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Hurricanes, Panthers in search of bounce-back efforts

by Sean McCullen

PANTHERS (18-22-7) at HURRICANES (19-18-9)


Last 10: Florida 4-4-2; Carolina 5-4-1

Season series: This is the first of three games between the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes. The former Southwest Division foes split four games in 2012-13, with each team winning once on home ice and once on the road.

Big story: The Panthers and Hurricanes are going to have to get their power plays going if they want to get in the Stanley Cup Playoff mix. The Panthers are last in the NHL at 9.2 percent with the man advantage; the Hurricanes aren't much better, coming in at 25th in the League at 14.6 percent.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Florida continued its win-one, lose-one start to 2014 on Thursday against the San Jose Sharks, falling 3-0 at home. The Panthers are 3-2-1 in six games this year.

The Panthers went 0-for-3 with the man advantage against San Jose, extending their run of futility to 27 consecutive power plays. They have not scored on the power play in their past eight games.

The Panthers' recent struggles extend beyond the power play, though. They have been shut out or held to one goal in five of their past seven games.

Coach Peter Horachek challenged his team to get out to quicker starts.

"It starts with the first period. Not being ready to play. That's gotta be what we do," he said following the loss to San Jose. "We have to be able to come out in the first period and work and play 60 minutes. It's concerning."

Hurricanes: Carolina has not played since a 2-0 loss to the Calgary Flames at PNC Arena on Monday. The Hurricanes have lost two straight, both by shutout, following a five-game winning streak.

Coach Kirk Muller plans to reunite Eric Staal, Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty, who returned to action Monday after missing eight games following an appendectomy, to try to get the offense going.

The Hurricanes practiced for three of the four days during the rare break in the schedule, with the power play and penalty kill getting much of the attention. Carolina is 3-for-17 on the power play its past five games. Removing a 2-for-6 performance with the man advantage in a 6-1 rout of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 9, they're 1-for-11 over that stretch.

“We worked on special teams every day," Muller told the media after practice Friday. "It was more like a review of our system – our defensive zone coverage, our neutral zone and our offensive attack. We did more video than we normally do to go over stuff, and then we applied it in practice.”

Beginning Saturday, the Hurricanes play 11 games in 22 days before the Olympic break, with eight at PNC Arena.

“We’re focused on the games coming up. It’s a big weekend,” Muller said. “We’ve got to take advantage of being a strong home team here until the Olympic break.”

Who's hot: Panthers goaltender Tim Thomas made 36 saves against San Jose. He is 2-2-1 his past five starts with a 1.94 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. … Hurricanes goalie Anton Khudobin is 3-2-0 his past five starts with a 1.60 GAA and .940 save percentage. Jeff Skinner has nine goals in his past 10 games and 12 in 15.

Injury report: Panthers center Jesse Winchester (bruised hand) has been out since sustaining the injury blocking a shot against the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 15, but is likely to join the team in Carolina for the start to a three-game road trip. Defensemen Alex Petrovic (upper body) and Dylan Olsen (lower body) are on injured reserve. … Carolina goalie Cam Ward (lower body), who has been on IR since Dec. 31, left wing Drayson Bowman (lower body), who sat out against Calgary, and right wing Patrick Dwyer (lower body) are day-to-day. Muller expects Dwyer to play.

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