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Driedger in Net as Panthers Open Homestand vs. Coyotes

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

1/7/20 Morning Skate

1/7/20 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville and forwards Brett Connolly and Frank Vatrano.

  • 01:35 •

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Chris Driedger will be back between the pipes when the Florida Panthers open up a four-game homestand against the Arizona Coyotes at BB&T Center on Tuesday.

After stopping all 11 shots he faced in a relief appearance on Saturday in Buffalo, the 25-year-old backup made 31 saves to help guide the Panthers to a 4-1 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

"He did a good job," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's had some good games here in this stretch… This is another opportunity for him to get a little bit more net time. We'll see how he handles it. He's been consistent and he's been solid in net."

Recalled from AHL Springfield on Nov. 25, Driedger, who had not started an NHL game before this season, has certainly locked down the backup job behind starter Sergei Bobrovsky. In six games, he's 4-1-0 with a 1.82 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and one shutout.

Entering tonight's matchup, the Winnipeg, Manitoba native has won each of his last three starts.

"He's been huge every time he's been in," said Panthers winger Brett Connolly, who ranks third on the team with 16 goals. "He's obviously played well when (Bobrovsky) hasn't been in. When you have two good, solid goalies like that, it's good to feel confident in (Driedger), and we do."

Coming off one of their best 60-minute efforts of the season, the Panthers were also on top of their game in front of Driedger against the Penguins. They scored four goals, went a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, and won the possession battle with a 63-50 advantage in shot attempts.

Most importantly, however, they finished the game with a season-low three giveaways.

"That's a big key to our game," said Panthers winger Frank Vatrano, who has two goals in his last four games. "Our team's really offensive. We want to make those plays when they're there, but sometimes you can't be too stubborn and try to make those plays when they're not there. We did a good job of limiting our turnovers last game. I think that's why we were successful."

Looking to duplicate that effort tonight, they know they'll have their hands full with the Coyotes.

Sitting in second place in the Pacific Division with a 24-16-4 record, Arizona is on a three-game winning streak, including a 6-2 win over Philadelphia on Saturday. During that stretch, they've looked very good at both ends of the ice while outscoring the opposition by a margin of 13-5.

While they boast two of the league's top scorers of the past decade in Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall, the Coyotes are led in scoring by Nick Schmaltz (35 points) and Clayton Keller (32 points).

"A very dangerous team," Quenneville said. "They skate well. They've got a lot of skill on all their lines. They can go offensively. They play a real good responsible team game. You've got to respect this team. This is a very dangerous opponent tonight."

In a heated battle between Florida's fifth-ranked offense (3.52 goals per game) and Arizona's third-ranked defense (2.50 goals allowed per game), the Panthers have caught somewhat of a break as the Coyotes are expected to play without either of their top-two goaltenders tonight.

Named to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game last week, starter Darcy Kuemper is considered "week-to-week" with a lower-body injury, while backup Antti Raanta is currently listed as "day-to-day" after exiting in the second period against the Flyers with a lower-body injury of his own.

In their absence, Adin Hill, who stopped 10 of 12 shots in Philadelphia, will likely man the crease tonight. In 19 career NHL games, the 23-year-old has gone 8-8-0 with a .901 save percentage.

The first of two meetings between the two clubs this season, the Panthers have won five straight games against the Coyotes on home ice, including a 4-2 win in March of last season.

"It's always a little different when you're not used to some teams," Vatrano said. "But there's some familiar faces on that side that you've played against. You've just got to prepare the right way -- making sure you're paying attention to video and what they like to do with the puck and in the defensive zone. It's going to be a patient game. We've just got to play the right way."

Just past the midway point of the season, Florida, which has won seven of its last 10 games to improve to 22-15-5, currently occupies the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We're getting there," Connolly said. "I think we're still finding our way. We're in a good position to go on a run... Hopefully we can really take advantage of the second half. Every game is so important."

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers and ranks sixth in the league with 57 points (17 goals, 40 assists), including 16 multi-point contests. Named to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game last week, the 26-year-old has registered 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) over his past 10 games. With three more points, he'll tie Olli Jokinen for the franchise's all-time points record of 419.

-- Noel Acciari leads Florida with nine goals over his last 10 games -- including a pair of hat tricks -- and has already reached new career-highs in goals (14) and points (17) this season. The 28-year-old forward also ranks first on the team in hits (72) and blocked shots (64).

-- Keith Yandle ranks fourth among the league's defensemen in assists (28) and also sits in a tie for second in power-play points (17). The 33-year-old leads Florida's defensemen and ranks tied for sixth among the league's blueliners in scoring with 32 points (four goals, 28 assists).

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on the Panthers in assists (32) and points (45) and is tied for second on the team in power-play goals (6). Over his last 18 games, the 24-year-old center has registered 16 points (six goals, 10 assists).

-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in ice time per game (23:12). The 23-year-old also ranks first among the club's defensemen in goals (5) and second in assists (18) and points (23).

-- Evgenii Dadonov leads Florida in goals (18) and also sits third in points (34). The 30-year-old winger is currently on a three-game point streak, posting four goals and one assist in that span.

-- Mike Matheson has produced five points (two goals, three assists) over his last five games. In addition to his offensive numbers, he's also tallied four hits and five blocked shots in that span.

-- Vincent Trocheck has notched eight points (one goal, seven assists) over his last 11 games. The 26-year-old center also leads Florida in takeaways (34) and faceoff win percentage (53.4).

-- Mike Hoffman has tallied seven points (two goals, five assists) over his last six games.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari

Frank Vatrano - Dominic Toninato - Mike Hoffman

Jayce Hawryluk - Denis Malgin - Colton Sceviour

Defensemen

Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad

Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Josh Brown

Goalies

Chris Driedger

Sergei Bobrovsky

Scratches: Brian Boyle, Mark Pysyk, MacKenzie Weegar (upper-body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

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

- Dec. 23: F Jayce Hawryluk was recalled from his conditioning loan with AHL Springfield.

- Dec. 17: F Ryan Haggerty was acquired from Pittsburgh in exchange for F Kevin Roy.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- 50/50 Raffle

- Nacho Tots Tuesday

BITE OF BB&T CENTER

- Cheeseburger with Fries for $12 at select Concession Stands (105,119,130,305,319,330)

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Tuesday, Jan. 7, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV: FSF

Stream: FOX Sports GO

Panthers Radio Network: 790 WAXY (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

Tickets: HERE

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