PREVIEW: ‘Confidence is Growing’ as Streaking Panthers Host Blue Jackets

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Panthers will look to keep filling up the back of the net when they close out their homestand with a matchup against the Blue Jackets at FLA Live Arena on Saturday.

Kicking off their back-to-back with a 7-1 beatdown of the Stars on Friday, the Panthers have posted a 7-0-1 record during their current eight-game point streak. With contributions coming from up and down the lineup, they’ve outscored the opposition 45-21 during that torrid stretch.

Sitting at 25-7-5, Florida enters tonight’s matchup with a league-best .743 points percentage.

“Confidence is growing,” Panthers forward Anthony Duclair said after squashing the Stars. “All four lines and all the D are stepping up at the right moment. You can’t forget about Bob [Sergei Bobrovsky]. He was making key saves at key moments at the beginning [of the game]. A couple bounces and it could’ve gone the other way. It starts with Bob, and we build out from there.”

A buzzsaw in their own building, the Panthers have gone 20-3-0 at home this season.

“It’s a fun place to play, and we are playing an exciting brand of hockey,” Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette said. “The players are feeding off the crowd, and the crowd is feeding off the players. We want to bring an identity that South Florida is a real hard place to come in.”

That was as lesson the Stars learned less than 24 hours ago.

In addition to Sam Bennett registering his second hat trick of the season, Gustav Forsling, Jonathan Huberdeau, Carter Verhaeghe and Duclair also lit the lamp against Dallas. In net, Bobrovsky improved his personal record to a stellar 18-3-3 by turning aside 29 of 30 shots.

Per NaturalStatTrick.com, Florida led 40-28 in scoring chances.

“Sometimes it’s just your night,” Bennett said. “Everything you touch seems to go in or generate a chance. Sometimes the puck follows you around a little bit. You’ve got to take advantage of those nights because they don’t come around too often. It was one of those nights, for sure.”

Finishing with four points (one goal, three assists) against the Stars, Huberdeau, who will be representing the Panthers at the 2022 NHL All-Star Game next month in Las Vegas, moved up into fourth place on the NHL’s scoring list with 51 points, including a league-leading 37 assists.

During his seven-game point streak, he’s produced four goals and 14 assists.

“Huby’s an all-star for a reason,” Duclair said. “He can find anybody out there.”

In fifth place in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 17-17-1, the Blue Jackets, despite losing four of their last seven games overall, enter tonight’s matchup feeling pretty good about themselves after kicking off their three-game road trip with a 6-0 win at Carolina on Thursday.

Leading 2-0 after 40 minutes on goals from Emil Bemstrom and Yegor Chinakhov, Columbus added four more goals in the third period against the Hurricanes for good measure as Patrik Laine, Chinakhov, Cole Sillinger and Jack Roslovic all touched twine during the final frame.

Stopping all 31 shots he faced, Elvis Merzlikins improved to 13-8-1 with a .911 save percentage.

“It started right from the first shift. We had a high compete level,” Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen said after the dominant victory. “We did a lot of good things to keep the danger away.”

Oliver Bjorkstrand, who has seven goals in 17 career games against Florida, leads Columbus in scoring with 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists), while Jakub Voracek ranks second with 25 points (one goal, 24 assists), and Boone Jenner resides in third with 23 points (14 goals, nine assists).

Facing off eight times in 2020-21, the Panthers owned a 7-0-1 record against the Blue Jackets.

“I don’t think we really have to prove anything to anyone,” Verhaeghe said of Florida’s stellar start. “We’re just doing our thing. We know how good we are and we’re a confident group.”

PANTHERS PROJECTED LINEUP (SUBJECT TO CHANGE)

Forwards

Carter Verhaeghe – Aleksander BarkovSam Reinhart

Jonathan Huberdeau – Sam Bennett – Anthony Duclair

Frank VatranoAnton LundellMaxim Mamin

Ryan LombergEetu LuostarinenPatric Hornqvist

Defensemen

MacKenzie WeegarAaron Ekblad

Gustav Forsling – Radko Gudas

Olli JuoleviBrandon Montour

Goaltenders

Spencer Knight

Sergei Bobrovsky

WHO’S HOT

Panthers: Aleksander Barkov has 10 points (five goals, five assists) over his last seven games. … Jonathan Huberdeau has 18 points (four goals, 14 assists) over his last seven games. … Anthony Duclair has 10 points (five goals, five assists) over his last seven games. … Sam Bennett has six points (five goals, one assist) over his last three games.

Blue Jackets: Boone Jenner has three points (two goals, one assist) over his last three games. … Yegor Chinakhov has six points (four goals, two assists) over his last two games. … Alexandre Texier has six points (two goals, four assists) over his last five games.

THEY SAID IT

“When you can generate some personal success and help the team win, it’s a great feeling. I’m enjoying my time in South Florida, that’s for sure.” — Panthers forward Sam Bennett after netting a hat trick against the Stars on Friday.

“This is a real dangerous team that can sting you in a lot of ways. It should grab your attention just like Carolina did.” — Blue Jackets head coach Brad Larsen on facing the Panthers.

FIVE CATS STATS

– The Panthers lead the NHL with a +40 goal differential.

– Florida’s six-game home win streak is tied for the fourth longest in club history.

– Frank Vatrano scored a team-high five goals against Columbus in 2020-21.

– Anton Lundell leads all NHL forwards with 38 takeaways.

– The Panthers are 12-0-1 this season when Anthony Duclair scores a goal.

PANTHERS TRANSACTIONS

– Jan. 14: G Evan Fitzpatrick signed to 1-year, 2-way contract and loaned to Taxi Squad

– Jan. 14: F Aleksi Heponiemi reassigned from Taxi Squad to Charlotte (AHL); F Owen Tippett loaned to Charlotte

– Jan. 12: F Aleksi Heponiemi loaned to Taxi Squad

PANTHERS NEWS

5 TAKEAWAYS: Bennett Scores Hat Trick, Panthers Squash Stars 

Jonathan Huberdeau Named To 2022 NHL All-Star Game Roster

NOTEBOOK: Acciari at Practice; Bobrovsky Standing Tall 

Andrew Brunette Named Atlantic Division Coach at 2022 NHL All-Star Game 

Territory Talk: Lundell Joins the Show; Panthers Still on Fire 

Panthers Sign Goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick to a One-Year, Two-Way Contract 

HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN

When: Friday, Jan. 15 at 6:00 p.m. ET

Where: FLA Live Arena – Sunrise, FL

TV: Bally Sports Florida

Stream: Bally Sports App, ESPN+ (Out of Region)

Radio: 560 WQAM (Dade/Broward); 850 WFTL (Palm Beach); 100.3 WCTH (Florida Keys); SiriusXM Channel 219 / App & Streaming 932

Tickets: HERE

IN-ARENA ACTIVATIONS

 – Purchase before puck drop to earn double the number of 50/50 Raffle tickets. Tonight’s 50/50 raffle is part of the combined weekend home game jackpot and a winner will be chosen following tonight’s game. 

– Presented by Stoli, it’s another “Sunset Saturday” at FLA Live Arena tonight. Fans can arrive to the arena starting at 4:30 p.m. for a special-priced happy hour on the CITY Lounge by CITY Furniture, North Patio and the JetBlue Tarmac.

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