After closing the book on a season-long, eight-game homestand, the Florida Panthers will kick off a quick two-game excursion away from home against the St. Louis Blues at the Enterprise Center on Tuesday night.
The Panthers (11-11-5) went 3-2-3 on their homestand, which ended with a 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday. Of those five losses, four were by a single goal. Embarking on their first road trip since November, they own an 5-6-2 record away from home this season.
“It’s good for us to get back on the road,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said after Monday’s practice at the Panthers IceDen. “A lot of decent things happened at home. We can sit here and talk about how many points we had out of 16; we only got nine.
“It could have been different with some one-goal games and how games ended at the end — shootouts and overtimes and things like that. We know we have to get on a run at some point here. We’ve got to start winning some road games.”
With at least one power-play goal in 18 of their last 19 games, the Panthers currently own the league’s fourth-ranked power play, converting on 27.7 percent of their chances. That unit will face a tough test against the Blues, who enter with the fourth-ranked penalty kill (84.2 percent).
Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov are tied for the team lead with six power play goals apiece, while defenseman Keith Yandle‘s 19 points with the extra attacker rank first in the league. That said, Boughner believes his team will need to start producing more at 5-on-5 moving forward.
Dating back to the start of their homestand on Nov. 24, the Panthers lead the league with 11 power play goals, but have managed just 17 at even strength, which ranks tied for 19th during that span. And although they’ve been controlling possession (they boast a 52.01 CF% at 5-on-5), they have scored just 13 goals while surrendering 17 at 5-on-5 over their last eight games.
“We’ll figure it out,” Boughner said after Saturday’s loss. “It’s a good group of guys. Again, the only problem I have is that it’s the same four or five guys scoring every night. We need some scoring and we need some depth. That’s the challenge we have right now at 5-on-5.”
The Panthers will be without one of those depth scorers for the entire two-game trip after it was announced that forward Nick Bjugstad would remain back in South Florida to nurse an upper-body injury. Bjugstad, who has four goals and six points this season, is considered day-to-day.
“He’s in a situation where we’d rather he just stays back here and get some rehab done on him, get him better,” Boughner said. “He might need a practice or two before the Toronto game [on Saturday] … It’s more precautionary. He wouldn’t be 100 percent if we put him in the lineup.”
With Bjugstad sidelined, forward Anthony Greco was recalled from the team’s AHL affiliate in Springfield on Saturday morning. This is the first NHL call-up for the 25-year-old, who ranks second on the Thunderbirds this season with 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 24 games.
Across the ice, the Blues (10-14-4) have lost eight of their last 11 games, a brutal stretch that culminated with a 6-1 loss to Vancouver on Sunday. Those frustrations boiled over during the team’s practice on Monday, when teammates Robert Bortuzzo a Zach Sanford got into a fight.
“That happens, Blues interim coach Craig Berube told reporters of the incident. “Guys are frustrated, and they should be. So sometimes in practice, it boils over and things happen.”
With Ryan O’Reilly (29 points) and Vladimir Tarasenko (20 points) as the only two players on St. Louis with at least 20 points, the Blues offense has stagnated, registering just five total goals over the last four games to drop down to 22nd in the league, averaging 2.79 goals-per game.
“Every point counts,” Boughner said.
— Aaron Ekblad has registered seven goals over his last 14 games. With just two more goals, the 22-year-old will surpass Robert Svehla (61) for first place on Florida’s all-time goals list by a defenseman.
— Since Nov. 24, Jonathan Huberdeau leads the NHL with 17 points (four goals, 13 assists), registering multiple points in seven of eight games in that span. The 25-year-old leads Florida with 34 points, while his 26 assists rank seventh among NHL forwards.
— Panthers Captain Aleksander Barkov has recorded 18 points (nine goals, nine assists) over his last 17 games. The 23-year-old center ranks second in the league with 47 takeaways, while his 23:08 of ice time per game places him first in the NHL among forwards.
— Evgenii Dadonov enters tonight’s game with nine points (four goals, five assists) over his last eight games.
— Mike Hoffman leads the Panthers in goals (14) and shots (106).
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME
Roberto Luongo (5-4-1, 2.94 GAA, .906 SV%) vs. Jake Allen (8-8-4, 3.11 GAA, .900 SV%)
Luongo is expected to make his third consecutive start for the Panthers. The 39-year-old has allowed four goals in each of his last two starts, an uncharacteristic stretch that followed a 33-save shutout against Boston on Dec. 4. In his career against St. Louis, he has gone 17-12-2 with a 2.31 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts.
Allen is expected to make his fourth straight start for the Blues. After pitching a 26-save shutout in Winnipeg on Dec. 7, the 28-year-old was yanked from his next start after allowing three goals on six shots less than 15 minutes into a 6-1 loss to Vancouver on Sunday. In five career games against the Panthers, he has gone 1-4-0 with a 4.21 goals-against average and an .872 save percentage.
PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Evgenii Dadonov
Troy Brouwer – Jared McCann – Mike Hoffman
Dryden Hunt – Denis Malgin – Frank Vatrano
Micheal Haley – Juho Lammikko – Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle – Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson – Mark Pysyk
Bogdan Kiselevich – MacKenzie Weegar
Scratches: Alexander Petrovic, Anthony Greco, Nick Bjugstad (upper body)
Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Jamie McGinn (back), Vincent Trocheck (ankle)
– Dec. 11: F Anthony Greco was recalled from Springfield (AHL).
– Dec. 4: G Michael Hutchinson was returned to Springfield (AHL).
– Nov. 24: G Michael Hutchinson was recalled from Springfield (AHL).
– Nov. 22: C Vincent Trocheck was placed on the Injured Reserve list.
HOW TO WATCH
When: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 8:00 p.m.
Where: Enterprise Center – St. Louis, MO
TV: Fox Sports Florida
Florida Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
Watch Party: Thanks to the new “Territory on Tap” program, every road game now offers a chance for a watch party in South Florida! To see which local bars and restaurants will have drink specials and giveaways for today’s game, visit the official “Territory on Tap” page!