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Driedger Starts, Stillman Slots In as Panthers Host Red Wings

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

12/28/19 Morning Skate

12/28/19 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Dominic Toninato and defenseman Keith Yandle.

  • 01:15 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - Chris Driedger is expected to be between the pipes when the Florida Panthers open up a crucial back-to-back set against the Detroit Red Wings at BB&T Center on Saturday.

In his last start, the 25-year-old stopped 42 of 44 shots in a 4-2 win at Carolina on Dec. 21.

"He had a big goalie win the other day in Carolina," said Panthers coach Quenneville, who also noted that Sergei Bobrovsky is slated to start Sunday's game versus Montreal. "We've got back-to-back to games coming out of the break and they're each going to get a game. I like how he handles it every day. He's got a quiet confidence in the net and goes about his business. He's a real good pro and he's learning on the job as well. He gets a real important game for us tonight."

Recalled from AHL Springfield on Nov. 25, Driedger owns a 2-1-0 record with a 1.69 goals-against average, .948 save percentage and one shutout in three appearances this season.

"He's been unbelievable all year," Panthers winger Dominic Toninato said. "No matter where he's been, he always gives us a chance to win, and that's all you can ask for. He's always competing and making some really nice saves. I think he's going to do the same tonight."

With defensemen Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar both expected to miss tonight's game while nursing injuries, Riley Stillman is also expected to slot into Florida's lineup against Detroit.

Recalled from AHL Springfield on Thursday, the 21-year-old blueliner has registered three goals and three assists in 25 games with the Thunderbirds this season. Suiting up in three games with the Panthers in 2019-20, he's posted four blocks and two hits while averaging 15:56 of ice time.

"There's room to improve and I want to get better every day," said Stillman, a fourth-round pick (114th overall) in the 2016 NHL Draft. "Obviously being here and being with the big club helps that. I want to continue to improve and hopefully I'll carve out a role here that's full time."

Quenneville said he likes the physicality that Stillman brings to the lineup.

"Stiller gives us a presence back here," Quenneville said. "Physically, when he's on his game, he's got some flow to it. He's got decent gaps. I think he goes into the puck areas and can have some big hits. I think with him involved offensively and coming out of his own end, he handles the puck alright, too. All facets of his game, we're going to need. We knew it was a matter of time before we'd get him back here, and now he's going to look to take advantage of it."

Overall, the Panthers have won three of their last four games, but entered the holiday break on the heels of a 6-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Monday. At 18-13-5, they currently sit one point behind the Canadiens for third place in the Atlantic Division, but are also carrying one game in hand.

Averaging the fifth-most goals per game in the league (3.44), Florida's offense is led by the duo of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. Huberdeau paces the club in points (48), goals (tied-14) and assists (34), while Barkov has contributed 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points.

Keith Yandle, meanwhile, leads the team's defensemen with 30 points (four goals, 26 assists).

"We had a good practice yesterday," Yandle said. "You get the legs going right away. For us, it's just about getting right back at, getting a game under our belt and going to work."

At 9-26-3, the Red Wings not only occupy last place in the Eastern Conference, but also own the fewest points in the league. They enter tonight's matchup in the midst of a four-game skid and have lost 16 of their last 18 games overall, including a 5-2 loss against Arizona on Dec. 22.

Struggling mightily at both ends of the ice in the midst of a rebuilding season, they're currently scoring the fewest goals (2.16) and surrendering the most goals (3.92) per game in the league.

However, as Quenneville often likes to point out, that doesn't mean they aren't dangerous.

Led up front by forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, who leads the team in both goals (14) and points (30), and Anthony Mantha, who has chipped in 12 goals and 12 assists, Detroit has a few signature wins this year, including a 2-1 win at Montreal on Dec. 14 and a 4-2 win over Boston on Nov. 8.

"They've got a handful of guys that can change the game," Yandle said. "For us, it's limiting their chances and doing a good job on them. It's not just one or two guys either. There are five guys out there that are doing their job against us, and it's up to us to do our job against them."

While the Red Wings have yet to announce a starter, veteran Jimmy Howard could man the crease tonight in Sunrise. Winless in his last eight starts, the 35-year-old has posted a 2-12-1 record with a 4.02 goals-against average and .887 save percentage in 15 games this season.

In their only previous meeting this season, the Panthers secured a 4-0 win against Detroit at BB&T Center on Nov. 2.

"We've got to come out and play north-south right away," Yandle said. "[We don't want to] try to do anything too fancy, just get up in the play and try to get as many pucks to the net as we can."

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Noel Acciari has recorded seven goals over his last four games -- including consecutive hat tricks -- and has already set a new career-highs in goals (12) and points (15) this season. The 28-year-old forward also ranks first on the Panthers in hits (60) and second in blocks (52).

-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers and ranks tied for seventh in the league with 48 points. He also leads the team and ranks tied for fifth in the league in assists (34). Over his last 20 games played, the 26-year-old winger has recorded 28 points (five goals, 23 assists).

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on Florida in points (40), assists (29), shots (101) and faceoff win percentage (54.0) Over his last 24 games, the 24-year-old center has produced at better than a point-per-game place while registering 27 points (11 goals and 16 assists).

-- Mike Hoffman has posted six points (two goals, four assists) over his last nine games. The 30-year-old winger ranks tied for fourth on Florida in goals (12) and is also fifth in points (24).

-- Keith Yandle ranks second among the league's defensemen in assists (26) and power-play points (tied-15). The 33-year-old paces Florida's defensemen and ranks tied for fifth among the league's blueliners with 30 points, including two goals and 10 assists over his last 12 games.

-- Evgenii Dadonov ranks fourth in points (26) and second in goals (13) on the Panthers.

-- Vincent Trocheck has recorded four goals and nine assists over his last 18 games to push his point total on the season up to 19 (five goals, 14 assists). The 26-year-old center also ranks third on Florida in faceoff win percentage (53.9) and leads the team in takeaways (29).

-- Brett Connolly is tied for first on the Panthers with 14 goals.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari

Frank Vatrano - Brian Boyle - Mike Hoffman

Colton Sceviour - Dominic Toninato - Denis Malgin

Defensemen

Keith Yandle - Mark Pysyk

Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman

Mike Matheson - Josh Brown

Goalies

Chris Driedger

Sergei Bobrovsky

Scratches: Jayce Hawryluk, MacKenzie Weegar (injured), Aaron Ekblad (injured)

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

- Dec. 11: F Jayce Hawryluk was assigned to AHL Springfield on a conditioning loan.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- 50/50 Raffle with Guaranteed Pot of at Least $25,000 

- JetBlue Takeover Night

- Territory Takeover (Delray Beach)  

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Saturday, Dec. 28, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV: FSF (Alternate Channels Below)

DirecTV: 654-1

AT&T: 721

AT&THD: 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 223 / Streaming 932

Tickets: HERE

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