SUNRISE (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – Finally featuring a completely healthy roster, the Florida Panthers are poised to make a run at reaching the postseason for a second consecutive year.
The Panthers look to regain their momentum following the team’s mandatory break in the schedule on Thursday when they bid to complete a perfect four-game homestand against a Los Angeles Kings’ team that has mustered just one goal in the first three contests of its four-game road trip.
What’s more, Kings coach Darryl Sutter didn’t mince words after his team dropped consecutive 5-0 setbacks to Washington and Tampa Bay.
“I think there’s a lot of commonality in our road game this year,” Sutter said after Tuesday’s loss dropped Los Angeles out of a playoff position – due in part to a 12-15-3 mark away from Staples Center. “I think we have a lot of veterans that have not done much for us this year, and it’s disappointing on the road.”
While Sutter wasn’t pleased with his club’s performance, Florida was buoyed by the return of Jonathan Huberdeau in the team’s 2-1 triumph over Anaheim on Friday.
The 23-year-old, who netted a career-high 20 goals and 59 points last season, was making his return from surgery to repair an Achilles tendon injury.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN West (Los Angeles), FSN Florida
ABOUT THE KINGS (27-23-4): Peter Budaj recorded back-to-back shutouts last week to give him a career-high and league-best seven, but has since surrendered nine goals in his last five periods.
The 34-year-old has logged considerable minutes following the injury to franchise goaltender Jonathan Quick and sits 10 games shy of his career high while competing in the most he’s played in the NHL in eight years.
Budaj has struggled mightily versus Florida (1-5-1) and may give way to Jeff Zatkoff, who turned aside four of five shots in relief against the Capitals on Sunday and hasn’t started a game since making 14 saves in a 3-2 setback to the New York Rangers on Jan. 23.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (23-19-10): Aleksander Barkov returned from a 15-game absence due to a balky back to notch an assist and a plus-1 rating on Friday.
The 21-year-old Finn led the team in scoring with 27 points in 36 games prior to his departure and looks to provide a jolt for Florida, which ranks 26th goals per game (2.3) and 27th on the power play (14.8).
Barkov and Huberdeau’s return marked the first time this season that Florida’s top line, which also includes Jaromir Jagr, played together.
Since Jagr joined the Panthers at the 2015 trade deadline, the line has been one of the most productive in the NHL.
Fellow forward Vincent Trocheck, who leads the team in goals (18) and points (34), was held off the scoresheet in back-to-back contests after posting 18 points (10 points, eight assists) in his previous 15 games.
- Los Angeles is 3-7-1 against Atlantic Division representatives this season.
- Florida veteran G Roberto Luongo has yielded 18 goals in his last five starts (1-3-1).
- Jiggs McDonald, the play-by-play announcer for the Kings during their first five seasons, will return to the team’s television booth for the first time since 1972 to call the encounter for FSN West.
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