The Florida Panthers recently went through the toughest part of their schedule to date and know they need to be on guard when they return to Detroit to face the Red Wings.
It would be understandable for the Panthers to take a deep breath, perhaps let down their guard when it comes to their two-game, back-to-back set against the Wings.
Only if any team in the NHL knows what a pest the Wings can be, it is Florida.
The Panthers have won three of the four meetings between the two this season and the only game that was a blowout was the one Detroit won on Super Bowl Sunday.
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Florida comes into the game off to its best start in franchise history at 10-2-2 and will enter Friday night’s game atop the Central Division.
Yet one of its two regulation losses has come to the Red Wings. Florida’s three wins have all been decided by a single goal.
Detroit has lost four of its past five games since winning in Sunrise on Feb. 7.
“The games have all been close, could have gone either way,” Joel Quenneville said following Florida’s afternoon practice at Little Caesars Arena on Thursday.
“They are competitive … you have to fight for everything you get. That is the kind of game we expect. Timely goals are going to be important. You have to be ready for everything. Let’s be focused on doing the right things.”
The Panthers, save for the game in Sunrise two weeks ago, have enjoyed plenty of success against the Red Wings lately.
Over the past 12 games against Detroit, Florida is 10-1-1 and has won its past five at Little Caesars Arena.
Florida’s special teams have been stellar against Detroit over the past 12 games.
Not only have the Panthers outscored the Red Wings 39-25, but they have at least one power play goal in seven of the past eight games.
Florida’s penalty kill has not surrendered a goal to the Red Wings in seven games (19-for-19).
Detroit’s power play isn’t exactly burning up the ice these days. They haven’t scored a goal with the man advantage since Jan. 28 — an 0-for-30 drought.
The Panthers have also been pretty good on the road this season.
By winning at Carolina on Wednesday, the Panthers improved to 5-0-1 away from Sunrise which is the best road start in franchise history.
Going back to the penalty kill, the Panthers have the second-ranked road PK, killing 21 of 23 chances (91.3 percent).
Quenneville confirmed that Chris Driedger will get the start for the Panthers on Friday with the likelihood Sergei Bobrovsky goes on Saturday.
Driedger, Quenneville said, is deserving to play based not only how he has handled himself in net this season, but how he fared last season as well.
So far this season, Driedger is 5-1-1 with a 2.39 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
Last year, he went 7-2-1 in 11 starts with a 2.05 GAA and a .938 save percentage.
“Look at Driedger’s body of work from last year and I thought he had an outstanding finish to they year,” Quenneville said before Driedger made 32 saves in the win at Carolina.
“He came in this year and is off to a great start. He has earned back-to-back games and it is based on performance. It is a decision solely based on his play and he has earned the opportunity.’’
The Panthers aren’t expected to make any other lineup changes from Wednesday’s win in Carolina.
Gustav Forsling came off IR on Wednesday and played in his first game since Jan. 28. The Panthers had him on the ice for 17:23.
Florida Panthers at Detroit Red Wings
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
- TV/Radio: FSF/560-AM
- Records: Florida 10-2-2 (1st in Central); Detroit 4-11-3 (8th)
- All-time series: Florida leads 26-18-5 (six ties)
- Season series: Florida leads 3-1-0
- Last season: Florida won all three meetings
- Up next: Florida at Detroit, Saturday, 5
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINES
23 Carter Verhaeghe — 16 Sasha Barkov — 91 Anthony Duclair
11 Jonathan Huberdeau — 21 Alex Wennberg — 70 Patric Hornqvist
77 Frank Vatrano —27 Eetu Luostarinen — 74 Owen Tippett
94 Ryan Lomberg — 83 Juho Lammikko — 10 Brett Connolly
52 MacKenzie Weegar — 5 Aaron Ekblad
42 Gustav Forsling — 6 Anton Stralman
3 Keith Yandle — 7 Radko Gudas
60 Chris Driedger
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
Scratches: D Markus Nutivaara, D Noah Juulsen, F Vinnie Hinostroza
Taxi squad: D Kevin Connauton, F Scott Wilson, F Mason Marchment, G Philippe Desrosiers
IR: F Noel Accari (upper body)
Florida power play (12/41 29.3% — 6th in NHL)
Florida penalty kill (32/42 76.2% — 22nd in NHL)
PP1: Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Patric Hornqvist, Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle
PP2: Alex Wennberg, Frank Vatrano, Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe, Anton Stralman
PROJECTED DETROIT RED WINGS LINES
11 Filip Zadina — 71 Dylan Larkin — 86 Mathias Brome
39 Anthony Mantha — 14 Robby Fabbri — 54 Bobby Ryan
43 Darren Helm — 51 Valtteri Filppula — 89 Sam Gagner
81 Frans Nielsen — 41 Luke Glendening — 73 Adam Erne
24 Jon Merrill — 17 Filip Hronek
18 Marc Staal — 70 Troy Stecher
44 Christian Djoos — 22 Patrik Nemeth
29 Thomas Greiss
45 Jonathan Bernier
Detroit power play (4/56 7.1% — 30th in NHL)
Detroit penalty kill (38/52 73.1% — 27th in NHL)
PP1: Bobby Ryan, Dylan Larkin, Filip Zadina, Christian Djoos, Mathias Brome
PP2: Valtteri Filppula, Robby Fabbri, Frans Nielsen, Filip Hronek, Jon Merrill