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Panthers Kick Off Back-to-Back with Afternoon Tilt in Buffalo

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Who's ready for some afternoon hockey?

As their road trip begins to wind down, the Florida Panthers will open up a back-to-back set against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. The game was originally scheduled for 7 p.m., but was changed earlier this week due to a scheduling conflict.

When asked about the time change, Jonathan Huberdeau said it mainly affected his stomach.

"You don't know if you're eating breakfast or pasta early," the Panthers high-scoring winger said while flashing a big smile. "There's a decision for what you need. Obviously it's a little different, but I kind of like it. You wake up and go right into the game, which is fun."

From the outside looking in, it appears no one has been having more fun than Huberdeau lately.

In addition to being named to the 2020 NHL All-Star Game - the first nod of his career - the 26-year-old was also recently honored as the league's "Player of the Month" for December. In 13 contests last month, he was tied for the league-lead in points with 22 (six goals, 16 assists).

Overall, he currently paces the Panthers in goals (17), assists (38) and points (55).

"It's cool," Huberdeau said of his latest accolade. "Obviously I had a really good month. The points were coming in. It's good to get rewarded. It's cool, but now I'm just thinking about the team. It's fun to have that honor, but now it's over. We need another good month."

Sitting at 21-14-5, Florida has won six of its last eight games entering today's tilt, including a 6-3 victory at Ottawa on Thursday. Trailing 2-1 after 20 minutes, the Panthers, who lead the league with 60 second-period goals, scored four times in the middle frame to take control of the game.

An impressive team effort, 13 different skaters registered at least one point in the win, with 11 getting on the scoresheet in the second period alone. Evgenii Dadonov led the way with two goals, while Noel Acciari, Frank Vatrano, Colton Sceviour and Huberdeau also touched twine.

"A real good game," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of the win over the Senators. "We thought our second period was as good as we've had all year. I thought in the third we did some decent things. It was a good game across the board. We had good contributions from all the lines. We had some balance in our lineup. Everybody played some good enough minutes."

It was also a good night for the Panthers on special teams, as they went 2-for-3 on the power play and a perfect 3-for-3 on the penalty kill. Entering today's contest tied for seventh in the league on the man advantage with a 24 percent success rate, they've converted with the extra attacker in six of their last eight games while going a solid 9-for-29 (31 percent) in that span.

Dadonov leads Florida with eight power-play goals, including a pair against Ottawa.

"The power play was back on track, which was important," Quenneville said. "Daddy [Dadonov] had two really good looks in the prior game in kind of the same spot, and last game he buried them. That was the big difference in the game."

While Florida's special teams continue to click, the Sabres will be without their top trigger man on the man advantage for a while as Victor Olofsson, who leads the team with nine power-play goals, is expected to miss the next five to six weeks while recovering from a lower-body injury that he sustained in the team's 3-2 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.

Leading all NHL rookies in scoring with 16 goals and 35 points in 42 games prior to the injury, the 24-year-old forward was recently named the league's "Rookie of the Month" for December.

"He will be gone for a few weeks now, we know that for sure," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said of Olofsson's status. "Of course he has been a very important catalyst to the good things that are happening here in the team and we need to fill that hole. [Other] guys need to step up."

Even though they're a bit banged up, the Sabres still boast one of the league's top scorers.

Ranking third in the league in goals (26) and eighth in points (54), Jack Eichel has recorded at least one point in 21 of his last 23 games played. In that span, the 23-year-old forward has filled up the scoresheet while racking up 18 goals and 17 assists for 35 points.

"They're a team that you've got to respect," Quenneville said. "Jack Eichel's playing as good as anyone in the league right now, so we've got to be aware of him. We've got to do a better job with the puck against this team. We've got to get more inside like we've talked about the last couple of games. I thought we did a better job of that [on Thursday]. We're going to need that."

At 18-17-7, Buffalo trails Florida by four points in the Atlantic Division, but owns a 2-0-0 record in the season series between the two clubs thus far. Prior to snapping a four-game losing streak with their win over the Oilers, the Sabres had dropped seven of their previous eight games.

While neither team has confirmed a goaltender up until this point, Sergei Bobrovsky could get the nod for the Panthers, while Linus Ullmark goes for the Sabres. Bobrovsky owns a 15-11-4 record this season. Ullmark, meanwhile, has gone 12-11-3, including two wins against Florida.

"I think we need to play the right way, play the way we played in the [second period in Ottawa]," Panthers defenseman Riley Stillman said. "Keep buzzing and make plays at the right time, get the puck in at the right time and have our guys find the net and score goals when we need too."

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

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Aleksander Barkov ranks second on Florida in points (45) and assists (32), while also sitting tied for the team-lead in multi-point performances (16). Over his last 28 games, the 24-year-old center has notched 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists).

-- Noel Acciari has recorded nine goals over his last eight games -- including consecutive hat tricks -- and has already set a new career-highs in goals (14) and points (17) this season. The 28-year-old forward also ranks first on the Panthers in hits (68) and second in blocks (58).

-- Keith Yandle ranks tied for second among the league's defensemen in assists (28) and also sits second in power-play points (17). The 33-year-old paces Florida's defensemen and ranks sixth among the league's blueliners in scoring with 32 points.

-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in ice time per game (23:07). The 23-year-old also ranks first among the club's defensemen in goals (5) and second in assists (18) and points (23).

-- Evgenii Dadonov ranks second on Florida in goals (16) and tied for third in points (32). Over his last six games, the 30-year-old winger has tallied seven points (four goals, three assists).

-- Vincent Trocheck has 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in his last 22 games. The 26-year-old center also leads the Panthers in takeaways (33) and is tied for second in faceoff win percentage (53.1).

-- Anton Stralman enters today's matchup on a four-game point streak in which he's notched one goal and four assists. The 33-year-old blueliner also leads the Panthers in blocks (59).

-- Colton Sceviour has recorded a goal in each of his last two games.

-- Florida owns a 16-2-2 record when scoring first this season.

PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Mike Hoffman

Brett Connolly - Vincent Trocheck - Noel Acciari

Frank Vatrano - Brian Boyle - Mark Pysyk

Colton Sceviour - Dominic Toninato - Evgenii Dadonov

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

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Saturday, Jan. 4, 1:00 p.m. ET

Where: KeyBank Center - Buffalo, NY

TV: FSF

Stream: FOX Sports GO

Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); SiriusXM Streaming 932

Territory on Tap Locations: HERE

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