SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are hoping a week of a rest and change of venue will help turn the tide in their long-awaited rematch against the Las Vegas Golden Knights at BB&T Center on Friday night.
The Panthers (18-19-6) let an early two-goal lead slip through their fingers in a 5-2 loss in Las Vegas on Dec. 17, prompting the club to hold a rare closed-door meeting. In aftermath of that game, Florida won a season-best five consecutive games, but enters tonight's matchup with just one win in its last five.
"They played us well last time we played," Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad said after Friday's morning skate. "We had a couple goals early on them, but we couldn't keep the lead. We definitely want to have that mentality where we're ready coming into it.
"They played last night; we're off of our break. We should be rejuvenated after that break. We're ready to get back at it again. It's a good game to start out with here."
In the first game back from their league-mandated bye week, the Panthers are well rested, but aware of the pitfalls that have traditionally befallen teams coming out of the annual break. There can be a fine line between rested and rusted legs, with teams posting a paltry 10-16-4 record coming out of the bye week last season.
"Looking at it last year, I think it was a high percentage of teams that came back [from the bye week] and lost that game," Bjugstad said. "That's just go to be in our head. We have to be ready and keep it simple. We can't get fancy. If we're just doing the little things right I think it'll come together. It should be a time that we take advantage of. This break should be a benefit."
With fresh legs on their side, Panthers coach Bob Boughner said a good start will be paramount against what is expected to be a fairly tired Golden Knights squad. Florida has opened the scoring just once in its last five games, while Vegas is 19-1-0 when scoring first this season.
"Don't shoot yourself in the foot in the first 10-15 minutes and give them a goal," Boughner said. "If there's nothing, you've got to get it out and get it off the glass or flip it out and start again. You can't force plays. You can't stay out there for 50-60 seconds. We've got to make sure that we're rolling our bench and keeping that first period real simple."
The Golden Knights (30-11-3) have yet to show any signs of slowing down after their surprisingly hot start, leading the Western Conference with 63 points after defeating the Lightning -- who were playing their first game out of the bye week -- 4-1 on Thursday night in Tampa.
"A great statement," Vegas winger James Neal told reporter after the game.
Vegas is led by a trio of former Panthers, including head coach Gerard Gallant, an early Jack Adams frontrunner, winger Jonathan Marchessault, who has a team-high 42 points (16-26-42), and winger Reilly Smith, who is third on the team with 36 points (12-24-36).
"They're a team that's coming in here with a lot of familiar faces," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said. "It's always fun to play against guys you played with. I think, for us, it's a big test, especially coming out of the break. We've got to be on point."
Aside from rest, the biggest advantage the Panthers have tonight is that the game is being played at BB&T Center and not T-Mobile Arena, where the Golden Knights are a league-best 18-2-2 at home.
On the road, Vegas has been far more average, posting a 12-9-1 record.
"It'll be better for our matchups and things like that," Boughner said of Florida's home-ice advantage. "We've got concentrate on just trying to get the matchups and trying for our guys to be a little fresher and play that simple game. [The Golden Knights] are a good team and they're not surprising anyone anymore."
- The Panthers rank first in the league with eight shorthanded goals this season. Aleksander Barkov leads the way with a league-leading four, while Vincent Trocheck has notched two. Colton Sceviour and Derek MacKenzie each have one. Over their last 23 games, Florida owns an 87.9 percent success rate on the penalty kill, allowing just eight power play goals.
- Jonathan Huberdeau has scored seven goals and posted 12 points over his last nine games played and enters tonight's matchup riding a five-game point streak (3-5-8). Huberdeau has posted a team-leading 44 points (16-28-44) this season.
- James Reimer will make who will make his 17th consecutive start tonight in net for the Panthers tonight. The 29-year-old backup owns an 8-6-2 record with a 2.56 goals-against average and .924 save percentage since starter Roberto Luongo suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 4.
- Evgenii Dadonov enters tonight's game on a four-game point streak after a two-goal performance in Florida's loss to Calgary on Jan. 12. The 28-year-old winger ranks fourth on the team in both goals (9) and points (26) in 35 games, with eight of those points coming on the power play.
- The Panthers will honor franchise founder H. Wayne Huizenga with a pregame ceremony in which the organization will officially retire No. 37 in honor of Mr. Huizenga. The number 37 was selected by Mr. Huizenga and his family as it represents his birth year and lucky number.
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Evgenii Dadonov
Connor Brickley - Vincent Trocheck - Radim Vrbata
Jamie McGinn - Jared McCann - Nick Bjugstad
Micheal Haley - Derek MacKenzie - Colton Sceviour
Keith Yandle - Aaron Ekblad
Mike Matheson - Mark Pysyk
MacKenzie Weegar - Alex Petrovic
Scratches: Ian McCoshen, Denis Malgin
Injured Reserve: Roberto Luongo (games missed: 16)
- Jan. 12: F Maxim Mamin loaned to Springfield (AHL)
- Jan. 1: F Maxim Mamin recalled from Springfield (AHL)
- Dec. 17: F Dryden Hunt loaned to Springfield (AHL)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Friday, Jan. 19, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
TV coverage: FOX Sports Florida (check local listings)
Florida Panthers Radio Network Presented by HARD Lifestyle Beverages: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 640 WMEN (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); 1370 WAXE (Treasure Coast)
Where to stream it: FOX Sports GO and NHL.TV (outside state of Florida)