas Stars on Thursday and Friday, but those were postponed because of coronavirus issues related to the Stars.

The Panthers game group that Yandle joined on Saturday included Ekblad, MacKenzie Weegar, Riley Stillman, Anton Stralman, Radko Gudas and Gustav Forsling. Defensemen Markus Nutivaara, Brady Keeper, Kevin Connauton and Noah Juulsen are also on the roster.

“Right now, we have 11 defensemen,” Quenneville said. “We picked up two guys on waivers this week. We’ve got a lot of sorting out to do. I was talking to Yands earlier, when you look at the 11, you could say one through 11, how would you rate them, and I think everyone will have a different number next to them. I think a lot of decisions are close.”

San Jose Sharks forward Patrick Marleau (854) has the next longest consecutive games played streak after Yandle. He has not missed a game since April 7, 2009.

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