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Panthers Aim to Establish Home-Ice Advantage in Rematch with Lightning

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

10/5/19 Morning Skate

10/5/19 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jayce Hawryluk and defenseman Aaron Ekblad

  • 01:45 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - Joel Quenneville knows the value of a strong home-ice advantage.

"A lot of teams will say that if you're .500 on the road and have a higher winning percentage at home, that's what you're looking for," the Florida Panthers head coach said. "We want to make sure that we're one of those teams that takes advantage of the crowd, the building and one another here… That's going to be an importance of our team, starting well and starting hard."

The Panthers will take the ice for the first time in Sunrise this season on Saturday night when they welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning to BB&T Center for their long-awaited Home Opener.

Florida opened up its regular season in Tampa Bay on Thursday, falling to the Lightning 5-2.

"We've been waiting for this for a long time," Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov said. "It's a new day, a new chance. There's no better way than to get that first win tonight on home ice."

In defeat, Florida led Tampa Bay in both shots on goal (37-30) and shot attempts (60-50). "We got a lot of good chances," Barkov said. "We just need to score from them."

Quenneville said a major key for the Panthers in tonight's rematch will be staying out of the box.

Finishing last season with the top power play in the NHL at 28.2 percent, the Lighting went 1-for-3 against the Panthers on the man advantage on Opening Night. Tampa Bay also lit the lamp once on a delayed penalty and scored two more times just after their power play expired.

"Obviously they've got some great patience with those seam passes, play recognition and great one-time shooters as well," Quenneville said. "You want to make sure there's certain things you want to be aware of, but first and foremost let's make sure they've got to earn their power play."

Vincent Trocheck led the Panthers with two points (one goal, one assist) against the Lightning, while his linemate, Mike Hoffman, also found the back of the net. With Florida trailing 2-1 near the midway point of third period, it was Trocheck's shorthanded goal that briefly evened things up at 2-2.

But just 45 seconds later, Ondrej Palat put Tampa Bay back on top 3-2 on the power play.

"I don't know if it was a backbreaker," Barkov said of the sequence. "We had our own power play after that. We hit the post. I thought it was in. We almost tied the game, but it just didn't happen. The whole game was like that. They scored a couple goals at the end and won."

In addition to Palat's goal, Nikita Kucherov, Pat Maroon, Kevin Shattenkirk and Erik Cernak also scored for the Lightning, who won the Presidents' Trophy last season with 128 standings points.

Making his Panthers debut, Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner, stopped 25 of 29 shots, while Andrei Vasilevskiy, the NHL's reigning Vezina Trophy winner, turned away 35 of 37 for the Lightning. Both goalies will likely to be back in net tonight for their respective clubs.

As for lineup changes, Florida appears to only be making one.

After being a healthy scratch on Thursday, forward Jayce Hawryluk is expected to make his season debut on the team's third line alongside Henrik Borgstrom and Frank Vatrano. The 23-year-old made his NHL debut last season, posting seven goals and five assists in 42 games.

"I'm super excited," said Hawryluk, a second-round pick in 2014. "I'm looking forward getting the season going for myself, obviously with this being my first game… It's going to be bumping in [the arena] tonight. It's going to be a great atmosphere, so I'm looking forward to that."

Quenneville said he likes the energy that Hawryluk can bring to the lineup.

"He's an energy-type of guy," Quenneville said. "We're looking for that from him. I think we have some other guys that, when you look at our lineup, we could've made a couple adjustments here or there. We want to get him in right away and see how he does."

Traditionally, Florida has done a good job of getting off on the right foot at home.

Entering their 26th season, the Panthers currently boast a respectable 14-7-2-2 all-time record in Home Openers, including a 4-0-1-0 record against the Lighting. Over the past nine seasons, they've gone 7-2-0 in their first game on home ice, including a 5-4 win over Tampa Bay in 2017.

"It's that time of year when our building's full and bumping," Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. "We want to get people excited about hockey here as soon as possible and make them want to buy another ticket for the next game. We're excited as players. We want to get our first win and start off the season right."

NOTES

-- Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau each eclipsed the 90-point plateau for the first time in their careers in 2018-19. Barkov led the team and set a franchise record with 96 points (35 goals, 61 assists), while Huberdeau registered 30 goals and a franchise-record 62 assists.

-- Evgenii Dadonov led the Panthers with a game-high seven shots on goal in Thursday's loss to the Lightning. The 30-year-old winger set a new career-high with 70 points in 2018-19, including his second straight 28-goal campaign. Of his 28 goals, eight came while on the man advantage.

-- Frank Vatrano recently entered the first season of a new three-year deal with the Panthers. The 25-year-old forward posted career-bests in goals (24), assists (15) and points (39) in 2018-19. Of those 24 goals, 22 came at even-strength, which was tied with Barkov for the team lead.

-- Aaron Ekblad had an assist in Thursday's loss to the Lightning. The 23-year-old blueliner tallied 13 goals, 24 assists, 88 blocked shots and a career-best 114 hits while seeing a team-high 1,938:49 of ice in 2018-19. He has at least 10 goals in each of his first five NHL seasons.

-- Mike Hoffman scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning on Thursday. The 29-year-old winger had the best statistical season ever by a first-year Panther in 2018-19, setting a new career-high with 70 points, including a team-leading 36 goals (17 on the power play).

-- Sergei Bobrovsky joined the Panthers on a seven-year deal this summer after posting a 37-24-1 record with a league-best nine shutouts with Columbus in 2018-19. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner leads all NHL goaltenders with 115 total wins over the past three seasons.

-- The Panthers ranked second on the power play (26.8 percent) and 10th on the penalty kill (81.3 percent) in 2018-19. On the man advantage, four different players reached the 30-point plateau, including a franchise-record 39 power-play points from defenseman Keith Yandle.

-- Joel Quenneville is in his first season with the Panthers. The legendary head coach currently ranks second in the NHL in all-time wins (890), not including his 118 victories in the playoffs. Prior to joining Florida, he helped lead Chicago to Stanley Cup wins in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Brett Connolly

Frank Vatrano - Henrik Borgstrom - Jayce Hawryluk

Dryden Hunt - Noel Acciari - Colton Sceviour

Defensemen

Mike Matheson - Aaron Ekblad

MacKenzie Weegar - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Sam Montembeault

Scratches: Mark Pysyk, Denis Malgin

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Sept. 29: F Anthony Greco, F Owen Tippett, F Dominic Toninato and D Riley Stillman were loaned to AHL Springfield.

- Sept. 28: F Anthony Greco was recalled from AHL Springfield.

- Sept. 26: F Anthony Greco, D Ian McCoshen and G Chris Driedger were loaned to AHL Springfield.

- Sept. 25: F Troy Brouwer was released from his professional tryout.

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Saturday, Oct. 5, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV: FSF

Panthers Radio Network: 790 WAXY (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

Stream: HERE

Tickets: HERE

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