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Panthers Wrap Up Season Series with Islanders

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

12/12/19 Morning Skate

12/12/19 Morning Skate

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Frank Vatrano and defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

  • 01:15 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are expecting a tough challenge when they close the book on their season series with the New York Islanders on Thursday night at BB&T Center.

The Panthers have dropped each of their first two matchups against the Islanders this season - including a shootout loss back on Oct. 12 - with both games being decided by just one goal.

"Every game in this league is tough, especially when you're playing against a team like this that's hot and has been playing well and has been doing all the right things," said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad. "It's important for us to just come in and play a full 60 minutes."

Sitting at 15-10-5 on the season, the Panthers have won three of the first five games on their current franchise-record, nine-game homestand. Sergei Bobrovsky has started each of the last three games in net, turning aside a combined 109 of 113 shots while going 2-1-0 in that span.

In Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay, the 31-year-old netminder made a season-high 46 saves.

"He's been unbelievable," Ekblad said of Bobrovsky, who is expected to be back between the pipes tonight. "He's absolutely stood on his head. We kind of let him down the other night against Tampa. He did a great job behind us. We're looking to build on his big performance."

Averaging the fourth-most goals per game in the league (3.43), Florida's loss to the Lightning marked just the second time all season that the team was held under two goals in a contest.

Jonathan Huberdeau leads with the Panthers in scoring with 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists), ranking just ahead of Aleksander Barkov, who has 36 point (10 goals, 26 assists). Lighting the lamp eight times over his last 11 games, Brett Connolly currently paces the club with 14 goals.

The Islanders, meanwhile, are allowing the third-fewest goals in the league (2.38).

"They play really structured, really disciplined, you know, a patient-type of game," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of the New York Islanders. "You've got to fight for your space. They've got good layers all over the rink and they work hard. They play very well."

After being a healthy scratch in each of the last three games, Denis Malgin is expected to return to Florida's lineup tonight and deployed on the third line. In 25 games this season, the 22-year-old forward has tallied three goals and six assists while averaging 13:14 of ice time per contest.

"When he has the puck and he's playing with some speed he can do a lot of good things for us," Quenneville said. "He's got to find a way to get it, keep it and just play to those strengths when he's using his speed and finding ways to get the puck and making plays off of it."

Holding onto second place in the Metropolitan Division with a 20-7-2 record, the Islanders enter tonight's matchup fresh off a 5-1 win at Tampa Bay on Monday. After seeing their impressive 17-game point streak snapped on Nov. 25, they've lost five of their last nine games since then.

Mathew Barzal leads New York in scoring with 26 points, including a team-high 12 goals. Over his last six games, the 22-year-old forward has notched three goals and six assists. And in his career against the Panthers, he's posted five points (two goals, three assists) in eight contests.

"It's just going to be a patient game," Panthers winger Frank Vatrano said. "We've got to stick to our system and play the right way. They like to wait teams out a little bit, so for us it's just stay patient, let the game come to us and then take it to them also."

Thomas Greiss is expected man the crease for the Islanders tonight. In his career against Florida, the 33-year-old owns a 4-2-1 record with a .923 save percentage. At 10-4-0 on the season, he's lost three of his last four starts after backstopping the team to eight straight wins.

"He's a patient goaltender," Vatrano said. "He kind of plays a little bit of a different style than you're used to seeing. For us, it's get traffic on him, get him moving side to side and just make the plays in front of him. At the end of the day, just play hockey."

Florida is 9-5-2 at home this season, while New York has gone 8-5-1 on the road.

PANTHERS NOTES

-- Jonathan Huberdeau has registered at least one point in 23 of Florida's 30 games and leads the team in scoring with 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists). Over his last 18 games, the 26-year-old has recorded 24 points (six goals, 18 assists), including six multi-point performances.

-- Aleksander Barkov leads the Panthers in multi-point games (13) and ranks second in scoring with 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists). Over his last 18 games, the 24-year-old center has notched 10 goals and 13 assists.

-- Brett Connolly leads the Panthers with 14 goals. The 27-year-old winger also ranks sixth on the team in points (21). Over his last 11 contests, he's found the back of the net eight times.

-- Vincent Trocheck has registered three goals and five assists over his last 12 games.

-- Aaron Ekblad leads the Panthers in average ice time per game (23:57), while also leading the club's defensemen in goals (5) and ranking second in points (18). Over his last nine games, the 23-year-old has tallied three goals and five assists.

-- Keith Yandle ranks second among the league's defensemen in assists (23) and is tied for the most power-play points (15). The 33-year-old paces Florida's defensemen with 26 points, including one goal and seven assists over his last six games.

-- Mike Hoffman leads the Panthers in shots (89) and tied for third in goals (11). Over his last 14 games, the 30-year-old winger has racked up 11 points (five goals, six assists) and 47 shots.

-- Noel Acciari ranks first on the Panthers in hits (47); Anton Stralman has the most blocks (44).

-- Florida's 88 penalties this season are the fewest in the league.

PROJECTED LINEUP

Forwards

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov

Mike Hoffman - Vincent Trocheck - Brett Connolly

Frank Vatrano - Noel Acciari - Denis Malgin

Dominic Toninato - Brian Boyle - Colton Sceviour

Defensemen

MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad

Keith Yandle - Anton Stralman

Mark Pysyk - Josh Brown

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger

Scratches: Mike Matheson

RECENT TRANSACTIONS

- Dec. 11: F Jayce Hawryluk was assigned to AHL Springfield on a conditioning loan.

- Dec. 11: F Aleksi Saarela was loaned to AHL Springfield.

- Dec. 6: F Aleksi Saarela was recalled from AHL Springfield.

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

- 50/50 Raffle

- $5 Beer Thursday

- Star Wars Night

- Cooper & Hunter Takeover

BITE OF BB&T CENTER

- Footlong Hotdog for $9 at Select Concession Stands

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Thursday, Dec. 12, 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); SiriusXM 219, App/Streaming 932

Tickets: HERE

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