Panthers look to build momentum vs. visiting Flyers

NHL Hockey

They call them the helicopter line.

When the Florida Panthers play host to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night, they will likely keep in place their “helicopter line,” a trio that earned the nickname because it has no wings.

Rather, that line — which picked up nine points in Tuesday’s 5-3 road win over the New Jersey Devils — employs a center (Noel Acciari) and two defensemen (Mike Matheson and Mark Pysyk).

Their production helped end a Panthers slump that included a four-game losing skid that saw the team score just five total goals — shocking numbers for what had been the best offense in the NHL.

“The way (the helicopter line played on Tuesday), more of our guys need to follow their lead,” Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman told reporters after the game. “They worked hard and won battles. They spent a lot of time in the offensive zone, and that’s what we need.”

All three members of the helicopter line scored on Tuesday — the career-high 19th goal for Acciari, the career-high eighth for Pysyk and the seventh for Matheson, who is three short of his career best.

On Matheson’s goal on Tuesday, the helicopter line kept the puck in New Jersey’s zone for 90 seconds, attempting seven shots before scoring.

Panthers coach Joel Quenneville was impressed.

“I don’t know if I would call them a fourth line,” he said. “They were better than that.”

Against the Flyers, it’s possible that Florida’s offense reverts back to form and gets scoring from its traditional sources … you know, actual, top-line forwards. That would include Jonathan Huberdeau, who leads the team with 68 points; Evgenii Dadonov, who tops the team with 23 goals; and center Aleksander Barkov, the team captain and its premier two-way forward who has 16 goals and 55 points.

In goal, the Panthers are expected to start Sergei Bobrovsky, who was rested on Tuesday night in favor of rookie Sam Montembeault (5-2-1, 3.35 goals-against average, .889 save percentage).

Bobrovsky (20-16-5, 3.27 GAA, .898 SP) was in net on Nov. 19, the most recent game in which the Panthers hosted the Flyers. Florida won that game 5-2, and the Flyers pulled their goalie, Carter Hart, after he allowed four goals.

The Flyers got revenge this past Monday night, beating the Panthers 4-1 in Philadelphia. Hart made 30 saves in that game to get the better of Bobrovsky as the Flyers recovered from a 1-0 deficit, scoring four straight goals.

It was Hart’s first game back after missing one month of action due to an abdominal injury.

“Carter looked calm and poised,” Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk said of Hart. “He made some big saves.”

Hart is 16-11-3 with a 2.55 GAA and a .908 save percentage. Backup Brian Elliott, who took a 5-3 loss on Tuesday to the New York Islanders, is 14-7-4 with a 2.90 GAA and an .898 save percentage.

Offensively, the Flyers are led by center Sean Couturier in assists (34) and points (50). Center Travis Konecny tops the team with 19 goals. Defenseman Ivan Provorov tops the team with six power-play goals.

Despite Tuesday’s loss, the Flyers have been playing well — 8-3-1 in their past 12 games.

Both teams are relatively healthy, although the Panthers are without bottom-six center Brian Boyle, who hasn’t played since Feb. 1 due to an upper-body injury.

The Flyers are without third-line forwards Oskar Lindblom (upper-body injury) and Nolan Patrick (migraines). Lindblom has 11 goals and seven assists in 30 games this season. Patrick, the No. 2 overall NHL draft pick in 2017, has yet to play this season after scoring 26 goals his first two years.

–Field Level Media

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