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Panthers Looking for 'Perfect Game' Against Capitals

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

11/7/19 Morning Skate

11/7/19 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Dominic Toninato and defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

  • 01:30 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers know they can't afford to make any major mistakes when they host the high-scoring Washington Capitals at BB&T Center on Thursday night.

"They've got a lot of things going their way," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of the Capitals, who currently sit in first place in the Metropolitan Division. "They play the right way. They've got a lot of pace to their game. They've got some size and physicality.

"Obviously they've got the great player in [Alexander] Ovechkin, and the rest of that line is dangerous as well. As for their power play, we want to make sure that we don't give them any extra opportunities in that area. We've got to play a perfect game tonight."

The Panthers (7-3-4) enter tonight's matchup after enjoying several days off following a 4-0 win against the Detroit Red Wings in Sunrise on Saturday night. Overall, they've won six of their last nine games and have earned at least one point in nine of their last 10, going 6-1-3 in that span.

In possession of the league's fifth-ranked offense (3.57 goals per game), Jonathan Huberdeau leads Florida in scoring with 18 points, with linemate Aleksander Barkov sitting right behind him with 17. Huberdeau also paces the club with nine goals, including four in his last two contests.

As good as the Panthers have been on offense, they've also done an exceptional job of limiting the looks of their opposition. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, they are currently allowing both the fewest shots on goal (26.92) and shot attempts (49.57) per 60 minutes in the entire league.

"We attribute that to good coaching, good support in the D-zone," Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad said of the team's ability to stifle its opponents. "Obviously we've got to go out and execute, but we have a game plan that we put forth every night. Obviously it's doing well."

Ekblad said that it will be important to "limit time and space" against the Capitals, who currently boast the second-ranked offense in the league (3.94 goals per game). Washington is also tied for fourth on the power play, converting on 25.9 percent of its chances with the extra attacker.

Arriving to South Florida on a four-game winning streak, the Capitals (11-2-3) have won eight of their last nine contests. During that solid nine-game stretch, they've scored at least four goals on eight different occasions, including a 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Sunday at home.

In that win, Jakub Vrana registered his first-career hat trick to push his goal total on the season to nine. Overall, John Carlson leads Washington in scoring and also ranks first among all NHL defensemen with 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists). Ovechkin paces the club in goals with 11.

"These guys have been around for a long time," said Ekblad, who has nine points and leads Florida in ice time per game (24:43). "The things that they like to do are pretty prominent, and they're very good at it. We want to try and limit those chances as much as possible. They can score from all over the ice. They have D-men and forwards that can get up in the rush and score and create things. They're a dangerous team, so it'll be a lot of fun to accept that challenge."

With centers Vincent Trocheck and Noel Acciari recovering from lower-body injuries, Dominic Toninato was recalled from the AHL on Wednesday and will make his Panthers debut against the Capitals. In 12 games with AHL Springfield, the 25-year-old forward registered six points.

"I'm very excited," said Toninato, who was acquired in a trade with Colorado in June. "It's always special doing it on home-ice, especially against a really good Caps team. I'm looking forward to it… We do a lot of the same style in Springy, so that helps."

During his time with the Avalanche, Toninato, who has played in the NHL as recently as last season, suited up in 39 games over parts of two campaigns. In those games, he notched one goal, two assists, 15 blocked shots and 25 hits while averaging 7:50 of ice time per contest.

Quenneville said Toninato first caught his attention during training camp.

"I think he was one of those guys in camp that we really liked," he said. "He brought us some experience and some depth, especially at the center position. I think he's got a good thought process of playing without the puck. That was his role down in Springfield. We feel that with [Acciari] being hurt, he can go right in that same spot. He does have skill with the puck as well."

Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start in net for the Panthers after earning his first shutout of the season with a 22-save performance against the Red Wings. Settling into a nice groove, the 31-year-old veteran has backstopped the team to points in each of his last eight starts, going 5-0-3.

"As he gets deeper into games, he seems to find a way to make key saves," Quenneville said of Bobrovsky. "He's got good timing as the game progresses to settle down and keep us in games and get us some points early in games as well. He's doing what we're expecting him to do. I think he's one of those guys that's a student of the game. He's learning about the guys in front of him, and the guys in front of him are learning about his habits as well."

For the Capitals, Braden Holtby will likely get the nod in net. After picking up the loss in three of his first five appearances, the 30-year-old has won five of his last six starts, going 5-0-1 in that time.

The Panthers are 4-2-3 at home this season, while Washington has gone 7-1-1 on the road.

"It's a good test for us," Quenneville said. "I know we've had some time off here and we're coming off a nice home win. We want to make sure going into this trip we take care and play well here at home. That's what we want to do."

NOTES

-- Colton Sceviour is expected to compete in his 400th NHL game tonight.

-- Denis Malgin has notched seven points (two goals, five assists) over his last eight games.

-- MacKenzie Weegar leads Florida's defensemen in goals (3) and points (tied-9).

-- Evgenii Dadonov is tied for second in goals (6) and third in points (11) on the Panthers.

-- Brett Connolly, who won the Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018, ranks fourth on Florida in points (tied-10) and goals (5).

-- Mike Hoffman ranks tied for second on the Panthers in goals (6), including a team-high three on the power play.

-- Joel Quenneville is three wins ways from 900 as an NHL head coach.

-- The Panthers have just one regulation loss in their last 11 games, going 6-1-4 in that span.

-- Florida has gone 7-for-7 on the penalty kill over its last three games.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Mike Hoffman - Brian Boyle - Brett Connolly

Frank Vatrano - Denis Malgin - Mark Pysyk

Dryden Hunt - Dominic Toninato - Colton Sceviour

Defensemen

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Mike Matheson - Anton Stralman

Keith Yandle - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Sam Montembeault

Scratches: Vincent Trocheck (lower-body), Noel Acciari (lower-body), Jayce Hawryluk (upper-body)

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Nov. 6: F Dominic Toninato was recalled from AHL Springfield.

- Nov. 6: D Riley Stillman was loaned to AHL Springfield.

- Oct. 26: The Panthers acquired F Jack Rodewald from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for the rights to F Chris Wilkie.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- 50/50 Raffle

- $5 Beer Thursday

- Military Appreciation Night

- Military pins available for $10 outside Club Lexus, with all proceeds benefitting the Florida Panthers Foundation

BITE OF BB&T CENTER

- Mushroom Swiss Burger and Fries for $12

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Thursday, Nov. 7, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL

TV: FSF

Stream: FOX Sports GO

Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)

Tickets: HERE

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