Preview: Panthers try to climb out of skid when hosting Islanders
TV: FOX Sports Florida
Time: Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.
SUNRISE, Fla. — The New York Islanders, who lead the NHL in scoring, expect to go up against one of the league’s all-time great goalies, Roberto Luongo, on Monday night when they face the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center.
The Islanders (15-8-2) are led by center John Tavares, who ranks third in the NHL with 16 goals. His team is first in the league with an average of 3.72 goals per game.
And even when the Islanders lose, they usually still score big, as was the case on Friday night when their four-game win streak was snapped in a 6-5 loss to the Ottawa Senators.
“It stings,” New York coach Doug Weight said after that defeat, “but it’s almost a good learning tool.”
Meanwhile, Florida (10-13-3) relies on Luongo, 38, who is aging gracefully. He ranks seventh in the league this season with a .928 save percentage. For his career, he is fourth in league history with 459 wins.
Luongo, who has battled injuries again this season, is 6-6-1 with a 2.62 goals-against average. He has been even better lately, allowing just 18 goals in his past nine games.
This will be Luongo’s first game against the Islanders this season. Last season, he went 2-1-0 with a 2.30 GAA against New York.
Of course, the Islanders’ offense has improved since last season, when they missed the playoffs and averaged 2.91 goals, 10th in the league. They have scored five or more goals 12 times in 25 games this season.
Weight, brought in last January after Jack Capuano was fired, went 24-12-4 last season and has his team off to a good start.
Yet even with all the good things happening with the Islanders, there is turmoil within the organization. Team owners are primed to end their association with Barclays Center, hoping to get a new arena built at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.
The other big New York story line involves captain Tavares, 27, who will be a free agent after this season. He is a franchise center and his departure — should it happen — could wreck the Islanders.
That’s why the Monday game — and, frankly, every New York contest — is so important. The Islanders likely need to make a deep playoff run to convince Tavares to stick around past this season.
The Panthers don’t face that kind of pressure. This is shaping up as a rebuilding season under first-year head coach Bob Boughner.
Florida has lost two games in a row, both by one goal. A 3-2 setback at the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday was particularly painful as the Panthers allowed the winning goal with just two seconds left in overtime.
“It was a heartbreaker,” Boughner said after the defeat.
Now the Panthers start a three-game homestand.
Florida center Aleksander Barkov, who scored with 1:56 left in the third period to send the Carolina game to overtime, leads the Panthers’ top line along with Jonathan Huberdeau.
Center Vincent Trocheck and wingers Nick Bjugstad and Radim Vrbata power the second line.
Florida’s Evgenii Dadonov (shoulder) is out at least four weeks, leaving a gaping hole on the front line that is currently being filled by 21-year-old Denis Malgin.
The Islanders’ biggest injury concern is center Casey Cizikas (four goals, four assists). He has missed two games in a row due to a lower-body injury.