Originally a third-round pick (76th overall) by Ottawa in the 2012 NHL Draft, Driedger appeared in three games with the Senators in relief but had never started a game in the NHL until tonight.
"Honestly, I'm speechless at this point," said Driedger, who became the first Panthers netminder to ever record a shutout in the first start of their NHL career. "It's been a long time coming. They told me I was starting yesterday. I was definitely pretty nervous going into it, but once the puck dropped I kind of felt good. The defense did an incredible job tonight making my job easy."
Prior to being recalled from the AHL on Monday, Driedger had been playing exceptionally well for Florida's AHL affiliate in Springfield, Mass. In 14 games with the Thunderbirds, he posted a 6-8-0 record behind a 2.09 goals-against average and an AHL-leading .938 save percentage.
"I had the opportunity to play a decent amount starting off the season in Springfield, so that definitely helps just being in game-shape," said Driedger, who inked a two-year, two-way contract with the Panthers in April. "I think it was less than a week since my game there. I just kind of pretended like it was a game in the American League, and things ended up going well."
With Driedger shutting the door, Anton Stralman and Aleksander Barkov provided the offense.
Following a scoreless opening frame, Stralman broke the ice very early in the second period, ripping a rebound through traffic and past Juuse Saros to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 1:06.
Then, in the third, Stralman, who entered the night still searching for his first goal of the season, lit the lamp again to extend Florida's lead to 2-0 at 8:38. Just a few minutes after that, Barkov provided the dagger, lifting the puck over Saros' shoulder from in close to make it 3-0 at 11:09.
Saros finished with 25 saves on 28 shots.
Easily one of their best defensive performances so far this season, the Panthers succeeded in limiting the Predators to just 27 shots on goal, with only five originating from high-danger areas.
"We've been talking a lot about the defensive zone and how to play it," Barkov said. "In this league, there's 30 other teams that can score and can play very well in your zone. We've got to do what we did today. We played really well in the defensive zone, and Chris was unbelievable."
Snapping out of a three-game losing streak with tonight's win, the Panthers will now march into December with their heads held high, sitting second in the Atlantic Division with a 13-8-5 record.
"Everybody contributed," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of the win. "I think we're at that point where, as you go along in the league, I think everybody's offensively been scoring at a higher rate this year than they have in the past, us included. But, I think, it's defensively that if we can get where we're excited about how well we check, it's going to make us a better team."
Here are five takeaways from Saturday's win in Sunrise…
Stralman entered tonight's game still searching for his first goal as a Panther.
Well, just sixty minutes later, he now has two.
Let's first take a look at his first goal of the night, which held up as the game-winner.
With a rebound slowly rolling into the right circle after Saros turned aside a shot from Colton Sceviour, Stralman skated down from the blue line, pounced on the loose puck and blasted a shot through traffic and into the net to put the Panthers up 1-0 at 1:06 of the second period.
Video: NSH@FLA: Stralman buries his first goal with Panthers
In the third period, Stralman managed to double both his goal total and the lead after taking a pass from Vincent Trocheck - who unleashed some very nifty stickwork behind the net to make the play happen - and beat Saros from right on the doorstep to put Florida up 2-0 at 8:38. With that second score, he achieved the fourth multi-goal game of his career.
Video: NSH@FLA: Stralman puts home dish for his second goal
"It's always fun," Stralman said of his goals. "Sometimes it's just being at the right place at the right time. Other than that, there was not much to it; just trying to hit the net. It's a good feeling."
In the midst of his first season with the Panthers after joining the team on a three-year deal this past summer, Stralman has been providing the team with both a veteran presence and points while averaging 21:11 of ice time per game in a very important top-four role on the blue line.
In 26 games, the 33-year-old has tallied two goals, eight assists and a team-high 38 blocks.
"[The losing streak] was the big motivator," Stralman said of the win. "We were able to get back on track and prove to ourselves that we can play defense [the right way], and I thought we did."
2. DRIEDGER AND THE DEFENSE
Driedger tipped his cap to the defense after tonight's win.
Waiting almost seven minutes to make his first save, the Panthers did a great job of keeping the Predators attackers away from his crease the entire game. Limited to just 18 shots through two periods, Nashville mustered only nine in the third, including only one from a high-danger area.
"It was incredible," Driedger said of the play of the defense in front of him. "Every shot that I saw, I could save. If I didn't see them, they blocked them. It was awesome. They did an incredible job in front of me. I wouldn't be answering these questions if it wasn't for them."
The defense also did a spectacular job on the penalty kill, where they shut down all four the Predators' power plays - including 33 seconds of a 5-3 on advantage in the second period.
Of Driedger's 27 saves, six came while shorthanded.
"His composure was terrific," Quenneville said of Driedger. "He was patient and waited on pucks. He was smooth. When I say smooth I mean no rebounds, and he was covering if there was any. I thought he moved well and followed the puck. He did a lot of real good things. I'm happy for him."
3. WEEGAR RETURNS
Florida's blue line also benefited from the return of MacKenzie Weegar tonight.
After missing the previous eight games while recovering from an upper-body injury suffered in a 6-5 shootout win at the New York Rangers on Nov. 10, the 25-year-old defenseman skated an impressive 19:51 against the Predators, finishing with two hits, two blocks and a plus-2 rating.
"It was the same old Weegs," said Stralman, who was paired with Weegar. "He moves well, he makes plays, and he creates offense. It felt good to have him back at my side. It was great." In 18 games this season, Weegar has notched 10 points (three goals, seven assists).
"Nice to see Weegs come back and play that strongly," Quenneville said.
4. BARKOV BURIES ONE
Barkov continues to climb the record books.
With the Panthers leading 2-0 in the third period, Barkov took a pass from Evgenii Dadonov and beat Saros from just to the right of the net to extend the lead to 3-0 at 11:09 of the third period.
Netting the 143rd goal of his NHL career, he also moved past Nathan Horton (142) for the fifth-most goals in franchise history. Next up is Stephen Weiss, who sits in fourth with 145 goals.
Video: NSH@FLA: Dadonov, Barkov team up to add to lead
"Every game is huge for us, especially after a couple bad games," Barkov said. "We lost three in a row and just needed to bounce back. That's what we did in this game."
Moving into a tie with Jonathan Huberdeau for the team-scoring lead with 31 points, Barkov has notched 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) over his last 14 contests. Heating up in the faceoff circle as well, the 24-year-old center won 13 of the 21 draws he took against the Predators.
Additionally, with an assist on the play, Dadonov earned the 100th helper of his NHL career.
5. MORE TO COME
After tonight's thrilling victory, who's ready for some more hockey on home ice?
The Panthers will continue their franchise-record, nine-game homestand against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday at BB&T Center. After that, they'll close out the week with back-to-back games versus the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Florida is 7-3-2 at home this season.
"When you look at the schedule at the beginning of the year, you look at it as an important part of our season," Quenneville said of the homestand. "You can almost say that it's going to tell everything that's going to happen. One game at a time and doing things the right way is a great beginning. Let's try to progress off of this [win] and try to keep improving with every game."
For tickets to upcoming games, visit FloridaPanthers.com/TicketCentral.