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Selke Contenders Meet, Florida Panthers Host Montreal Canadiens

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Florida Panthers Nick Suzuki Sasha Barkov Montreal Canadiens
Florida Panthers forward Sasha Barkov and Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki are two of the league’s top Selke trophy contenders. They meet tonight in Sunrise. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-200

FORT LAUDERDALE — The Panthers have outscored the Montreal Canadiens 9-2 in two wins this season, but Florida knows what it is going up against.

The young Canadiens have become a more structured team and harder to play against in the process.

With a chance to become the second team in the NHL to hit 40 wins on Thursday night, the Panthers are not taking Montreal lightly.

The Panthers have won 10 of the past 11 against the Canadiens including the past six.

In Florida’s 10 wins against Montreal, it is outscoring the Canadiens 56-23.

The Panthers are heavy betting favorites (-325 on the money line) tonight.

“We’ve had some wild games against this team and I don’t think the scores in the first two have anything to do with how the game was played,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “They were both very tight games, which was a difference from last year.

“They’ve tightened their game up quite a bit and we want to make sure that we’re playing smart, we want to make sure that we’re making really good decisions with the puck.”

Montreal captain Nick Suzuki has arguably been the ringleader in the team’s shift to a harder, cleaner defensive style of game.

Suzuki has developed into a top-tier Selke candidate for the Canadiens, consistently making smart plays and big plays in his own end while ranking near the top in most defensive analytics.

“I would say that he has a whole lot of [Sasha] Barkov in him,” Maurice said.

“Especially, when you’re in a Canadian market and you are a skilled offensive player, there’s pressure to produce and in that pressure to produce, especially if you are on a developing team, there are placed for you to value the offensive side of the game more than the defensive side of the game. I don’t think he’s done that.

“He is a real honest, hard player. He starts on face-offs, he battles, he’s under pucks and he’ll get into holes when he gets the chance. Barkov would be the same kind of player where, at the end of the year, i you will probably be able to say both men have left offense on the table, and appropriately so.”

Like Barkov, Suzuki has still managed to put up solid offensive numbers with that same mindset.

Suzuki has 23 goals and 56 points in 59 games this season and 12 goals and 24 points in his past 23 games.

He is a player Barkov and the Panthers need to key in on if they want to walk away with two points.

The defensive side of he game is something Florida has taken pride in lately, too.

They have allowed two or fewer goals in 14 consecutive games, which is tied for the longest streak of such a team has had all season.

The Panthers are 12-2-0 in that stretch.

“We’ve been working a lot on it and that’s been the biggest thing.” Barkov said. “Defense is our biggest thing. We want to be really good defensively and offense will come from that. If we defend well, we’re going to have our chances in the offensive zone.”

GAME NOTES

Anthony Stolarz will play in his 100th game Thursday as he gets the start; Former Florida goalie Sam Montembeault starts for the Canadiens.

— Jonah Gadjovich will miss Thursday’s game with a “minor injury,” per Maurice.

Will Lockwood will take his place in the lineup.

ON DECK

MONTREAL CANADIENS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS (39-16-4) LINES

23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart

21 Nick Cousins // 9 Sam Bennett // 19 Matthew Tkachuk

27 Eetu Luostarinen // 15 Anton Lundell // 17 Evan Rodrigues

67 Will Lockwood // 82 Kevin Stenlund // 94 Ryan Lomberg

42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad

77 Niko Mikkola // 62 Brandon Montour

91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson// 7 Dmitry Kulikov

41 Anthony Stolarz

72 Sergei Bobrovsky

Scratched: Josh Mahura, Steven Lorentz

Injured: Jonah Gadjovich

PROJECTED MONTREAL CANADIENS (23-28-8) LINEUP

22 Cole Caufield // 14  Nick Suzuki // 20 Juraj Slafkovsky

40 Joel Armia // 71 Jake Evans // 11 Brendan Gallagher

89 Joshua Roy // 15 Alex Newhook // 17 Josh Anderson

70 Tanner Pearson // 36  Colin White // 56 Jesse Ylonen

8 Mike Matheson // 21 Kaiden Guhle

72 Arber Xhekaj // 58 David Savard

54 Jordan Harris // 26 Johnathan Kovacevic

35 Sam Montembeault

30 Cayden Primeau

Scratched: Michael Pezzetta, Jake Allen

Injured: Rafael Harvey-Pinard (lower body), Jayden Struble (lower body)

Canadiens lines provided by NHL.com

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