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Driedger Expected to Start as Panthers Kick Off Trip in St. Louis

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

3/9/20 Morning Skate

3/9/20 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville and forward Jonathan Huberdeau.

  • 01:35 •

Chris Driedger is expected to make his third consecutive start in net when the Florida Panthers open their two-game road trip against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Monday night.

After being held out of the lineup for almost two months due to a lower-body injury, the 25-year-old goaltender has stood on his head in the two games since he's been back, including stopping 33 of 34 shots to lead Florida to a 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday in Sunrise.

"I can't say enough good things about how comfortable he looked in these two games at home," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of Driedger, who's turned aside 59 of 62 shots for a .952 save percentage over his last two outings. "He did everything he could to get us points."

In 11 appearances this season, Driedger, who hadn't started an NHL game prior to this season, owns a 6-2-1 record with a 2.16 goals-against average, .936 save percentage and one shutout.

"It's always tough to get back into it after a month and a half, almost two months off," Driedger said after stopping 26 of 28 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday. "It was just good to get back into the routine and get back with the guys.

"It was a lot of fun, regardless of the outcome obviously. It was good to get back in there. It honestly felt like when I was in the net that I was right back where I'd left off. That was good. I'm just trying to build on that the rest of the season."

Making Driedger's life easier in net, the Panthers have also been playing very well in their own zone as of late. Over their last two games, they've surrendered just three goals while limiting the opposition to a mere 11 high-danger shot attempts at 5-on-5, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

Finding success in the intangibles, they've tallied 44 hits and 29 blocks in that two-game span.

"We're playing better defensively since the Boston game," Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. "I think we've got to build on that and play well tonight against St. Louis."

For their first meeting of the season against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Panthers know they'll face a tough test against one of the league's top teams on home ice. Leading the Central Division at 41-18-10, St. Louis has gone a stellar 23-6-5 run within their friendly confines.

Entering tonight's matchup, the Blues have won nine of their last 10 games, including a 2-0 victory at Chicago on Saturday. Against the Blackhawks, Jake Allen stopped all 29 shots he faced to earn his second shutout of the season, while Robert Bortuzzo and Alex Pietrangelo both scored.

"We were pretty solid defensively," Blues coach Craig Berube told reporters after the win. "We did a good job in our stand-out at the blue line and not allowing entries and things like that. All the things you have to do to keep them off the scoreboard and keep the shots down."

St. Louis boasts five different players with at least 50 points this season, including David Perron, who paces the team with 60 points (25 goals, 35 assists). Pietrangelo, meanwhile, ranks sixth among the league's defensemen in points (50) and is also tied for the sixth-most goals (14).

Quenneville described Pietrangelo as being "dangerous all over the ice."

"You could be at the front of the net, on either side of the side, off the point, and he's got a lot of confidence in going down there," Quenneville said. "He's got play recognition like a forward; patience like a top-forward as well. He's got a tremendous shot. He's got the offensive side of his game to compliment the defensive side of the game."

Although Allen was between the pipes last game, the Blues are expected to back to their usual starter, Jordan Binnington, against the Panthers tonight. Over his last seven starts, the 26-year-old owns a solid 6-1-0 record with a .929 save percentage with a pair of shutouts in that span.

On the cusp of a playoff spot and looking to make a move, Panthers (34-26-8) currently trail the Toronto Maple Leafs (35-25-9) by just three points for third place in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand. The two teams also have one head-to-head matchup remaining on March 23.

Not looking that far ahead, however, the Panthers are focusing on the task at hand in St. Louis.

"They're a good team, especially at home," Huberdeau said of the Blues. "They're big and really skilled. We've got to do the same thing, get the puck as much as possible in the offensive zone and create some things in there. We've got to take the lead, especially on the road, it's huge."

Florida owns a 26-5-4 record when scoring first this season.

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads Florida and ranks 10th in the league with 78 points (23 goals, 55 assists), including four goals and six assists over his last 12 contests. In 12 career matchups against the Blues, the 26-year-old winger has recorded nine points (two goals, seven assists).

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on the Panthers in scoring with 62 points (20 goals, 42 assists)

-- his third straight seasons with at least 60 points. With two more goals, the 24-year-old center will move into a tie with Scott Mellanby for the second-most goals in team history (157).

-- Evgenii Dadonov ranks second on Florida in goals (25) and fourth in points (46). In five career games against the Blues, the 30-year-old winger has notched two points (one goal, one assist).

-- Keith Yandle ranks first among Panthers defensemen with 45 points (five goals, 40 assists), marking the seventh straight season he's hit the 40-point plateau. The NHL's active "Iron Man," the 33-year-old is expected to suit up in his 866th consecutive regular-season game tonight. -- Noel Acciari ranks tied for fourth on Florida with a career-high 20 goals. The 28-year-old also leads the team in hits (121) and sits first among the all of the league's forwards in blocks (100).

-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in average ice time per game (23:05) and has already set new career-highs in both assists (36) and points (41) this season. Piling up the points over the past month, the 24-year-old leads the league's defensemen with 12 assists since Feb. 10.

-- Mike Hoffman paces Florida in goals (28) and also ranks fourth in points (58). Over his last 10 games, the 30-year-old winger has recorded 12 points (seven goals, five assists). In his career against the Blues, he's notched six points (four goals, two assists) and 29 shots in 10 games.

-- MacKenzie Weegar has posted two goals, four hits and seven blocks over his last two games.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Frank Vatrano - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Jonathan Huberdeau - Erik Haula - Mike Hoffman

Aleksi Saarela - Lucas Wallmark - Brett Connolly

Colton Sceviour - Noel Acciari - Mark Pysyk

Defensemen

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Mike Matheson - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Josh Brown

Goalies

Chris Driedger

Sam Montembeault

Scratches: Dominic Toninato, Riley Stillman, Sergei Bobrovsky (lower-body) Injured Reserve: Dryden Hunt (lower-body), Brian Boyle (upper-body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- March 3: G Chris Driedger was recalled from AHL Springfield.

- Feb. 26: G Chris Driedger was assigned to AHL Springfield on a conditioning loan.

- Feb. 24: D Emil Djuse was acquired from Dallas in exchange for a sixth-round pick.

- Feb. 24: F Erik Haula, F Lucas Wallmark, F Eetu Luostarinen and D Chase Priskie were acquired from Carolina in exchange for F Vincent Trocheck.

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Monday, March 9, 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Enterprise Center - St. Louis, MO

TV: FSF

Stream:FOX Sports GO

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast) Territory on Tap

Locations: HERE

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