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Huberdeau Streaking as Panthers Ring in the New Year in Columbus

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

12/31/19 Morning Skate

12/31/19 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville and forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

  • 01:35 •

A day after being named to the first NHL All-Star Game of his career, Jonathan Huberdeau will lead the Florida Panthers onto the ice as the team kicks off a big four-game road trip with a New Year's Eve matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night.

"Obviously it's great, my first appearance," Huberdeau said of his latest accolade. "I always wanted to go to it at least once in my career. It's going to be a fun experience to go there."

Looking at the numbers, it's no surprise that the gifted 26-year-old winger got the nod. Coming off a career-high 92-point campaign in 2018-19, he's been even better so far this season. In 38 games, Huberdeau leads the Panthers in goals (16), assists (37), points (53) and power-play points (18).

Additionally, his 53 points also place him sixth among the league's top scorers.

"Great start to the year," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's had a great stretch here recently as well. He gets rewarded with an All-Star appearance. It's very well deserved. He's got a hot stick right now. His line seems to be really productive when he's there."

Needing just eight more points to surpass Olli Jokinen (419) for the franchise's all-time scoring record, Huberdeau enters tonight's matchup on a six-game point streak in which he's recorded a team-leading 16 points (five goals, 11 assists), including three four-point performances.

"Whenever it's working, it's a lot of confidence," Huberdeau said of his knack for piling up the points. "You can just tell on the ice when you have confidence. That's what I've been having. I think I've just tried to help the team offensively, and it's been working. I just want to keep going."

Like Huberdeau, the Panthers are also heating up heading into 2020. With a 6-5 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday night in South Florida, they picked up their fifth victory in their last six games. During that torrid stretch, they scored at least four goals in five different games.

Overall, Florida is currently averaging the second-most goals per game in the league (3.55).

"Our offense has been effective," Quenneville said. "Our team game is still a work in progress."

In his first game back in Columbus, Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to get the nod in net against his former team. Prior to signing with the Panthers this past summer, the 31-year-old veteran spent seven seasons with the Blue Jackets, winning the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender in 2013 and 2017 while also backstopping the club to the playoffs on four occasions.

On Dec. 7, Bobrovsky made 33 saves in a 4-1 win over Columbus in Sunrise.

"I know from his point of view, it's a big game for us and special for him," Quenneville said of Bobrovsky, who owns a .922 save percentage over his last nine starts. "We haven't treated it any differently from our point of view. We're starting off on a road trip that's an important trip for us… He played well against them the last time we saw them. I'm sure he's looking forward to it."

Sitting at 20-13-5 and currently occupying third place in the Atlantic Division, the Panthers will look to tighten up their grip on a playoff spot against a suddenly streaking Blue Jackets team.

Extending its point streak to 10 games, Columbus enters tonight's tilt fresh off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. Unfortunately, in addition to the defeat, they also lost starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo, who is expected to miss multiple weeks with an injury.

A first-time All-Star this season, the 25-year-old had posted a 17-10-4 record with a 2.49 goals-against average and .913 save percentage prior to the injury. In his absence, Florida will likely face backup Elvis Merzļikins, who's gone 0-4-3 behind a .889 save percentage this season.

Up front, the Blue Jackets are led by a trio of forwards in Pierre-Luc Dubois (27 points), Gustav Nyquist (26 points) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (23 points). Dubois also leads the team with 13 goals and has been on a bit of a roll lately, tallying nine points (three goals, six assists) in his last eight games.

Columbus owns an 11-8-2 record at home, while Florida has gone 7-6-3 on the road.

"We were at home for quite a while, almost all of December," said Huberdeau, citing the team's franchise-record, nine-game homestand earlier this month. "To finish the year up with a win would be great, and to start the road trip off the right way too. That's what we're going to focus on tonight. It's a good team when they play at home here. It's going to be a hard game."

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Noel Acciari has recorded eight goals over his last six games -- including consecutive hat tricks -- and has already set a new career-highs in goals (13) and points (16) this season. The 28-year-old forward also ranks first on the Panthers in hits (66) and second in blocks (53).

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on Florida in points (42) and assists (31), while also leading the team in multi-point performances (15). Over his last 26 games, the 24-year-old center has notched 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists).

-- Keith Yandle ranks third among the league's defensemen in assists (26) and tied for second in power-play points (15). The 33-year-old also paces Florida's defensemen and sits seventh among the league's blueliners with 30 points, including 12 over his last 14 games.

-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in ice time per game (23:12) and plus-minus (+13). The 23-year-old also ranks first among the club's defensemen in goals (5) and second in assists (18).

-- Evgenii Dadonov ranks third on the Panthers in goals (14) and fourth in points (29). Over his last five games, the 30-year-old winger has produced four points (two goals, two assists).

-- Vincent Trocheck has 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) over his last 20 games. The 26-year-old center also leads Florida in takeaways (32) and ranks third in faceoff win percentage (53.0).

-- Mike Matheson has posted three goals and three assists over his last nine games.

-- Brett Connolly ranks second on the Panthers in goals (15).

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 - Mark Pysyk

Defensemen

Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad

Riley Stillman - Anton Stralman

Mike Matheson - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

Scratches: Jayce Hawryluk, Denis Malgin, MacKenzie Weegar (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.

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Tuesday, Dec. 31, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: Nationwide Arena - Columbus, OH

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)

Territory on Tap Locations: HERE

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