The Florida Panthers have begun to turn around their season as the calendar year draws to a close. They'll try to finish on a high note when they host the Montreal Canadiens on Friday.
The Panthers are still in last place in the Southeast Division with 35 points, but have played well near the end of December. Florida is 6-5-2 in the month with Friday's contest being the team's last before the new year. The Panthers were 5-7-2 in October and 3-7-3 in November.
The Panthers beat Philadelphia 3-1 on Wednesday, their fourth win in six games. Before this stretch, Florida (14-19-7) had lost 10 of 12.
"With Montreal coming in, it isn't going to be easy, but it's an opportunity to be over .500 for the first time for the month," Florida coach Jacques Martin said. "It's a big game for us against Montreal. We need to get some wins before we go on the road."
Florida begins a three-game road trip on Jan. 2 against Edmonton. The Panthers are only 5-11-5 on the road while they are 9-8-2 at home.
Rostislav Olesz scored 30 seconds into Wednesday's game for Florida and added an assist, and Jozef Stumpel and Mike Van Ryn also scored for the Panthers. Olesz, Stumpel and Martin Gelinas, who had two assists, were playing on the same line for the first time this season.
"Right away you could see (Olesz) had the fire going," Gelinas said, "and you just want to match that energy."
Florida and Montreal have split two meetings this season, with the Panthers winning 5-1 at home on Nov. 16 and the Canadiens winning 1-0 in a shootout on Nov. 28 in Montreal.
Florida has won four of its last five at home against Montreal, and has earned at least a point in nine of 10 overall against the Canadiens.
Montreal (22-9-5) is in the midst of a four-game road trip. The team lost 4-2 to Boston in the opener on Saturday, then bounced back to beat Washington 4-1 on Wednesday.
The Canadiens have won six of seven and have 49 points, second in the Northeast Division to Buffalo, but also the second-most points in the Eastern Conference.
Mathieu Dandenault and Aaron Downey scored first-period goals and Cristobal Huet made 30 saves for Montreal in Wednesday's victory, the team's third in its last four road games.
The goals were the first of the season for both Dandenault and Downey, who both snapped long goalless droughts. Downey hadn't scored since April 4 while Dandenault's last goal came on April 6.
"Right now, when guys are getting chances, they're making the most of them," said Canadiens defenseman Sheldon Souray, who had a goal and an assist. "That's good, we need everyone to contribute. We can't rely on our top line, or our top two lines, to do the offensive work every single night. It's nice when other guys can contribute."
The Canadiens, who are 10-5-2 on the road, finish their trip at Tampa Bay on Saturday.