Panthers go for 5th in row vs. Canadiens
SUNRISE, Fla. — Less is more for the Florida Panthers, who tend to get a boost when they have fewer players on the ice.
The Panthers (16-16-5), who play host to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday (16-18-4), are just 2-for-23 on the power play in their past nine games.
But since Nov. 22, Florida ranks second in the league in penalty-kill percentage, allowing just four power-play goals in 17 games. In addition, Florida’s seven short-handed goals are tied for the most in the NHL.
On Thursday night, the Panthers killed all four penalties and even scored short-handed in a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie got the short-handed goal, his first score in 31 games this season.
“It was nice to see our captain rewarded,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said of MacKenzie, who also went 7-for-7 on faceoffs. “He’s been hunting that (first goal).”
The Panthers, who enter Saturday on a season-best four-game win streak, will face a slumping Canadiens team.
Montreal has lost seven of its past 10 games, including a 3-1 defeat at the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday.
Worse yet, the Canadiens are generating very little on offense. They are third from the bottom in the NHL in terms of average goals per game (2.63). They have scored two or fewer goals in 21 of their 38 games.
Right winger Brendan Gallagher is the only Montreal player with more than 10 goals this season. He has 15 goals and six assists and is tied with Alex Galchenyuk and Phillip Danault with a team-high 21 points.
“It’s frustrating,” Canadiens center Jonathan Drouin told the media after Thursday’s loss. “It’s not like we’re missing chances. We’re just not getting many chances.”
Canadiens goalie Carey Price was third in the Vezina Trophy voting last season with a 37-20-5 record, a 2.23 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. This season, he has struggled to an 11-12-2 record, a 3.00 GAA and a .906 save percentage.
Meanwhile, Panthers goalie James Reimer has been brilliant since starter Roberto Luongo injured his right leg on Dec. 4. In 10 straight starts since Luongo’s injury, Reimer is 6-3-1 with a .929 save percentage.
Reimer did not allow a goal over parts of his past three contests, stretching out over 141:24 of game action. The streak finally ended during the third period of Thursday’s win.
Offensively, the Panthers have been led by its first line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, as well as second-line center Vincent Trocheck.
Huberdeau enters Saturday with four goals in his past three games.
“I guess I have to keep my family here (for more than just the holidays),” said Huberdeau, who has 13 goals this season, one away from Trocheck’s team lead.
Huberdeau also leads the team with 36 points and 23 assists.
The Panthers are fairly healthy as center Jamie McGinn and Trocheck returned from injuries on Thursday, and right winger Radim Vrbata (illness) and defenseman Ian McCoshen (upper-body) are expected to be back soon, perhaps on Saturday.
Montreal, meanwhile, has been playing without its top defenseman, Shea Weber, who landed on injured reserve on Dec. 16 due to a left foot issue.
Goalie Al Montoya, who is Price’s backup, is out with a concussion. And three other Montreal rotation players have been out: defenseman David Schlemko (flu), right winger Ales Hemsky (concussion) and left winger Arthur Lehkonen (lower body).
Schlemko could return on Saturday, and Lehkonen is due back next week. But Hemsky’s injury could force him out for a longer stretch.
Even so, Montreal can’t afford to wait for those players to return — they need wins right away.
“Points are slipping away,” Drouin said. “We’ve got to wake up a bit.”