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Driedger Starts, Weegar Returns as Panthers Open Homestand vs. Predators

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

11/30/19 Morning Skate

11/30/19 Morning Skate

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

  • 01:15 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - Recalled from the AHL on Monday, goaltender Chris Driedger is expected to make his first NHL start and Florida Panthers debut when the team kicks off a franchise-record nine-game homestand against the Nashville Predators at BB&T Center on Saturday night.

"We wanted to get him in on this homestand," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "Over the course of last year, training camp and this year down in Springfield, he's played very well. One of these games we were going to start him. This wasn't the expected start, but we felt that we should give him a chance here. We're looking forward to it. He's been working hard in practice."

Joining the Thunderbirds in 2018-19, Driedger registered an 18-10-2 record, 2.45 goals-against average, one shutout and an AHL-best .924 save percentage in the minors last season. For his efforts, the 25-year-old was rewarded by Florida with a two-year, two-way contract back in April.

At the time of his recall, Driedger was leading the AHL with a .938 save percentage.

"When you can play well and then get rewarded, it's a great feeling," Driedger said after Tuesday's practice at the Panthers IceDen. "I'm just trying to focus on my game and control what I can control. It's nice to be in the NHL and see if I can keep things going up here."

Originally a third-round pick (76th overall) by Ottawa in the 2012 NHL Draft, Driedger suited up in three games but was never given a start during his tenure with the Senators. In three relief appearances, he posted a 0-0-1 record, 2.53 goals-against average and .889 save percentage.

Mike Hoffman was a teammate of Driedger's in Ottawa during his last NHL game in 2016.

"I think he's been doing a great job down in the American League and got his opportunity to play up here," Hoffman said. "It's a great opportunity for himself, and we're looking forward to it as a team. He's a good goalie. He can save the puck and he can move. He's pretty steady. He's quick. He's a big guy. You add all those things up, and it's the recipe for a goalie."

Helping make Driedger's life a bit easier in his debut will be defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, who is expected to return to Florida's blue line after missing the previous eight games with an upper-body injury suffered during a 6-5 shootout win at the New York Rangers on Nov. 10.

Prior to the injury, Weegar had been playing alongside Aaron Ekblad on the club's top-defensive pairing. Averaging 19:57 of ice time over 17 games, he's notched three goals and seven assists.

"He brings us some excitement and enthusiasm," Quenneville said. "He was playing extremely well prior to the injury. It seems like he gives us a little offense, a little defense. He can't be more excited. He's like the goalie right now."

Sitting in second place in the Atlantic Division with a 12-8-5 record, the Panthers are looking to break out of a small slump. After enjoying a three-game win streak, the team has lost each of its last three contests since then, including a 4-3 loss at the Washington Capitals on Wednesday.

Florida has gone 6-3-2 at home this season, including wins in three out of its last four.

"All it means it that we're going to have a lot of games on the road in the second half of the year," Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson said of the team's long homestand. "That's tough to kind of be looking to gain points when you're on the road. You have to make sure that when you're at home you're putting a lot of points in the bank and putting yourself in a good situation."

The Predators have points in each of its last four games, including a 3-0 shutout win at the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday that improved their record to 12-9-4. Prior to that point streak, the team had lost six games in a row while surrendering at least five goals four times during that stretch.

Roman Josi leads the team in scoring with 24 points while Filip Forsberg paces the club with 10 goals. In 13 career games against Florida, Josi has recorded 11 points (five goals, six assists).

Given that Pekka Rinne started last night, backup goaltender Juuse Saros will likely get the nod in net for Nashville in Sunrise. In 13 games, Saros has gone 3-5-2 with a .891 save percentage.

"They're playing good hockey right now," Matheson said. "We definitely have to be ready for them. I think the focus, again, tonight is going to be about playing well defensively, limiting the turnovers through the neutral zone and keeping the puck out of the back of our net."

In their only previous tilt this season, the Panthers won 3-2 in a shootout in Nashville on Oct. 19.

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in scoring with 31 points, including five goals and 13 assists over his last 13 games. In 12 career games against Nashville, the 26-year-old winger has tallied 10 points (five goals, five assists).

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on Florida in scoring with 30 points, including 23 assists, which are tied for the fifth-most in the league. Over his last 13 games, the 24-year-old center has notched 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists).

-- Brett Connolly has scored in each of his last two games to claim sole possession of Florida's goal-scoring lead with 12 goals. The 27-year-old winger also ranks fifth on the team in points (19) and has racked up eight points (six goals, two assists) over his last seven contests.

-- Vincent Trocheck has five points (one goal, four assists) over his last five games.

-- Aaron Ekblad has five points (three goals, two assists) over his last four games. The 23-year-old leads Florida in time on ice per game (24:08) and paces the club's defensemen in goals (5).

-- Keith Yandle ranks first among Panthers defensemen in points (20) and assists (18).

-- Evgenii Dadonov is tied for second on Florida in goals (10) and tied for third in points (20).

-- The Panthers own the league's fifth-ranked offense (3.52 goals per game) and seventh-ranked power play (23.7 percent).

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Denis Malgin

Frank Vatrano - Brian Boyle - Mike Hoffman

Dominic Toninato - Noel Acciari - Colton Sceviour

Defensemen

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Mike Matheson - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Mark Pysyk

Goalies

Chris Driedger

Sergei Bobrovsky

Scratches: Josh Brown, 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.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- 50/50 Raffle with guaranteed pot of at least $25,000 

- Territory Takeover (Davie)

- "Pucks & Pints" Beerfest

- Fans can receive an Aaron Ekblad collectable pin by purchasing two 20oz bottles of any Coca-Cola product at BB&T Center concession stands while supplies last.

- Player-autographed mystery holiday ornaments available at Foundation Table outside Club Lexus.

BITE OF BB&T CENTER

- Turkey Panini for $9 at select concession stands 

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Saturday, Nov. 30, 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)

Tickets: HERE

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