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Panthers Top Line Looks 'Dangerous' in Preseason Loss to Canadiens

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

9/18/19 Post Game Interviews

9/18/19 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Aaron Ekblad

  • 01:05 •

The Florida Panthers top line picked up right where they left off last season.

Making their preseason debuts, the potent trio of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov combined for two goals and four assists in Florida's 4-3 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the K.C. Irving Regional Centre in Bathurst, New Brunswick on Wednesday night.

"They're dangerous," new Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "I like how they move up the puck through the neutral zone out of our end -- neatly, cleanly. They pass the puck in perfect spots on the tape. That power play can be pretty dangerous as well. They move well together. They know each other's traits. They anticipate where they're going and how they're going to get there. They've been good all camp."

Playing in front of a crowd out roughly 3,500 as part of this year's Kraft Hockeyville celebration, the Canadiens opened the scoring when Matthew Peca took a cross-ice pass from Alex Belzile and tapped in a shot on the doorstep to put the Panthers in a 1-0 hole at 5:47 of the first period.

Later in the period, Florida's top line got to work, as Dadonov took a gorgeous no-look pass from Huberdeau and sent it past goaltender Charlie Lindgren to tie the game 1-1 at 15:55.

Montreal jumped out to a lead again in the second period when Jeff Petry sent a long shot on net that appeared to hit something in front as it went past goaltender Chris Driedger to make it 2-1 at 4:38. With the Panthers sent to the power play just past the midway point of the period, Mike Hoffman took a pass from Barkov and blasted home a one-timer to make it 2-2 at 10:57.

Driedger finished with 15 saves, while Lindgren ended up with 16.

In the final frame, Huberdeau gave the Panthers their first lead of the night when he took a pass from Dadonov and buried a far-side snipe to make it 3-2 at 6:48 of the third period. From there, Riley Barber and Belzile scored at 11:23 and 13:57, respectively, to give Montreal the 4-3 win.

Belzile's game-winning goal came while shorthanded.

"I thought it was a pretty even game," Quenneville said. "You get a power play at that stage and you give up that kind of goal, it's one of those things that's in your control… It's one of those situations that you've got to prevent. Games are on the line at that stage. Regular-season games, that's a valuable one or two points left on the table."

Here are five takeaways from Wednesday night's loss in Bathurst…

1. DON'T LOOK NOW

If you want to see some chemistry, look no further than this first-period goal.

Jockeying for position around the blue paint, Huberdeau jumped on a rebound following a shot from Aaron Ekblad and sent a nifty no-look backhand pass -- while falling to the ice, mind you -- to a wide-open Dadonov in the slot. An open net in front of him, he tied the game 1-1 at 15:55.

Video: FLA@MTL: Dadonov puts home Huberdeau's centering feed

Easily one of the most-effective lines in the NHL last season, the trio of Dadonov, Huberdeau and Barkov combined for 93 goals, 102 assists and 195 points during the 2018-19 campaign, and they certainly appear to be picking up exactly right where they left off so far this preseason.

As for Dadonov, the 30-year-old winger has registered 28 goals in each of his first two seasons since re-joining the Panthers after a five-year stint in Russia's KHL. In addition to those goals, he also reached new career-highs in both assists (42) and points (70) in 82 games last season.

A hot starter, he began last season with a 12-game point streak from Oct. 16 through Nov. 13.

2. HOFF'S SHOT

This shot had a little something extra on it.

With the Panthers on the power play, Hoffman took a pass from Barkov, dropped to one knee and unleashed a blistering one-timer from his usual spot inside the right circle, beating Lindgren -- who, let's be honest, had no chance - to tie the game up 2-2 at 10:57 of the second period.

Video: FLA@MTL: Hoffman nets sizzling one-timer for PPG

Entering his second season with Florida after being acquired in a trade with San Jose for a few draft picks last summer, the 29-year-old sniper became the highest-scoring first-year Panther in franchise history in 2018-19, clawing his way to new career-bests in goals (36) and points (70).

Of his career-best 36 goals, 17 came on the power play, which ranked tied for fourth in the NHL.

An offensive force from the get-go, he posted a franchise-record 17-game point streak from Oct. 13 through Nov. 21 -- the longest by a Panther since Pavel Bure's 13-game stretch in 1999-00.

3. KILLING 'EM SOFTLY

The power play got on the board tonight, but the penalty kill remains perfect.

After going 10-for-10 over the course of their split-squad doubleheader against the Nashville Predator on Wednesday - including a 6-for-6 performance in Game 2 - Florida's penalty kill remains unblemished through three preseason games after a 3-for-3 night against Montreal.

The Panthers owned the league's 10th-ranked penalty kill last season at 81.3 percent.

4. JONNY ON THE SPOT

How's this for good karma?

After seeing up Dadonov for a goal earlier in the game, Huberdeau was rewarded for his good deed in the third period. On a delayed power play, Dadonov sent a pass from behind the net to Huberdeau, who went top-shelf from the right side of the net to put the Panthers up 3-2 at 6:48.

Video: FLA@MTL: Huberdeau takes the lead with big wrister

Finishing behind only Barkov in the team-scoring department last season, Huberdeau broke out to the tune of a career-high 30 goals and 92 points in 2018-19. In addition to his goal total, his whopping 62 assists smashed Viktor Kozlov's previous single-season franchise record of 53.

Huberdeau and Ekblad wore the "A's" against Montreal, while Barkov donned the "C."

5. QUICK TURNAROUND

There's no resting on this road trip.

Following tonight's game, the Panthers will head back to Montreal to close out their back-to-back set on Thursday against the Canadiens at Bell Centre, where Florida won 5-2 last preseason.

"As we go along and then we go to Montreal for those two games, in Bathurst and Montreal, we'll get a little more of our group going on, a little more introduction about how we want to play, how we have to play in all areas," Quenneville said before the team hit the road. "I'm looking forward to seeing NHL-caliber games and some guys getting exposure, particularly the one's not playing [in Nashville]."

After heading home from Canada, the Panthers will board a flight to Tulsa, Okla. on Saturday for a neutral-site matchup against the Dallas Stars. Then, next week, the team will open up its preseason home slate against the Tampa Bay Lightning with contests on Sept. 24 and 26.

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