“He’s been good,” said Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who ranks second on the team with 52 points. “We need a good goaltender every night. Obviously we want to try to help him as much as possible, but he’s been making some good saves. Last game, he was really good for us. Hopefully he can keep going and be awesome tonight again.”
Reimer has been on fire as of late for the Panthers, winning three of his last five starts while allowing two-or-fewer goals in three of those outings. Since Dec. 23, the 30-year-old has gone 6-3-2 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage over 12 appearances.
In his last three wins, Reimer has cooled off three current playoff teams: Calgary, Nashville and Las Vegas. Over those games, he posted a .957 save percentage, stopping 112 of 117 shots.
“His compete and his battle was great last game,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “He’s had some real good stretches here in the last couple weeks where he’s faced a number of shots and high-end offensive teams… I think he’s stepped it up and he’s answered the bell.”
The Panthers, who have won seven of their last 11 games, have also been making it easier on their goaltenders as of late by limiting the amount of high-quality chances their opponents see every night. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, they’ve allowed fewer than 10 high-danger shot attempts in two of their last three games, including just nine during Thursday’s win over Calgary.
“That’s something what we’ve really been focusing on lately and that we had to focus on,” Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson said. “At the beginning of the year, we just weren’t cutting it and it was ending up with us losing a lot of games that we shouldn’t have in the third period. That’s been an area of focus and I think we’ve been doing a much better job of it.”
For the second straight game, Matheson will be deployed with Aaron Ekblad on Florida’s top-defensive pairing, which will be tasked with shutting down Montreal’s top line.
“I like playing with him,” said Matheson, who’s notched five goals and 15 assists this season. “He’s such a great player on both sides of the puck. I think we jell well together. We move the puck and our able to jump up in the ice and create things offensively. I think both of us have done a good job shutting things down defensively as well.”
Backing up Reimer will be 22-year-old rookie Samuel Montembeault, who was recalled from AHL Springfield on Sunday morning after starter Roberto Luongo was placed on the league’s bereavement list. Boughner said Luongo is expected to return to the team on Tuesday.
“He should be landing here in the next hour or so,” Boughner said of Montembeault, a 2019 AHL All-Star.
The Canadiens (31-20-7) saw their losing streak reach three games with a 3-0 loss in Tampa on Saturday night. In that matchup, Montreal played the league-leading Lightning to a scoreless stalemate through two periods before surrendering three goals in the final frame.
Max Domi leads the Canadiens in scoring with 49 points (17 goals, 32 assists), while Tomas Tatar paces the club with 18 goals. Florida has lost each of its previous two meetings against Montreal this season, with both losses coming against veteran backup goaltender Antti Niemi.
On Jan. 15, Niemi made a career-high 52 saves in a 5-1 win over the Panthers in Montreal.
“They’re a good team,” Huberdeau said. “Obviously they work hard. We’ve just got to be ready right at the start. We’ve got to play our game. I feel like last game was pretty good. We want to be aggressive. We want to have our second and third chances. That’s what we’re trying to do tonight.”
— Aleksander Barkov leads the Panthers in scoring with 53 points, including four goals and 10 assists over his last 18 games. The 23-year-old center also ranks third in the NHL in takeaways (77), while his 22:52 of average ice time per game places him second among all forwards.
— Mike Hoffman leads the Panthers in goals (26), power-play goals (11), game-winning goals (5) and shots on goal (178). 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.
— Frank Vatrano has tallied a team-leading eight goals and 13 points over the last 16 games. The 24-year-old winger also paces the club with 18 even-strength goals this season, while having already reached new career-bests in both goals (19) and points (30).
— Keith Yandle leads all Panthers defensemen in points (43) and assists (35), while his 27 power-play points place him tied for sixth in the NHL and first among all blueliners.
— Mike Matheson leads Florida with 84 blocked shots and has posted three points (one goal, two assists) over his last five games. The 24-year-old has also logged a team-leading 42:20 of shorthanded ice time over the last 20 games, with the team going 42 for 46 on the PK in that span.
GEICO GOALIE MATCHUP OF THE GAME
James Reimer (11-10-5, 3.05 GAA, .901 SV%) vs. Antti Niemi (8-5-2, 3.61 GAA, .893 SV%)
For the second straight game, the Panthers will roll with Reimer. The 30-year-old owns a 3-2-0 record over his last five starts, posting an incredible .949 save percentage or better in three of those outings. In his career against the Canadiens, he’s gone 6-6-2 with a 2.84 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and three shutouts – his second-most against any opponent.
With Carey Price suiting up against the Lightning on Saturday, Niemi will likely get the nod for the Canadiens in Sunrise. The 35-year-old backup has dropped each of his last two starts, allowing seven total goals in losses to New Jersey and Philadelphia. In his career against the Panthers, he’s gone 3-5-1 with a 2.70 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and one shutout.
Jonathan Huberdeau – Aleksander Barkov – Frank Vatrano
Mike Hoffman – Vincent Trocheck – Evgenii Dadonov
Derick Brassard – Henrik Borgstrom – Denis Malgin
Jayce Hawryluk – Riley Sheahan – Troy Brouwer
Mike Matheson – Aaron Ekblad
Keith Yandle – Mark Pysyk
Ian McCoshen – Josh Brown
Scratches: Micheal Haley, Bogdan Kiselevich, Jamie McGinn
Injured Reserve: Derek MacKenzie (shoulder), Colton Sceviour (upper body), MacKenzie Weegar (upper body)
– Feb. 17: G Samuel Montembeault was recalled from Springfield (AHL)
– Feb. 10: F Jamie McGinn was recalled from Springfield (AHL)
– Feb. 8: D Bogdan Kiselevich was recalled from Springfield (AHL)
– 50/50 Raffle (buy digital tickets here)
BITE OF BB&T CENTER
Nashville Hot Chicken Sandwich with Tots for $14 at “Chick it Out” outside section 105
HOW TO WATCH
When: Sunday, Feb. 17, 7:00 p.m.
Where: BB&T Center – Sunrise, FL
TV: Fox Sports Florida
Florida Panthers Radio Network: 790 WAXY (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)