The Florida Panthers will look replicate one of their most complete performances of the season when they close out a two-game road trip against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at KeyBank Center.
The Panthers (20-22-6) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 4-1 win over the New York Islanders on Tuesday night - the first time the team has held an opponent to fewer than two goals since Dec. 30.
"We talked after the game," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said after Thursday's morning skate in Buffalo. "We liked our details. We liked our compete and urgency. I think those are some things we have to bring again tonight. That's the battle in this league, trying to bring it night after night. The most consistent teams and the ones that play the same way every night are usually the most successful teams."
For Boughner, that search for consistency begins and ends in the defensive zone. Florida had allowed 14 total goals during the three losses that preceded Tuesday night's win, but looked like a much more well-rounded team in its first game back from the All-Star break.
The Panthers limited the Islanders to 33 shots on goals against the Islanders. All-Star John Tavares and Calder Trophy-frontrunner Mathew Barzal were each held without a shot during a first period in which Florida benefited from at least one blocked shot from 10 different players.
Harri Sateri, a 28-year-old rookie, made 32 saves in picking up his first-career NHL win, while Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Matheson, Evgenii Dadonov and Keith Yandle all scored for the Panthers. Sateri, who took over the reigns in net following injuries to both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, is expected to make his third consecutive start against the Sabres.
"It was probably one of the better game we played all year, as a unit of five in the d-zone," Boughner said. "When the other team got motion, we finished. We jumped the check and finished cycles. We stopped their feet. We were on the right side of the puck all night.
"This team we're playing tonight, it's a fast team. We've got to make sure that we're above these guys in the neutral zone, especially. (Evander) Kane and (Jack) Eichel and those guys have got a lot of speed to their game."
The Sabres (14-27-9) currently boast the worst record in the Eastern Conference, and the second-worst in the NHL, with 37 points through 50 games - just four more than the last-place Arizona Coyotes. Eichel leads Buffalo in scoring with 49 points (20-29-49), including 25 points (12-23-25) in his last 18 games.
Buffalo saw its season-long, three-game winning streak snapped in a 3-1 loss to New Jersey on Tuesday. "Our five-on-five game wasn't where it needed to be," Sabres coach Phil Housley said, according to the team's official website. "We talked this morning about where they are as a desperate team. They just played with more urgency."
The Panthers currently trail Philadelphia by 10 points for the second wild card spot into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, but also have two games in hand on the Flyers. In order to keep closing the gap in a race that is expected to come down to the wire, players like Matheson are preaching consistency.
"I think consistency has been an area that we've lacked throughout the whole year," said Matheson, who scored his fifth goal of the season on Tuesday. "It seems like we go on a bit of a hot streak and then go on a low streak, so we always end up right around the .500 mark.
"If you want to make the playoffs and be able to have a successful season you have to be able to get over those .500 marks and be able to go on road trips like this and make sure that you're wining both games and not just one of them. That was a great game we had two nights ago, but it means nothing if we don't have another one tonight."
- Aleksander Barkov is expected to play in his 300th NHL game tonight, becoming the 26th player to play 300 games in a Panthers uniform. The 22-year-old center has posted 43 points (15-28-43) in 47 games this season, including 10 points (4-6-10) over his last 10 contests.
- Vincent Trocheck enters tonight's matchup with 22 points (8-14-22) over his last 22 games. The 24-year-old center leads the Panthers with 18 goals and ranks second in points (46) in 48 games this season. He also ranks third in the NHL for average ice time among forwards (21:34), owns a 53.8 win percentage in the faceoff circle and leads all Panthers in takeaways (44).
- Mike Matheson ranks third among all Panthers defensemen with 15 points (5-10-15) in 47 games this season, including eight points (5-3-8) over his last 19. The 23-year-old also ranks third in even-strength ice time per game (18:12) and blocked shots (70) among Florida's blueliners.
Evgenii Dadonov - Aleksander Barkov - Nick Bjugstad
Jonathan Huberdeau - Vincent Trocheck - Denis Malgin
Connor Brickley - Jared McCann - Maxim Mamin
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: 21), James Reimer (games missed: 2)
- Jan 29: G Samuel Montembeault recalled from Springfield (AHL)
- Jan 29: F Maxim Mamin recalled from Springfield (AHL)
- Jan 29: D Ian McCoshen recalled from Springfield (AHL)
- Jan 26: G Samuel Montembeault loaned to Springfield (AHL)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Thursday, Feb. 1, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: KeyBank Center - Buffalo, NY
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)