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GameDay Caterwaul: Florida Panthers vs Arizona Coyotes

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Dogs and cats playing together... mass hysteria!

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Panthers (37-28-7 81P) vs Coyotes (25-38-11 61P)

  • WHEN: 7:00 p.m. ET - LBC GameThread right here at 6:30ish
  • WHERE: BB&T Center - Sunrise, FL
  • ON THE TUBE: FOX Sports Florida, FOX Sports Arizona
  • ON THE DIAL: 560 WQAM (D/B), 640 WMEN (PB), 1370 WAXE (TC), Thunder 100.3 (Keys)
  • SOCIALS: #FlaPanthers, #Yotes, #ARIvsFLA, @LitterBoxCats, LBC FaceBook
  • ENEMY INTEL: Five For Howling
  • FLA IN SEASON SERIES: Game 2 of 2 (1-0-0)
  • ALL-TIME vs ARI: 13W-13L-30T 3TL 1SOL 86GF 86GA
  • ALL-TIME at FLA: 7W-7L-0T 0OTL 1SOL 41GF 36GA
  • LAST MEETING: FLA 3, @ ARI 2 - (Recap) - 12/19/2017
  • NEXT MEETING: 2018-19
  • PROJECTED STARTERS: Reimer (18-13-5 .927/3.03 3SO) vs Kuemper (12-5-4 .920/2.42 4SO)
  • PLAYER STATS: Florida / Arizona

Scouting Report (Courtesy of Stats LLC)

The Florida Panthers, in the midst of an eight-game stretch that includes seven on the road, will make a brief pit stop at home on Saturday afternoon to take on the Arizona Coyotes.

Florida (37-28-7) is chasing the New Jersey Devils for the last available wild-card playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, and it has been quite a pursuit. The Panthers are three points behind the Devils with two games in hand.

Despite a 4-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night, the Panthers have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL since Jan. 30, sporting an 18-6-1 record in that span.

Florida center Aleksander Barkov, an All-Star this year, is an established young star. But the key to the Panthers’ success has been some of the secondary standouts such as right winger Evgenii Dadonov and defenseman Mike Matheson.

Bob Boughner, Florida’s rookie head coach, credited general manager Dale Tallon for having faith in Dadonov, bringing him back to the league this season after several years in Russia’s KHL.

”He’s been as promised by Dale,” Boughner said of Dadonov. “Low-maintenance guy -- he just comes to work and does what’s asked. For a smaller guy, he competes hard -- that’s been the biggest surprise.

“With Matheson, his game has made a turn for the better from where he was at the beginning of the year.”

Another player who has opened eyes in Nick Bjugstad, a former Panthers first-round pick who has benefited from moving to a winger’s role on that top line with Barkov and Dadonov. Before that, Bjugstad was often a third-line center.

Now, he has a career-high 45 points, including 17 goals. Those 17 goals lead the NHL among players who have not scored on special teams.

“He was struggling to find his identity at the beginning of the year,” Boughner said. “I think he’s found a home on Barky’s line. He’s one of the reasons why we’re winning games.”

The Coyotes (25-38-11), meanwhile, haven’t won too many hockey games and have been looking ahead to next season for a while now. In fact, they have one of the three worst records in the NHL.

However, with the pressure of making the playoffs lone gone, Arizona has played better of late, going 12-6-1 since Feb. 12. The Coyotes are 3-2-1 on the road during that span.

Powering the Coyotes is a teenager -- left winger Clayton Keller, who leads the team in goals (21) and points (57). Keller, 19, was the seventh overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and he is one goal away from tying the Arizona rookie record. Peter Mueller set the team’s rookie record with 22 goals in 2007-08.

Coyotes general manager John Chayka is pleased with Keller but also his young core in general, pointing to a 15-10-6 record since the calendar flipped to 2018.

”With some of the core we have, we have seven or eight players we think can be part of a Stanley Cup team,” he told Arizona Sports. “Now it’s my job to surround those guys with the proper pros so that they can grow and blossom into what we think they can become.”

Saturday in the Atlantic (Standings/Panthers Playoff Chances):

  • DETROIT (27-36-11 65P) at TORONTO (44-23-7 95P) 7 p.m.
  • Washington (43-24-7 93P) at MONTREAL (27-36-12 66P) 7 p.m. NHL Network
  • Carolina (32-31-11 75P) at OTTAWA (26-36-11 63P) 7 p.m.
  • TAMPA BAY (51-19-4 106P) at New Jersey (38-28-8 84P) 7 p.m.
  • BUFFALO (23-39-12 58P) at New York Rangers (32-34-8 72P) 7 p.m.

Idle: BOS (102P)

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