Ottawa Senators: 10-13-4, 24 pts (6th in Atlantic) at Florida Panthers: 7-15-5, 19 pts (7th in Atlantic)
The Florida Panthers will look to get their first win over an Atlantic Division rival tonight when they take on the Ottawa Senators at the BB&T Center, 7:30 p.m. ET.
The Panthers have gone 0-5-1 against teams in the newly formed division this season, including a 3-2 loss in Ottawa on November 9th. That game also marked the head coaching debut for Peter Horachek who took on interim duties after the firing of Kevin Dineen. Tonight will be the second of four meetings between these two teams. The final two match ups will be held Dec. 19, in Ottawa and March 25, in Florida.
The Panthers closed out the month of November on a two game losing streak suffering defeats at home to the Rangers (5-2) and Penguins (5-1). Florida was outscored 10-3 in the losses despite outshooting their opponents 73-44 in the two game span. The Panthers compiled a 4-8-3 November record and picked up 11 points, a small improvement over their October where they went 3-7-2 and tallied 8 points. Florida is 4-6-1 since Horachek replaced Dineen behind the bench prior to their November 9, game against the Sens.
Tonight is a big game for the Panthers because it is a chance for them to make up some ground against a division rival in what amounts to a possible four-point-swing game. The Senators are just five points ahead of the Panthers in the standings but a regulation loss would put Florida seven points back while a regulation win would bring them within three.
The Senators have looked vulnerable recently as they have compiled a 3-7-0 record over their last 10 games. The Sens are led by superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson who’s 27 points (7 goals, 20 assists) are tops on the team and also tops amongst all NHL defensemen. The Senators also boast a potent trio of forwards; Bobby Ryan (13-12-25), Jason Spezza (10-12-22) and Kyle Turris (6-15-21).
Ex-Panther Craig Anderson will be in net for the Senators. Anderson played for the Panthers from 2006-09. He has struggled this season (3.51 GAA, .894 SV% in 17 games) and has seen some of his playing time go to the 22-year-old Robin Lehner (2.44 GAA, .933 SV% in 13 games). Despite his current shaky play, Anderson has always played well when facing his former team as he is 9-1-1 with a 1.90 GAA and a .938 SV% against the Panthers.
Tonight will be the first chance for Jesse Winchester to face Ottawa, the team he played with for four seasons prior to missing last season with a concussion. Winchester was out of the lineup when the Panthers previously faced the Sens as he was serving a three game suspension for a hit to the head of Bruins’ forward Chris Kelly.
The big lineup change for the Panthers is Horachek’s decision to bench defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. Kulikov has had a rough stretch of turnover filled games and it appears Horachek is using the benching tonight to send a message to his young d-man while also giving Kulikov a chance to gather himself mentally. Mike Mottau will fill in for Kulikov.
Tomas Kopecky is getting closer to a return but is still out with an injury and Scott Gomez will be replaced in the lineup by Krys Barch. Tim Thomas will be back in net trying to bounce back from two tough outings against the Rangers and Penguins. Here is the Panthers projected lineup: