The second part of the Predators three-game, East Coast trip debuts tonight in Sunrise, Florida.
The Florida Panthers (15-20-6) host the Nashville Predators (18-18-5), who are looking for points in their fourth-straight game.
The Panthers conclude a five-game home stand tonight when they play their first game of 2014.
The Preds will see a familiar face behind the Panthers bench, as their former associate coach Peter Horachek now runs the show in Florida. Last summer, Horachek was fired by Nashville after the Predators turned in a dismal record in the lockout-shortened season (16-23-9). Since Horachek was named interim head coach on November 8th, the Panthers have rebounded under the first-time head coach’s more defensive style.
Tonight’s contest will also feature the No. 2 and No. 4 picks from the 2013 NHL Entry Draft when Panthers forward Aleksander Barkov and Predators defenseman Seth Jones square off. After being rumored this summer to be the top forward targeted by Nashville in the draft, Barkov was selected higher than many experts expected, going second overall.
Finally, the Panthers are expecting the return of two key players to their lineup tonight, one of which is another familiar face for the Preds.
Scottie Upshall left the Panthers forward group on December 23rd, but is expected back ahead of schedule tonight against Nashville.
Once the No. 6 overall pick of the Predators in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Upshall has never blossomed into the first line forward that Nashville hoped. Now playing for his fifth NHL team, Upshall has been riddled with injuries for the majority of his career and his 35 games played this season already marks the most he has played for the Panthers in three campaigns.
On the blue line, Florida’s captain Ed Jovanovski is slated to return for the Panthers after not playing since March. Pro Hockey Talk over on NBC Sports details the remarkable feat that Jovanovski would pull off if he does indeed return tonight from his hip injury.
For the Predators, tonight’s game marks the first time Nashville will face an opponent with a sub .500 record in nearly a month.
After an elongated stretch of up-and-down play, the team from Music City has rebounded with the help of increased offensive production. Nashville saw their two-game winning streak snapped in Boston on Thursday, but managed to claim a point from an overtime loss against the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 team, the Boston Bruins.
Expect Marek Mazanec to receive his fourth-straight start in net and if Nashville can continue to receive production from Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher and Viktor Stalberg while playing five-on-five, the Preds will stand as the favorite in tonight’s game.
The puck drops at 6 pm (CST) in the BB&T Center for the inter-conference cat fight.