"It's a good hockey team," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of the Avalanche. "They're fast, they're quick and they've got a lot of guys that are dangerous off the rush. They've got some really high-end talent that can do a lot of different things. They've got four lines that are dangerous, so they've got really good balance up front and dangerous guys on the back end."
After picking up points in back-to-back shootout losses in Buffalo and New York, the Panthers (2-2-2) closed out their three-game road trip with a thrilling comeback in New Jersey on Monday afternoon in which they erased an early 4-1 deficit to come from behind and secure a 6-4 win.
Brett Connolly sparked the comeback with two goals in the second period - including one with eight seconds remaining on the clock - to cut the deficit to 4-3. In the third period, Florida tallied three more unanswered goals to dismiss the Devils and locked up their first road victory of the season.
Evgenii Dadonov put the game away with a timely goal on the power play that made it 6-4 with just under five minutes left in regulation. With the score, the 30-year-old winger pushed his point total to seven (four goals, three assists) and extended his goal-scoring streak up to four games.
Asked about that strong finish, Quenneville said it was Florida's "best 20 minutes of the year."
"We're getting contributions from some of those lines that have been good," he said.
One line that has been particularly effective for the Panthers as of late has been the fourth line of Noel Acciari, Colton Sceviour and Dryden Hunt. Against the Devils, Acciari scored the game-winning goal early in the third period, while all three skaters combined to dish out 13 total hits.
Despite starting just 30.56 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone at 5-on-5 this season, the line has also been great at driving possession. Over the 46:10 they've shared the ice, Florida has both outshot (33-23) and outscored (2-1) the opposition, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
As the team's premier shutdown line, Sceviour said the unit expects to face a tough test tonight if they are tasked with containing Colorado's dangerous top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, who've combined for nine goals and 25 points in six games.
"They have an explosive team, and that top line is one of the best in the league," Sceviour said. "You've got to be cautious defensively when you're playing against them because all it takes is one opportunity for them to make you pay."
Both Acciari and Sceviour have also seen ample time on Florida's penalty kill, which has gone a perfect 8-for-8 over the last three games and currently ranks sixth in the league at 86.7 percent.
"After the first game or two, I think we just got more comfortable with each other, reading off each other," Sceviour said of the team's stalwart penalty kill. "That's led to some success so far. We're hoping to keep building and keep rolling off of that."
After winning each of their first five games to start the season, the Avalanche (5-0-1) suffered their first loss on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh. Despite being sent to the man advantage in overtime, Brandon Tanev scored shorthanded to lift the Penguins to a 3-2 win over Colorado.
In defeat, both MacKinnon and Rantanen extended their point streaks to six games.
"It's a very effective line," Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman said. "They're tough to defend. They have a lot of speed, a lot of skills and good structure. It's going to be a good test for us."
While the Panthers are preparing to face Colorado's top line, the unit might be short a player tonight as Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said that MacKinnon will be a "game-time decision."
"His leg's pretty sore," Bednar said. "He got hit there the other night by [Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist]. I give him a lot of credit. I know he was hurting on the bench the whole game. He battled through and ends up getting us a big goal in the third period… He's questionable for tonight."
Between the pipes, Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to be in net for the Panthers after stopping 17 shots in Monday's win against the Devils. At the other end of the ice, Philipp Grubauer will likely be manning the crease for Colorado after making 29 saves in Wednesday's loss in Pittsburgh.
"We want to have a consistent level of play," Stralman said. "Tonight, especially against that team with how much offense they can generate, I think it's going to be imperative that we play strong hockey throughout the whole game. We can't have any weak parts because they're going to take advantage."
-- Mike Hoffman leads the Panthers in goals (5) and points (8). The 29-year-old winger posted the best season of his career in 2018-19, setting new highs in goals (36), power-play goals (17) and points (70). In 12 career games against Colorado, he's posted five goals and seven assists.
-- Jonathan Huberdeau enters tonight's matchup riding a five-game point streak, registering one goal and five assists in that span. In 2018-19, the 26-year-old winger set a new career-high with 92 points, including a career-best 30 goals and a franchise-record 62 assists.
-- Brett Connolly has tallied five points (two goals, three assists) in six games to start the season. Joining the Panthers on a four-year contract this summer, the 27-year-old winger reached career-bests in goals (22), assists (24) and points (46) in 2018-19 with Washington.
-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers and ranks sixth in the league in average ice time per game (25:24). The 23-year-old lead also leads Florida's defenseman in assists (4) and shots (18). In 2018-19, he notched 13 goals and 24 assists while seeing a career-high 1,938:49 of ice time.
-- Vincent Trocheck has recorded five points (one goal, four assists) in six games. The 26-year-old center also leads Florida and ranks tied for 11th in the league with eight takeaways.
-- The Panthers split their series with the Avalanche in 2018-19, going 1-1-0 in two meetings.
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Brett Connolly
Frank Vatrano - Henrik Borgstrom - Denis Malgin
Dryden Hunt - Noel Acciari - Colton Sceviour
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle - Josh Brown
Scratches: Jayce Hawryluk, Mark Pysyk
- Sept. 29: F Anthony Greco, F Owen Tippett, F Dominic Toninato and D Riley Stillman were loaned to AHL Springfield.
- 50/50 Raffle
- Trick-or-Treating on the ice postgame presented by IT'SUGAR. To participate, make a $3 donation at the Florida Panthers Foundation table outside Club Lexus or in the upper level concourse near the escalators. All masks must be removed upon entering the building, and accessories resembling weapons are not allowed.
HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN
When: Friday, Oct. 18, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
Stream: FOX Sports GO
Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)