Post-break Panthers pick up against Predators
The Florida Panthers are ready to open the post-All Star break portion of their slate. They likely would have been happy to have been playing over the last week and a half.
One of five teams riding a three-game winning streak at the break, Florida (20-20-8) hosts the Nashville Predators at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., on Friday as they conclude their season series. The Panthers claimed a 4-2 win in Nashville on Jan. 19.
After dropping seven straight in a sluggish stretch in which they seemed out of gas as they trekked through Canada, the Panthers regained an All-Star center and discovered a winning form.
With second-line center Vincent Trocheck back in the lineup after being out for 27 games following surgery on his broken right ankle, Florida and Trocheck took off in the final three games before the break.
A 2017 All-Star Game performer, Trocheck returned on Jan. 18 and recorded the primary assist on the game-winning goal against Toronto. He scored and added a helper in Nashville the next night and then sniped a goal in the final game against the San Jose Sharks before the time off.
Trocheck's four points in three games proved to be the spark for Florida -- he and his teammates chased Sharks goalie Martin Jones in a resounding 6-2 win -- as the Panthers logged three wins over playoff-situated foes.
"We're having fun," Trocheck said of his time back.
"It's been tough for us this year in that department. To go into a break like this with a little bit of momentum, having some fun, it's going to make a big difference for the second half."
The Predators (30-18-4) find themselves in a similar upswing and could soon be seeing the return of a pair of forwards.
After losing consecutive home games to Central Division leader Winnipeg and Florida, Nashville rebounded nicely with a 4-1 win at the Colorado Avalanche and a 2-1 victory in Las Vegas against the Golden Knights in a testy affair that resembled a playoff game.
Nashville won for the first time in Las Vegas behind the 47-save net play of backup Juuse Saros, who is 4-1-0 in his last six appearances -- five of them starts -- and has a .955 save percentage.
"We wanted to finish strong in these last two road games and be happy about our game and taking a next step. I think these were good games and now we've just got to get better," Saros said.
Nashville general manager David Poile said he was hopeful center Kyle Turris and right wing Miikka Salomaki could be back in the lineup when play reconvenes in Florida.
Turris (lower body) has missed the past 14 games and was placed on IR on New Year's Day. Salomaki (upper body) last played in Detroit on Jan. 4.
Also, Nashville announced on Tuesday that forward Austin Watson had been suspended and entered into the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program for ongoing alcohol-related treatment at the Stage 2 level.
The suspension is the second this season for Watson, 27, who missed the first 18 games for a domestic assault charge last July.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 31, 2019