Mike Hoffman will have a chance to extend his team-best point streak to five games when the Florida Panthers wrap up their first back-to-back of the season against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night.
Leading the team in goals (5) and points (7), Hoffman scored with 10.9 remaining in regulation to tie the game and force overtime in an eventual 3-2 shootout loss in Buffalo on Friday night. A hot starter, the 29-year-old set a franchise record with a 17-game point streak early last season.
"I think we started playing a little more desperate," said Hoffman, who netted a team-leading 36 goals during his first season with the Panthers in 2018-19. "I think we started to play the way we intend to the whole game. We were getting pucks on net, starting to hold onto pucks and making plays. We've just got to do that for a full 60 minutes."
Sitting at 1-2-1 on the season, the Panthers have pointed to slow starts as a big reason for their record at the moment. They've gone down 1-0 in all but one of their games - a Home Opener win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last week - and have yet to score a goal in the first period.
But the fight they've shown late in games is a reason to believe things will turn around quickly.
In Tuesday's loss to Carolina, Florida outshot the Hurricanes 40-21 over the final two periods. Against the Sabres, they owned a 19-4 advantage in shots in the third period alone.
"That's huge character," Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said of those surges. "Those kinds of things bring the team together. There's team spirit and more trust from each other."
After making 30 saves in Buffalo - including a highlight-reel grab in overtime after he'd lost his stick - Bobrovsky could potentially rest up during tonight's game and give the crease to rookie backup Sam Montembeault, who has made one appearance through four games this season.
Coming into the game in relief against the Hurricanes earlier in the week, the 22-year-old made 19 saves on 20 shots over the final 40 minutes of regulation. In the 11 games with Florida last season, he went 4-3-2 record behind a 3.05 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.
"I always have to be ready," said Montembeault, who stopped 90 of 95 shots over three appearances in the preseason. "I have to prepare before games just as if I was playing. Even during the play I try to stay active on the bench. I talk a lot and open the door, too."
Like the Panthers, the Islanders also enter tonight's matchup on short rest.
Last night, New York suffered a 5-2 loss in Carolina to fall to 1-3-0 on the season. In that defeat, Brock Nelson had a goal and an assist, Johnny Boychuk scored, and Jordan Eberle added two assists. In net, Thomas Greiss started for the Islanders and finished with 35 saves on 39 shots.
On Tuesday, New York endured a similar 5-2 loss against Edmonton on home ice.
"Much better than the other game, no question," Islanders head coach Barry Trotz told reporters in Carolina following last night's loss. "I thought our compete level was much higher and more focused, and we're playing a really good hockey team right now that's on."
With Griess getting the nod against the Hurricanes, there's a good chance the Panthers will draw Semyon Varlamov tonight on Long Island. Acquired in free agency over the summer, the 31-year-old has allowed six goals over two starts with his new team, posting an 0-2-0 record.
Anthony Beauvillier leads New York in scoring with four points (two goals, two assists).
"We'll look at the film and see where we've got to get better," Hoffman said when asked about facing the Islanders after last night's loss. "Hopefully we'll come back tomorrow stronger."
The Panthers have won each of their last four road games against the Islanders.
-- Aaron Ekblad has picked an assist in two of four games to start the season and currently ranks first among Florida's skaters in average ice time per game (24:57). In 2018-19, the 23-year-old had 13 goals, 24 assists and a career-best 114 hits what seeing 1,938:49 of ice time.
-- Evgenii Dadonov has goals in consecutive games for the Panthers. The 30-year-old is coming off a season in which he set a new career-high with 70 points (28 goals, 42 assists) in 2018-19. In four games this season, he's tallied two goals and one assist while posting 17 shots on goal.
-- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers with four assists. The 26-year-old reached a new career-high with 92 points during the 2018-19 season, including a franchise-record 62 assists.
-- The NHL's active iron man, Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle took the ice for his 800th consecutive game on Tuesday against Carolina. The 33-year-old has tallied a goal and an assist through four games this season, with both of those points coming on the power play.
-- Aleksander Barkov, who registered a franchise-record 96 points in 2018-19, has posted three assists through four games this season. The 24-year-old center has also gotten off to a hot start in the faceoff circle, where he's won a team-leading 52.3 percent of his draws.
-- Florida has gone 9-for-11 (81.8 percent) on the penalty kill, ranking 13th in NHL this season.
-- The Panthers currently rank first in the NHL in shots per game (39.5).
PROJECTED LINEUP (NO MORNING SKATE)
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Mike Hoffman
Frank Vatrano - Vincent Trocheck - Brett Connolly
Jayce Hawryluk - Denis Malgin - Evgenii Dadonov
Dryden Hunt - Noel Acciari - Colton Sceviour
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle - Josh Brown
Scratches: Henrik Borgstrom, Mark Pysyk
- Sept. 29: F Anthony Greco, F Owen Tippett, F Dominic Toninato and D Riley Stillman were loaned to AHL Springfield.
- Sept. 28: F Anthony Greco was recalled from AHL Springfield.
- Sept. 26: F Anthony Greco, D Ian McCoshen and G Chris Driedger were loaned to AHL Springfield.
HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN
When: Saturday, Oct. 12, 7:00 p.m. ET
Where: Nassau Coliseum -- Uniondale, NY
Panthers Radio Network: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)