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Bobrovsky Returns as Panthers Kick Off Road Trip in Detroit

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

1/18/20 Morning Skate

1/18/20 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Vincent Trocheck and defenseman Mike Matheson.

  • 01:20 •

DETROIT - The news couldn't have come at a better time.

After sitting out the previous two games while recovering from a lower-body injury, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to be back between the pipes for the Florida Panthers when they kick off their road trip against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday night.

Prior to the injury, the 31-year-old goaltender had gone 5-3-0 over his previous eight starts.

"He's playing," Quenneville said. "It's good to have him back."

Bobrovsky's return to the crease comes on the same day the Panthers announced that backup goaltender Chris Driedger, who's gone 5-2-0 this season, will be out of commission for "several weeks" after suffering a lower-body injury during Florida's 4-3 win over Los Angeles on Jan. 16.

"The injury was one of those where we wanted to get it managed properly and get him back to where he feels right, and I think that's where it's at," Quenneville said of Bobrovsky. "Obviously with losing Driedger for a while here, the timing's pretty good that he's back in the net for us."

With Bobrovsky back in action, the Panthers will aim to keep building momentum heading into NHL All-Star Weekend. Entering tonight's tilt on a three-game win streak, they've outscored the opposition by a margin of 17-9 in decisive victories over Vancouver, Toronto and Los Angeles.

Following tonight's matchup, Florida will go on to visit Minnesota and Chicago before the break.

"It's huge," said Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson, who has goals in each of his last two games. "We've been able to string together a few wins here. To be able to go into the break with three more would be huge. We're still on the outside looking in, so every point is important."

As the second half of the season begins to ramp up, Florida has more than one road into the postseason. They not only sit two points behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division, but also just one point behind Columbus for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Panthers (25-16-5) have also played two fewer games than the clubs they are chasing.

"These are three huge games right now," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. "The race in the East is tight right now. We've got three games before the break, and we'd like to be in a playoff spot after those three games."

The highest-scoring team in the league (3.63 goals per game), Florida is led by 2020 NHL All-Star Jonathan Huberdeau, who ranks tied for seventh in the league with 62 points (18 goals, 44 assists), and Aleksander Barkov, who sits just behind him with 50 points (14 goals, 36 assists).

Mike Hoffman, however, is carrying one of the hottest sticks for the team at the moment. Looking to extend a season-high, seven-game point streak, the 30-year-old sniper has tallied five goals and four assists in that span, pushing his point total up to 36 (18 goals, 18 assists).

"I see more pace to his game," Quenneville said of Hoffman. "He's getting his shot off a little bit better in that area. It seems like there's more compete without the puck in the puck area. He's had more usefulness with his stick. When he has turnovers in his favor, things can happen."

The Panthers have won each of their two previous matchups against the Red Wings this season, most recently securing a 5-4 win in Sunrise on Dec. 28. In those two games, Barkov and Huberdeau have really dazzled while teaming up for eight points (three goals, five assists).

Overall, Florida has come out victorious in each of their previous five meetings with Detroit.

"They're a fast team," Trocheck said of the Red Wings. "We've got to make sure that we're not turning pucks over and making mistakes. We want to play a simple game -- a fast, hard game."

At 12-32-4, Detroit has the fewest points in the league (28). Struggling at both ends of the ice, they rank last in offense (2.13 goals per game) and defense (3.83 goals-allowed per game). Tyler Bertuzzi leads the team in goals (16) and points (34), while Dylan Larkin has the most assists (20). Over his last 10 games, Larkin has recorded nine points (three goals, six assists). 

Overall, the Red Wings have dropped five of their last seven games, including a 2-1 overtime loss to Pittsburgh on Friday. After Jimmy Howard stopped 35 of 37 shots against the Penguins, Detroit will likely deploy backup Calvin Pickard, who is 0-2-0 this season, against the Panthers.

"It's an important game," Quenneville said. "Detroit last night looked they were a different team than when we saw them earlier in the season. They looked like they had a lot of pace to their game with some purpose and energy. We haven't played them in this building here, so we expect them to be a dangerous opponent.

"We've got to respect the way they compete, the way they play. We've got to start this road trip in a real positive way knowing that, hey, we've got a little momentum coming off our homestand. Let's play the right way. Let's think of checking first and make sure that we manage the puck well and be respectful of what these guys do."

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Jonathan Huberdeau paces the Panthers in both assists (44) and points (62). The 26-year-old winger enters tonight's tilt on a three-game point streak, registering one goal and four assists in that span. An NHL All-Star, he also leads the team in assists (14) and points (21) on the road.

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on Florida in assists (36) and points (50). Entering tonight's matchup on a three-game point streak, the 24-yea-rold center has recorded one goal and four assists in that span. In 24 career games against Detroit, he's tallied eight goals and 15 assists.

-- Keith Yandle ranks tied for fourth among the league's defensemen in assists (30) and is also tied for fifth in power-play points (18). The 33-year-old leads Florida's defensemen and ranks tied for eighth among the league's blueliners in scoring with 34 points (four goals, 30 assists).

-- Evgenii Dadonov leads Florida in goals (20) and power-play goals (9), and also ranks third in points (37). The 30-year-old winger has been absolutely on fire this month, recording six goals and two assists in the seven games since the calendar flipped over to January.

-- Noel Acciari has scored 12 goals over his last 14 games, pushing his total on the season to a career-high 17. The 28-year-old also leads Florida and ranks first among the league's forwards in blocks (70). Additionally, he also leads the team in hits (85), including 27 in his last 11 games.

-- Vincent Trocheck has produced at a point-per-game clip over his last seven games, recording one goal and six assists in that span. The 26-year-old center has six goals and 21 assists this season, while also leading the Panthers in takeaways (39) and faceoff win percentage (55.1)

-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in ice time per game (22:59) The 23-year-old also ranks second among the club's defensemen in goals (5), assists (20) and points (25). In 21 career games against Detroit, he's notched 13 points (two goals, 11 assists).

-- Florida is 20-2-2 when scoring first this season.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari

Frank Vatrano - Dominic Toninato - Mike Hoffman

Colton Sceviour - Brian Boyle - Mark Pysyk

Defensemen

Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad

Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Sam Montembeault

Scratches: Jayce Hawryluk, Denis Malgin, Chris Driedger (lower-body)

Injured Reserve: MacKenzie Weegar (upper-body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Jan. 15: G Sam Montembeault was recalled from AHL Springfield on emergency conditions.

- Jan. 13: G Sam Montembeault was loaned to AHL Springfield.

- Jan. 12: G Sam Montembeault was recalled from AHL Springfield on emergency conditions.

- Dec. 27: D Riley Stillman was recalled from AHL Springfield.

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Saturday, Jan. 18, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: Little Caesars Arena - Detroit, MI

TV: FSF

(Alternate Channels Below)

DTV: 654-1

AT&T: 721 | AT&T HD: 1721

Stream: FOX Sports GO

Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM Streaming 932

Territory on Tap Locations: HERE

Official Watch Party: Bokamper's Bar & Grill in Miramar

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