It seems like only a few hours ago since the Florida Panthers were at home holding off the Canucks but they will be back in action this afternoon against the host Buffalo Sabres in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee.
This will be the fifth road game of January for the Panthers who will travel more this month than any other in their season.
Since the New Year started and the Panthers embarked on what should be their most challenging stretch of the season, Florida has gone 4-3-0 as it has beaten the teams it should — and lost to teams they need to beat (Rangers, Dallas and Vegas).
Buffalo snapped a three-game losing streak by winning in Nashville on Saturday and are tied with the Panthers in points (44) but have played three fewer games.
”This is actually the easy part of the tough part and that all starts in Buffalo” coach Paul Maurice said. “We have three sets of back-to-back and we’ll play eight games in a very short period of time. The tough part is now.”
This trip is not going to free of any challenges as Florida will be playing in Buffalo on Monday afternoon then head to face a Toronto team on its second two-game slide this month on Tuesday night.
It will be the first meeting of the season between the Panthers and Leafs — and Florida needs the wins.
“It is a tough month for us but I think it is what we need,” said Ryan Lomberg, who scored Florida’s first goal in their 4-3 win on Saturday night. “We did fairly well in the first long road trip of the month so we’re looking to do better on this one. We’re going one game at time; try to win the next one and then move on.”
Sergei Bobrovsky will be back in net for the Panthers who may roll him out in back-to-back games.
Spencer Knight may not be available until Tuesday night and after missing the past week with an undisclosed injury, Florida may be reticent to throw him out against the rested and powerful Maple Leafs.
Bobrovsky is coming off an odd game in which he gave up three goals off shots from inside the blue line — they had an average distance of 58 feet — but was terrific otherwise and held off a late Vancouver charge in which the Canucks fired off 15 shots in the third period.
Maurice even joked that Bobrovsky was wearing “reading glasses” on Saturday night.
“He was really good in tight,” Maurice said. “I have never a guy play as well and make the saves he made from 10 feet out and miss a few from deep. It does not matter right now. He did what he needed to do to get us the win.”
Bobrovsky really had no explanation for the long shots going in. There was some traffic in front, obviously, and one appeared to be touched by teammate Radko Gudas.
He was just happy to get the Panthers a win.
More are certainly needed.
“The two points are crucial for us. This is the time we have to lead, have to bear down and have to close the deal,” Bobrovsky said.
“Sometimes there is traffic and if you can’t see the puck, you’re not going to stop the puck. I felt great, was focused, played my game and competed. I am happy with the win. I don’t want to think too much (about the goals); I just want to enjoy the two points and move on.”
— The Panthers placed Zac Dalpe on waivers Saturday and assigned the Checkers’ captain back when he cleared Sunday.
On Monday, Grigori Denisenko replaced him in Florida.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT BUFFALO SABRES
- When: Monday, 1 p.m.
- Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Draft Kings odds — Florida favored: MoneyLine (-130); Puck line (-1.5, +185); Over/Under 7 (-100/+120)
- Season Series (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Buffalo leads 52-47-5, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at Toronto, 7 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
15 Anton Lundell // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 9 Sam Bennett // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
14 Grigori Denisenko // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 21 Nick Cousins
94 Ryan Lomberg // 12 Eric Staal // 54 Givani Smith
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
34 Alex Lyon
Injured: Anthony Duclair (LTIR-Achilles), Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Spencer Knight (IR-undisclosed)
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald, Chris Tierney, Colin White
Returned to Charlotte: Zac Dalpe
PROJECTED BUFFALO SABRES LINEUP
53 Jeff Skinner // 72 Tage Thompson // 89 Alex Tuch
77 John Jason Peterka // 24 Dylan Cousins // 22 Jack Quinn
37 Casey Mittelstadt // 17 Tyson Jost // 71 Victor Olofsson
21 Kyle Okposo // 74 Rasmus Asplund // 28 Zemgus Girgensons
23 Mattias Samuelsson // 26 Rasmus Dahlin
25 Owen Power // 10 Henri Jokiharju
78 Jacob Bryson // 46 Ilya Lyubushkin
1 Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
31 Eric Comrie