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Connolly Returns to D.C. as Panthers visit Capitals

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

11/27/19 Morning Skate

11/27/19 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville and forwards Brett Connolly and Mike Hoffman.

  • 01:45 •

Brett Connolly said it felt "a little weird" taking the ice this morning.

After spending the previous three seasons in Washington, the veteran winger will visit his old stomping grounds for the first time since heading to South Florida on a four-year contract this summer when the Panthers faceoff against the Capitals at Capital One Arena on Wednesday.

An integral part of Washington's Stanley Cup-winning team in 2018, Connolly previously faced off against his former squad when they visited Sunrise on Nov. 7. That being said, the 27-year-old noted that there's a very big difference between that first game and tonight's homecoming.

"This is a little different," Connolly said. "Happy that I got to get the first one out of the way on the road and then come here early in the season. It's a little different feel. It'll be weird to go out there for warm-ups and get in that environment again. It'll be nice to see the fans. It'll be weird, but it was nice skating around looking up at that banner, seeing that for the first time since I left."

Since joining the Panthers, Connolly has been producing at an even higher rate than he did with the Capitals. After posting a career-high 22 goals and 46 points in 2018-19, he's already tallied a team-high 11 goals -- including five over his last five games - and 18 points so far this year.

Of his 11 goals, 10 have come at even-strength, which is tied for seventh-most in the league.

"It's been a very easy transition," Connolly said. "The coaching staff, teammates have been a very comfortable to group to come in and be myself. I'm getting a good opportunity here. It's obviously been a good start to the season for me. Obviously, numbers-wise, I've had a good start. You want to improve different things during the season, but as a whole it's been good."

Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said the team has also benefitted from Connolly's experience.

"He's been through that winning experience," Quenneville said. "I think that's something that we want to add to our team. As we go along here, you can learn from him in big games and big situations. We get to play those as we go through the rigors of an 82-game schedule. There's some guys that we've added this year that have playoff experience, and he's one of them."

One of those "big games" is on the docket for tonight.

After stringing together a season-high three straight wins, the Panthers lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season when they dropped both halves of a back-to-back set against the Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Still, Florida (12-7-5) has won seven of its last 12 games and sits second in the Atlantic division.

"I want a great start," Quenneville said when asked what he'd like to see against the Capitals. "The puck management part of it, let's keep it and put it in good areas. This team likes to hang onto the puck. We've got to get it back, earn it back. We've got to be good in the battle areas. We want to make sure that we're better defending the rush as a team and tighten up that area."

Despite owning the league's third-ranked offense (3.54 goals per game), Quenneville is making a few adjustments up front heading into tonight's matchup. The biggest of these moves is Mike Hoffman climbing up to play with Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov on the top line.

Huberdeau and Barkov lead the team in scoring with 30 and 29 points, respectively, while Hoffman, who's been playing mostly on the second line this season, has registered 17 points.

"It's nice to play with those two guys," said Hoffman, who ranks fourth on the team with nine goals. "Barky's one of the best two-way players in the game and can make a lot of plays. Huby's an excellent passer. I'm going to play my game, get open and try and get a couple shots."

The Capitals, meanwhile, occupy first place in the Metropolitan Division with a 16-4-5 record. However, after winning six straight games, they've struggled a little bit, losing four of their last seven games, including dropping a 2-1 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday.

Like the Panthers, Washington also packs quite a punch on offense.

Sitting tied for fourth in the league on offense (3.52 goals per game), Alex Ovechkin leads the team in goals (15), while John Carlson has the most assists (28) and points (36). The highest-scoring blueliner in the league, Carlson has one goal and 12 assists over his last nine games.

Ovechkin is also tied for fourth in the league in power-play goals with seven.

"Ovie's a priority when you're talking about going into the game, being aware when he's on the ice," Quenneville said. "Obviously him on the power play is something you have to be concerned of as well. They've got some balance in their lineup here. They've got four lines that can come at you. Let's stay out of the box and be aware when he's on the ice."

After winning three of his last four starts, Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to get the nod in net for the Panthers; Braden Holtby, who has won seven of his last nine, will likely go for Washington.

While the Capitals won the only other meeting between the two teams this season at BB&T Center earlier his month, Florida has won each of its last four games played in Washington.

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Keith Yandle leads Florida's defensemen in points (18), including one goal and 13 assists over his last 13 games. The quarterback of the team's top power-play unit, the 33-year-old also ranks tied for fourth among the league's blueliners in points on the man advantage with 11.

-- Jonathan Huberdeau has earned at least one point in 19 of Florida's 24 games this season. Leading the team in scoring with 30 points, he also ranks tied for second n goals with 10. Over his last 12 contests, the 26-year-old winger has accumulated 17 points (five goals, 12 assists).

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on the Panthers in points (29). His 22 assists not only lead the team, but also rank fifth in the league. Over his last 16 games, the 24-year-old center has produced at far better than a point-per-game clip, registering seven goals and 16 assists.

-- Aaron Ekblad has recorded 13 points (five goals, eight assists) over his last 18 games. The 23-year-old defenseman also paces the Panthers in average ice time, skating 24:07 per contest.

-- Evgenii Dadonov ranks tied for second on the Panthers in goals (10) and third in points (20).

-- Anton Stralman leads Florida in blocks (34) and ranks second in average ice time (21:14).

-- The Panthers own the league's fifth-ranked power play at 24.6 percent.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Mike Hoffman

Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Denis Malgin

Frank Vatrano - Dominic Toninato - Evgenii Dadonov

Brian Boyle - Noel Acciari - Colton Sceviour

Defensemen

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad

Mark Pysyk - Anton Stralman

Mike Matheson - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

Scratches: MacKenzie Weegar (upper-body), Jayce Hawryluk (upper-body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Nov. 25: G Chris Driedger recalled from AHL Springfield.

- Nov. 25: G Sam Montembeault loaned to AHL Springfield.

- Nov. 24: D Riley Stillman was recalled from AHL Springfield.

- Nov. 18: F Dominic Toninato was recalled from AHL Springfield.

- Nov. 18: F Dryden Hunt was loaned to AHL Springfield.

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Wednesday, Nov. 27, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: Capital One Arena - Washington, D.C.

TV: FSF (Alternate Channels Below)

Direct TV: 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)

Territory on Tap Locations: HERE

Official Watch Party: Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park.

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