Preview: Panthers begin 4-game road trip against Jack Eichel, Sabres
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: Coverage begins at 7 p.m.
The Florida Panthers were not home for long, but they hope the stopover was good enough to point themselves in the right direction when they open a four-trip Tuesday night against the surging Buffalo Sabres.
After losing twice in a row on the road, the Panthers (12-13-6) returned home to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 in overtime Saturday night.
Aleksander Barkov, who scored his first NHL hat trick Saturday in the winning goal, warned that the Panthers have not always followed up on good efforts.
“A couple of times, we have been beating pretty good teams and the next games haven’t been that good,” the center said. “We need to make sure we come hard and play the same way we did against Toronto. They’re probably one of the best teams in the league right now. We need to build on this and should feel confident right now.”
The Sabres (20-9-5), meanwhile, seemed to have stabilized. After winning 10 in a row, they were 0-3-2 over the next five games, but with their 4-2 road win over the Boston Bruins Sunday on the strength of three third-period goals are on a 3-0-1 roll. The Sabres continue to prove that they are for real this season and intend to keep it that way Tuesday at the KeyBank Center.
“For one, I think we’ve obviously been through a lot of adversity together, and I think we’re probably sick of it,” said Sabres center and captain Jack Eichel, who had two goals and two assists Sunday. “The past few years, it’s not been easy, but you know, with the way our season has started this year, I think we have the confidence in each other and the belief, and we think we can win every game we play, so you know, it was no different (Sunday). We thought if we do the right things long enough and don’t break, we’ll give ourselves the chance to win, and we did that.”
Eichel has 10 goals and 16 assists over his past 16 games for the Sabres, who lost 3-2 in overtime to the Panthers in the previous meeting between the teams this season. Barkov scored the winning goal at Sunrise, Fla., on Nov. 30.
Panthers left winger Jonathan Huberdeau is second in the NHL with 21 points (five goals, 16 assists) since Nov. 24 and has a team-leading 38 points on the season.
Defenseman Matt Hunwick was in the Sabres lineup for the first time of the season Sunday.
Acquired in an offseason trade with Pittsburgh Penguins, Hunwick suffered a neck injury before the start of training camp. He had been skating with the team since the end of November and played in two American Hockey League games Wednesday and Friday on a conditioning loan.
“We just rotated him around a little bit,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “I liked Matt’s game (Sunday) for coming back after all that he’s been through. … to come into (Boston) and in a very, very big game, a divisional game, had a really good solid game for us.”
Sabres defenseman Nathan Beaulieu missed the game Sunday with an upper-body injury from the 4-2 shootout loss in Washington to the Capitals on Saturday.
On Monday, the Sabres returned defenseman Matt Tennyson to Rochester of the AHL. Tennyson, 28, was a healthy scratch Sunday. He was minus-three Saturday and defenseman Brendan Guhle was recalled from Rochester for the game Sunday.
Panthers coach Bob Boughner will try to have his team repeat the effort displayed against Toronto on Saturday that ended a four-game losing streak.
“I think we knew we were in a tough game against a real good team and that’s the only thing that could have maybe equalized things was to check all the boxes,” Boughner said. “Whether it is a blocked shot or taking a hit or giving a hit or clearing out the net in front, I really like the way we came to play (Saturday). We had a good sense of urgency and at the end of the day, I think that was probably the difference.”