“I feel he’s been great all year,” said Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who ranks second behind Barkov on the team in scoring with 58 points. “It’s just now the points are coming in… It just shows how good he is. With all that he does, it’s good for him to get rewarded like that.”
Florida’s scoring leader with 62 points (24 goals, 38 assists), Barkov found the back of the net for the third straight game in a 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night. The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Panthers, who have won nine of their last 14 overall.
“Every game for us is crucial, it doesn’t matter who we play against,” Barkov told reporters after the game. “But of course it’s tough to lose the game like that when it’s a four-point game and [against a team] we’re chasing. We just need to keep our heads up and look to the next game.”
With Barkov as the centerpiece, the Panthers have been getting plenty of production from their top line over the last three games. In addition to Barkov’s nine points, Huberdeau has chipped in three goals and three assists, while Frank Vatrano has recorded one goal and a pair of helpers.
“When we’re scoring goals and winning games, it helps,” Barkov said of the trio’s success. “Of course we know those shifts we spend in their zone, we want to do that all the time, every shift. We still can get better. When we do that, we have fun, too.”
In Thursday’s defeat, the Panthers were assessed a season-high eight penalties. Leading 3-2 after two periods, the Hurricanes scored two power-play goals within a span of 1:57 in the third to secure a come-from-behind victory and move 10 points ahead of Florida in the standings.
“We played a good game, as I said after the game last night,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “I thought we battled hard. It was really a special teams game. It was tough to get the flow of our bench going because we killed so many times. I saw even today some low levels of energy from the guys that were killing all those penalties.”
Boughner also said that the believes team’s penalty kill suffered against the Hurricanes due to the noticeable absence of Mike Matheson, who is expected to miss his second straight game on Saturday after suffering a lower-body injury in a 4-2 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.
A major minutes eater on the blue line, Matheson has recorded five goals and 15 assists while skating an average of 22:13 in 55 games prior to his injury. His greatest contributions, however, came on the penalty kill, where he led the team with 128:53 and 22 blocked shots in that span.
“We definitely missed Matty on the back-end,” Boughner said.
With 23 games left to play in their season, the Panthers will look to get back in the win column against the Kings, who have lost each of their last six games. Sitting at 23-31-6 on the season, Los Angeles currently owns the second-worst record in the NHL with 52 points in the standings. In possession of the league’s 30th-ranked offense and 29th-ranked power play, the Kings have also struggled to score goals throughout the entire season. Anze Kopitar leads the team in both goals (17) and points (44), but stands as the only player on the roster to have reached the 40-point mark. By comparison, the Panthers already have three players with at least 50 points.
Florida is looking for its first home win against Los Angeles since Feb. 5, 2015.
“We know obviously they’re coming off a bunch of losses and are going to be desperate,” Boughner said. “For us, we need to get these two points before we get on the road… We didn’t get the bounces we needed last night, but the only thing we talked about today is about being a little more disciplined, biting the lip a little more and keeping our sticks down.”
— Mike Hoffman leads the Panthers in goals (26), power-play goals (11), game-winning goals (tied-5) and shots on goal (187). The 29-year-old needs just four more goal to surpass his previous career-high (29, 2015-16) and achieve the first 30-goal campaign of his career.
— Keith Yandle leads all Panthers defensemen in points (45) and assists (37), while his 28 power-play points place him tied for sixth in the NHL and first among all blueliners. With Yandle quarterbacking the team’s top unit, Florida’s power play ranks third in the NHL (25.7 percent).
— Frank Vatrano leads the Panthers with 19 even-strength goals and has reached new career-highs in goals (20), assists (13) and points (33) this season. The 24-year-old winger also paces the club’s forwards in blocked shots (54).
— Florida has scored the first goal in 10 of its last 14 games.
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME (UNCONFIRMED)
Roberto Luongo (12-13-1, 3.14 GAA, .895 SV%) vs. Jonathan Quick (11-15-5, 3.06 GAA, .900 SV%)
With James Reimer starting each of the last four games, there’s a chance Luongo makes his return to Florida’s net against the Kings. The 39-year-old veteran owns a 4-2-0 record over his last seven appearances, posting a .903 save percentage in that span. Sitting at 483 wins, his next victory will move him into a tie with Ed Belfour for third place on the NHL’s all-time wins list. In his career against Los Angeles, he’s gone 16-16-5 with a 2.54 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and three shutouts.
After stopping 27 of 29 shots in a 2-1 loss in Nashville on Thursday, there’s a good chance that Quick is back between the pipes against the Panthers. The 33-year-old is winless in his last four starts, owning a 0-2-2 record with a .867 save percentage in that span. In his career against Florida, he’s gone 8-2-0 with a 1.65 goals-against average, .941 save percentage and one shutout.
PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Frank Vatrano
Jayce Hawryluk – Vincent Trocheck – Evgenii Dadonov
Mike Hoffman – Riley Sheahan – Denis Malgin
Derick Brassard – Henrik Borgstrom – Troy Brouwer
Keith Yandle – Aaron Ekblad
Mark Pysyk – MacKenzie Weegar
Ian McCoshen – Josh Brown
Scratches: Bogdan Kiselevich, Jamie McGinn, Mike Matheson (lower body)
Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Colton Sceviour (upper body)
– Feb. 22: F Vincent Praplan was acquired from San Jose in exchange for future considerations
– Feb. 20: F Micheal Haley was claimed on waivers by San Jose
– Feb. 18: G Samuel Montembeault was loaned to Springfield (AHL)
– Feb. 17: G Samuel Montembeault was recalled from Springfield (AHL)
– Feb. 10: F Jamie McGinn was recalled from Springfield (AHL)
– 50/50 Raffle with guaranteed pot of at least $25,000 (buy digital tickets here)
– “Legacy Saturday” honoring Stephen Weiss
– Student Rush
– JetBlue and Panthers co-branded hat giveaway
BITE OF BB&T CENTER
Hongos y Rajas Tacos for $13 at “Taco’ Bout It” stands outside sections 129 and 307
HOW TO WATCH
When: Saturday, Feb. 23, 5:00 p.m.
Where: BB&T Center – Sunrise, FL
TV: Fox Sports Florida
Florida Panthers Radio Network: 1450 AM/101.9 FM WOCN (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys)