TV: FOX Sports Florida
Time: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
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SUNRISE, Fla. — The Chicago Blackhawks and the Florida Panthers — two teams who have struggled in the first quarter of the season, meet Saturday night at the BB&T Center.
The Blackhawks (10-8-3) were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in each of the past two years. They made some offseason moves but retained a core of players that includes goalie Corey Crawford, defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, winger Patrick Kane and center Jonathan Toews.
One issue has been Chicago’s top line of Toews, Richard Panik and Brandon Saad.
While Kane had two goals in Wednesday in a 3-2 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning and leads Chicago with 21 points, the first line has not held up as well.
Panik and Toews own just 13 points each, and Saad has 10. Toews scored one goal in his past eight games — and that was an empty-netter. Panik is scoreless in 12 straight games, and Saad managed just one goal in his past 15 games.
“The numbers aren’t there yet,” Toews told The Chicago Tribune. “But we know what the potential is, and the three of us are working toward building that chemistry.
“We know in the end we need to be more productive if we want to (win).”
Meanwhile, the Panthers (8-11-2) are getting better production from their top line of center Aleksander Barkov (21 points) and wingers Jonathan Huberdeau (21 points) and Evgenii Dadonov (17 points).
Barkov is one of the most skilled players in the league, and an indication of that is his success on shootouts. He led the NHL with seven shootout scores last season and, over the past three years, Barkov is 14-of-19 on shootouts.
On Wednesday in a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Barkov scored on a beauty of a play, knocking the puck in one-handed.
“It was a sick move,” Panthers teammate Nick Bjugstad said.
Bjugstad was moved to right wing on a second line that features Florida’s leading scorer, center Vincent Trocheck (22 points and a team-high nine goals).
If the Panthers can get more scoring from anybody other than Trocheck and their top line, it will go a long way toward supporting goalie Roberto Luongo, who has been stellar lately.
Since returning on Nov. 4 from an injury to his right hand, Luongo posted a 2.11 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage.
On Wednesday, he made 43 saves against Toronto, including 24 stops in the third period and overtime. He also stopped three Leafs players in the shootout, including superstar Auston Matthews.
“Luongo was our best player tonight, and sometimes you need that,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “Goals have been hard to come by lately, and that’s when you need your goaltending.”
Florida ranks just 30th in the league in penalty-killing. But when the Panthers are perfect on the PK — as in Wednesday’s game when they went 3-for-3 — they have a 5-1-1 record.