In the mist of a jam-packed, five-game week, the Panthers (28-25-10) wrapped up a three-game road trip with a 6-5 shootout loss in Vegas on Tuesday. Florida has come away with at least one point in seven of its last eight games and owns an 11-5-2 record in its last 18 contests overall.
Since Jan. 18, the Panthers have tallied 24 points, which ranks seventh in the NHL in that span.
“We’re in our fourth game of the week, slated to play five this week, with a long day of travel” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said of his team’s busy schedule. “We’ve just got to make sure today’s just about getting ready for the game tonight, preparing mentally. We were out there for 10 minutes just to get them out of bed and get them loosened up.”
Entering tonight’s matchup with the second-ranked power play in the NHL at 26.7 percent, the Panthers went 2-for-3 with the man advantage against the Golden Knights. Both scores came off the stick of Mike Hoffman, who leads the team with a career-high 30 goals, including 13 on the power play. He is just the fourth player to score 30 goals in his first season with Florida.
On a tear, Hoffman has tallied 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) over his last 14 games.
“Hoff’s been great,” Boughner said. “We’re trying to load him up over there as you know. The key for me, though, if you watch the goals of late on our power play we have someone standing right in front of the goalie, and they’ll move at the last second as Hoff is releasing the puck.”
Florida’s success with the extra attacker will be crucial against the Hurricanes, who have been playing some of the best defense in the league as of late. During their current 12-3-0 stretch, Carolina (35-23-6) has allowed an average of just 1.67 goals against per game on average.
In that 15-game span, the Hurricanes have also surrendered fewer than two goals seven times.
“Special teams is huge in this league,” Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. “Any time we do get a power play, we definitely have to capitalize on those opportunities. At 5-on-5, we’ve got to start capitalizing on more of our chances. We’re getting a lot of chances, I think it’s just a matter of bearing down.”
With backup goaltender James Reimer still sidelined with a lower-body injury, either veteran Roberto Luongo or rookie Samuel Montembeault will get the nod in net for the Panthers tonight. But with a game against Ottawa on the horizon tomorrow, Boughner said that Montembeault, an AHL All-Star this season at 22 years old, will definitely be making his NHL debut this weekend.
“I don’t see any reason why he doesn’t get in there and feel good about himself,” Boughner said of Montembeault, a third-round pick in 2015. The guys are going to play hard in front of him. We’ll wait and see if it’s going to be tonight or tomorrow, but he’s definitely going to get a game.”
Carolina enters tonight’s matchup on the heels of a 5-2 win over St. Louis on Friday. They have won each of their last four games, and previously topped the Panthers 4-3 less than two weeks ago, scoring a pair of goals in the third period to come from behind and steal a win on Feb. 21.
In defeat, Florida had to kill off a season-high eight power plays, with Carolina converting twice.
“Last time we played these guys we took eight,” Boughner said. “I thought our game at 5-on-5 was very good against these guys, but we took way too many penalties, so discipline will be they key. I think the team that just plays the smarter game, really, managing the puck, trying to roll our bench and things like that. I’m sure they’re going to say the same thing.”
In tonight’s rematch, staying out of the box will be big for the Panthers. For of the Hurricanes’ 29 goals scored over the last eight games, seven have come with the extra attacker on the ice.
“We don’t want to be on the penalty kill, that’s for sure,” said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said, who leads the team’s defenseman with 12 goals this season. “Any time we can be 5-on-5 or 5-on-4, we’re obviously going to be in good shape.”
— Named the NHL’s “Second Star of the Week” on Monday, Aleksander Barkov enters tonight’s matchup riding a season-high seven-game point streak, posting eight goals and seven assists in that pan. Florida’s scoring leader with 67 points (27 goals, 40 assists), he also ranks second in the NHL in takeaways (88).
— 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, who inked a three-year extension on Monday, also paces the club’s forwards in blocked shots (58).
— Jonathan Huberdeau enters tonight’s contest with 13 points (five goals, eight assists) over his last seven games. The 25-year-old winger ranks second on Florida in scoring with 65 points (18 goals, 47 assists) this season, while also pacing the club with 21 multi-point performances. In his last outing, he matched a career-high with four points on Thursday night against Vegas.
— Keith Yandle leads all Panthers defensemen in points (51) and assists (42). The 32-year-old stands tied for second in the NHL in power-play points (32), while his career-high seven power-play goals are the most among all NHL defensemen.
— Troy Brouwer leads the Panthers with 127 hits.
— Florida’s penalty is tied for sixth in the NHL at 81.8 percent.
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME (UNCONFIRMED)
Roberto Luongo (14-13-3, 3.15 GAA, .897 SV%) vs. Petr Mrazek (15-12-3, 2.59 GAA, .903 SV%)
Although he’s got to be a bit tired after playing three games in four nights, Luongo could get the start tonight against the Hurricanes, with Montembeault making his long-awaited NHL debut on Sunday against the Senators. The 39-year-old veteran has posted a 6-2-2 record over his last 11 games, owning a .906 save percentage in that span. In his career against Carolina, he owns a 16-15-4 record with a 2.35 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and two shutouts.
With Curtis McElhinney starting on Friday against the Blues, Mrazek is expected to get the nod against the Panthers. The 27-year-old has won each of his last three starts, including stopping 27 of 30 shots in a 4-3 win in Sunrise on Feb. 21. In his career against Florida, he’s gone 3-5-2 with a 2.97 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and one shutout.
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Mike Hoffman
Jayce Hawryluk – Vincent Trocheck – Evgenii Dadonov
Frank Vatrano – Riley Sheahan – Troy Brouwer
Jamie McGinn – Henrik Borgstrom – Dryden Hunt
Mike Matheson – Aaron Ekblad
Keith Yandle – Mark Pysyk
Ian McCoshen – Josh Brown
Scratches: Denis Malgin (lower body), James Reimer (lower body), MacKenzie Weegar (lower body)
Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Colton Sceviour (upper body)
– March 1: D Riley Stillman was loaned to Springfield (AHL)
– Feb. 28: G Samuel Montembeault was recalled from Springfield (AHL) on an emergency basis
– Feb. 26: D Riley Stillman was recalled from Springfield (AHL) on an emergency basis
– Feb. 25: F Dryden Hunt was recalled from Springfield (AHL)
– 50/50 Raffle (buy digital ticketshere)
– Stanley’s Birthday
BITE OF BB&T CENTER
Footlong Hot Dog for $9 at most stands except for sections 105 and 108
HOW TO WATCH
When: Saturday, March 2, 7:00 p.m.
Where: BB&T Center – Sunrise, FL
TV: Fox Sports Florida (Alternate Channels Below)
Dish HD: 9575
Dish Hopper: 412-28
AT&T HD: 1721
Florida Panthers Radio Network: AM 1450/FM 101.9 WOCN (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)