After opening up their four-game road trip with a 3-2 win in Detroit, the Panthers saw their two-game winning streak snapped with a 5-1 loss at Dallas on Sunday. Carter Verhaeghe netted the lone goal for the Panthers as Jake Oettinger stopped 27 of 28 shots in the crease for the Stars.
Through 41 games, Florida sits a 18-19-4, but only six points out of a playoff spot.
“It’s obviously a big road trip for us against some good competition,” Panthers defenseman Josh Mahura said. “We’re putting that game [in Dallas] behind us, trying to take the good stuff we did and bring it into this game. … We’re obviously going to bring our best game of the trip so far. When you start the trip 1-1, you really want to make sure you get that third one.”
Selected to the 2023 NHL All-Star Game, Matthew Tkachuk leads the Panthers in goals (20), assists (29) and points (49). Brandon Montour and Verhaeghe are tied for second in scoring with 32 points each, while Verhaeghe ranks second to Tkachuk in goals with 19 of his own.
Making some lineup adjustments heading into tonight’s matchup, Aleksandar Barkov will be flanked by Lundell and Sam Reinhart on the top line, while Verhaeghe will settle in with Sam Bennett and Tkachuk on the second, and Eric Staal will move on up to center the third.
“Playing with Barky, that’s something you always want to do,” Lundell said. “I’ll just try to do my best, make plays and just try and help him as much as I can.”
Sliding back into the crease after backing up Spencer Knight against the Stars, Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start against the Avalanche. Over his last eight appearances, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner has gone 4-4-0 with a .917 save percentage and one shutout.
Sitting at 20-15-3, the Avalanche snapped out of a five-game slide with a 3-2 overtime win at Edmonton on Saturday. Trailing 2-0 heading into the third period, Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Hunt scored to make it 2-2 before Cale Makar buried the game-winning goal in the extra frame.
After ranking fourth in the NHL in scoring in 2021-22, the Avalanche haven’t packed quite the same punch this season as they currently rank 25th with an average of 2.87 goals per contest. Like the Panthers, they’ve also endured their fair share of injuries this season. In addition to losing MacKinnon for roughly a month, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog, who scored 30 goals last season, has yet to suit up this season after undergoing knee surgery in October.
That being said, the Avalanche still boast some of the top individual talents in the NHL with players like Mikko Rantanen (48 points), MacKinnon (38 points) and Makar (37 points) as cornerstones. Coming off a huge season, Makar won both the Norris Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy in 2021-22.
“The way he moves on the ice and what he brings to the table, he’s kind of one of the generating forces for them,” Mahura said of Makar. “You saw it last year in the playoffs and with what he’s been able to do this season. With guys like that, it’s just trying to make him defend as much as possible because when they have the puck on their stick they’re dangerous from anywhere on the ice.”
After starting each of the last 11 games for Colorado, Alexander Georgiev, who has posted a 16-10-3 record with a .916 save percentage this season, could potentially get the nod again.
Facing off for the first time this season, the Panthers and Avalanche split their season series in 2021-22. In that two-game series, each team defended their home ice, including the Panthers winning 4-1 on Oct. 21, 2021 at FLA Live Arena behind a 30-save performance from Bobrovsky.
“They’ve got some world-class guys,” Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said of the Avalanche. “They’ve won, and they know how hard it is. They are capable of becoming that team. They get hot, and off they go. They’ve had some challenges with injuries, as I guess everybody does over the course [of the season]. We’re going to expect their very, very best.”
THEY SAID IT
“If we can play our game that we know how to play, and if we play a full 60 minutes with the confidence that we can play with, I think we can make this a great game.” – Radko Gudas
“Just stay positive and believe in what we’re doing. Just keep grinding, keep battling. That’s all we can do. We just need to help each other, stay together and give 100% in every game.” – Anton Lundell
Panthers: Matthew Tkachuk has 10 points (six goals, four assists) over his last seven games. … Aleksander Barkov has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) over his last nine games. … Eric Staal has seven points (five goals, two assists) over his last nine games.
Avalanche: Mikko Rantanen has 12 points (seven goals, five assists) over his last 11 games. … Cale Makar has eight points (three goals, five assists) over his last six games. … Nathan MacKinnon has four points (two goals, two assists) over his last three games.
FIVE CATS STATS
– Matthew Tkachuk has 15 assists in 15 career games against the Avalanche.
– Brandon Montour leads Florida’s defensemen with 32 points (six goals, 26 assists).
– Carter Verhaeghe has notched at least one point in 10 of his last 16 games.
– Gustav Forsling ranks fifth among NHL defensemen in even-strength points (21).
– Sam Bennett leads all Panthers forwards with 103 hits.
PANTHERS PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)
Anton Lundell – Aleksander Barkov – Sam Reinhart
Carter Verhaeghe – Sam Bennett – Matthew Tkachuk
Eetu Luostarinen – Eric Staal – Nick Cousins
Ryan Lomberg – Colin White – Givani Smith
Gustav Forsling – Aaron Ekblad
Marc Staal – Brandon Montour
Josh Mahura – Radko Gudas
– Jan 5: F Chris Tierney recalled from Charlotte (AHL)
– Jan. 3: F Givani Smith recalled from Charlotte (AHL)
– Jan. 1: F Chris Tierney loaned to Charlotte (AHL)
HOW TO WATCH
When: Sunday, Jan. 10 at 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ball Arena – Denver, CO
TV & Streaming: Hulu, ESPN+
Radio: 96.5 WPOW-FM HD-2 (Dade/Broward); 1230 WBZT (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); SiriusXM App & Streaming Channel 932; NHL App
Hear from captain Aleksander Barkov on the latest episode of the Territory Talk podcast.