"Let's be ready to start on time," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said after Friday's practice. "The score and the way the game's being played dictates ice time, it dictates how we want to approach it, but we don't want change or deviate whether we're playing at 8:00, 8:30, 7:00, 1:00, anything. I think the guys are great pros and bring that element to start on time."
When it comes to perfect starts, look no further than Thursday. After falling behind 1-0 in five straight games, the Panthers came out firing against the Predators, taking a 3-0 lead on goals from Carter Verhaeghe, Mason Marchment and Jonathan Huberdeau in an eventual 5-4 victory.
Named the game's first star, Aaron Ekblad recorded a career-high four points (two goals, two assists), including scoring what held up as the game-winning goal on the power play. Cutting through Nashville's defense, he buried a shot from the high slot to make it 5-2 in the final frame.
With his two scores, Ekblad moved into first place among NHL defensemen in goals with eight.
"He did everything right at both ends," Quenneville said of Ekblad, who also leads the team in average ice time (25:12). "He had a terrific goal on the power play that put us in a really good spot. He did a lot of good things. It was one of those nights where he had the magic touch."
Chipping in three assists in the win, Aleksander Barkov extended his point streak to four games. In that span, the 25-year-old center has produced one goal and five assists to climb within one point of Jonathan Huberdeau for the team-scoring lead with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists).
When Barkov has been on the ice at 5-on-5, Florida owns a 15-8 advantage in goals scored.
"The stats are pretty amazing what he does," Quenneville said of Barkov. "What he generates and what he gives up, the discrepancy is as good as anybody in the game. He's added a real good piece to our team game. This year, we're faster. He brings that element of noticeable pace difference from this year to last year. He has the puck a lot more. That line's been dangerous."
Making his second straight start, Sergei Bobrovsky will man the crease once again after making 31 saves to pick up the win on Thursday. Owning a 7-2-2 record, the 32-year-old has been settling into a very nice groove as of late, stopping 123 of 134 shots (.918%) over his last four outings.
On the injury front, Quenneville said that Anton Stralman, who exited Thursday's game in the second period, is day-to-day and not expected to suit up tonight. With the veteran defender out of the lineup, either Riley Stillman or Kevin Connauton will likely take his place on the blue line.
"We've got a couple guys we've got to see about going into [today's] game," Quenneville said.
After sweeping a two-game series with the Blue Jackets, the Predators have lost each of their last two games. Surrendering just two combined goals in those wins over Columbus, they've already given up nine in the two games since - a 4-2 loss to Carolina and a 5-4 loss to Florida.
The backbone of the team's attack, Filip Forsberg leads Nashville in goals (10), points (22) and shots on goals (92). In three games against the Panthers this season, the 26-year-old forward has recorded eight points (three goals, five assists) and has been quite the pain to try and contain.
With Juuse Saros injured, the Predators will have to choose between Pekka Rinne or Kasimir Kaskisuo in net tonight. Rinne, who has stopped 79 of 86 shots in three meetings with Florida this season, is 5-8-0 with a .908 save percentage, while Kaskisuo has one career NHL start.
Off to their best road start ever, the Panthers have gone 7-1-1 away from home thus far.
"I think a lot of parts of our game have been consistent, and whether we're home or away that's the best part of our team," Quenneville said. "We play the right way and give ourselves a chance and everybody's contributed."
FLA: 14-4-4, 32 PTS
NSH: 10-13-0, 20 PTS
FLA all-time vs. NSH: 17-9-3-6
-- Patric Hornqvist is tied for the lead on the Panthers in both goals (9) and power-play goals (5). With one more goal or assist, the 34-year-old veteran will earn the 500th point of his NHL career.
-- The NHL's active ironman, Keith Yandle sits second among Florida's defensemen in scoring with 14 points (three goals, 11 assists). Of those points, 10 have come while on the power play.
-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in scoring with 27 points and is tied for the team-lead in both goals (9) and assists (17). The 27-year-old forward also leads the team with eight multi-point performances, including a goal and an assist during Thursday's win over the Predators.
-- MacKenzie Weegar leads Florida's defensemen in even-strength points with 10 (one goal, nine assists), including registering six points (one goal, five assists) over his last 10 contests.
-- Mason Marchment is riding a four-game point streak in which he's tallied one goal and three assists. In Thursday's victory, the 25-year-old forward notched the first goal of his NHL career.
-- Radko Gudas ranks second in the NHL with 109 hits.
PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)
Frank Vatrano - Aleksander Barkov - Carter Verhaeghe
Jonathan Huberdeau - Alex Wennberg - Patric Hornqvist
Mason Marchment - Eetu Luostarinen - Noel Acciari
Ryan Lomberg - Juho Lammikko - Vinnie Hinostroza
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Gustav Forsling - Kevin Connauton
Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas
Scratches: Riley Stillman, Anton Stralman
Taxi squad: Grigori Denisenko, Brett Connolly, Owen Tippett, Philippe Desrosiers
Injured reserve: Anthony Duclair (lower body), Markus Nutivaara (upper body), Noah Juulsen (upper body)
- March 6: F Owen Tippett and F Grigori Denisenko were recalled from Florida's Taxi Squad; D Riley Stillman was loaned to Florida's Taxi Squad.
- March 2: F Owen Tippett was loaned to Florida's Taxi Squad.
- March 1: F Owen Tippett and D Riley Stillman were recalled from Florida's Taxi Squad; F Brett Connolly was loaned to Florida's Taxi Squad.
- March 1: F Noel Acciari was activated from IR; F Anthony Duclair and D Noah Juulsen were placed on IR.
HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN
When: Saturday, March 6 at 2:00 p.m. ET
Where: Bridgestone Arena - Nashville, TN
TV: FOX Sports Florida
Stream: FOX Sports GO
Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys) 107.9 FM / 1370 AM WZTA (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM Streaming 932
Pre-Game Listen: Hear from NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen on this week's episode of the Territory Talk podcast.