The Florida Panthers are focused on cleaning up some issues in their defensive end as they prepare to close out a brief two-game road trip against the high-scoring Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on Tuesday night.
The Panthers (19-20-6) have surrendered an average of 3.71 goals per game over their last seven games played, including a 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday. During the five-game winning streak that preceded that stretch, Florida never allowed more than two goals in a single contest.
"What I think is lacking right now is some details defensively," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said after Monday's practice in Dallas. "It's more arriving back in the d-zone, stopping our feet, getting back quicker for breakouts and being a little cleaner on our end on the breakouts.
"We talked a lot about details in our game that are going to help us win against teams like Dallas, against teams like Washington, coming up on Thursday. These high-powered offensive teams, you've got to do the right things away from the puck to have success."
James Reimer is expected to return to the net against the Stars after earning a rare night off against the Predators, which snapped a streak of 17 consecutive starts for the backup since starter Roberto Luongo suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 4.
Reimer, 29, is 13-12-5 with a 3.04 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage this season.
"He'll be back in tonight and ready for hopefully another long streak until Louie get back," Boughner said. "He's been reliable, and we want to make sure we protect him there."
Evgenii Dadonov enters Tuesday's game riding a career-best, six-game point streak for the Panthers. The 28-year-old winger has scored three goals over his past three games and has tallied eight points (3-5-8) since being reunited with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau on Florida's top line on Jan. 5.
"I love his jump," Boughner said. "I love his battle on pucks. He's got good legs right now. You can tell he looks fresh when he gets out there. He's obviously a high-end player making plays with that line. He's just a great compliment to those other two guys."
Dadonov said he's felt like a different player since returning to the lineup from an upper-body injury that caused him to miss eight games from late November into early December. In the 11 games leading up to his injury, Dadonov registered just three points. Since then, he's notched 11 points (3-8-11) in 15 games.
"Since I've been back from injury, I think I'm in better shape now," he said. "That's my key. It helps me, too. I can stake faster and longer. That helps."
The Stars (27-17-4) are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games, including a 7-1 beatdown of the Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday night. Dallas boasts one of the league's top-scoring lines in Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, who have combined for 59 of the team's 145 goals (40.69 percent).
"They have good offensive players," Barkov said. "They want to play in the offensive zone. If we play in their defensive zone, it's going to be a lot better… just play smart and every time you get a chance to put a puck behind them or to net, just do that… make them defend. That's probably what they don't want to do. They want to play in the offensive zone. They want to create chances."
In their first meeting of the season, Vincent Trocheck led the Panthers to a 4-3 win over the Stars in the shootout at BB&T Center. In the second and final matchup of the season, Boughner said he expects to see a different team than the one he saw across the ice in mid-November.
"It looks like they're all on the same page now," Boughner said. "[Stars coach Ken Hitchcock] has got that system nice and tight. I think their goaltending's been a lot better than it was at the beginning of the season. Their big boys are all contributing on a nightly basis. I think that's what makes them a good team."
Florida is expected to draw Stars goaltender Ben Bishop, who is 6-3-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage over his last 10 starts. The 31-year-old owns an 8-3-1 career record against the Panthers.
- Jonathan Huberdeau has scored seven goals and posted 14 points over his last 11 games played and enters tonight's matchup riding a seven-game point streak (3-7-10). The 24-year-old winger has notched a team-leading 46 points (16-30-46) this season.
- Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle is expected to play in his 679th consecutive game tonight, tying Canucks forward Henrik Sedin (679) for seventh all-time. The current owner of the league's longest-active gamed played streak, Yandle leads Florida's defensemen in points (25), assists (21) and power-play points (7), while also leading the club in total ice time (1109:28).
- Aaron Ekblad enters tonight's game with points in each of his last two games (1-1-2), while leading Florida's defensemen in goals (8) and shots on goal (117). The 21-year old also leads the Panthers in even-strength ice time (860:58) and blocked shots (74).
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Jamie McGinn - Vincent Trocheck - Jared McCann
Connor Brickley - Denis Malgin - Nick Bjugstad
Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
MacKenzie Weegar - Alex Petrovic
Scratches: Ian McCoshen, Radim Vrbata
Injured Reserve: Roberto Luongo (games missed: 18)
- Jan. 12: F Maxim Mamin loaned to Springfield (AHL)
- Jan. 1: F Maxim Mamin recalled from Springfield (AHL)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Tuesday, Jan. 23, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: American Airlines Center - Dallas, TX
TV coverage: FOX Sports Florida (check local listings)
Florida Panthers Radio Network Presented by HARD Lifestyle Beverages: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
Where to stream it: FOX Sports GO and NHL.TV (outside state of Florida)