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Panthers aim to rebound against Canadiens

by Arpon Basu

CANADIENS (7-4-1) at PANTHERS (4-6-2)


Last 10: Montreal 6-3-1, Florida 3-5-2.

Season series: The Canadiens took the first game of the season series 4-1 at Bell Centre in Montreal on Jan. 22. Andrei Markov scored twice and Canadiens rookie Alex Galchenyuk scored his first career goal in the game, while Tomas Kopecky replied for the Panthers.

Big story: Both teams blew big third-period leads in their past games, the difference being the Canadiens beat the Lightning in a shootout, while the Panthers suffered a demoralizing loss to Washington in overtime. It was Florida’s third loss in four games and eighth in 11 games since opening the season with a win.

Team Scope:

Canadiens: The Canadiens blowing a 3-0 lead in the final 5:56 of regulation against Tampa Bay the other night before winning in a shootout made it clear that this has become a real trend this season, much as it was last season.

That was the third time in four games the Canadiens entered the third period with a lead, and on each of those three occasions they allowed their opponents to come back on them. They were ahead 1-0 after 40 minutes against Boston on Feb. 6, but the Bruins scored twice in the opening 2:05 of the third to take the lead and win by a 2-1 score. The next night in Buffalo, the Canadiens led 4-2 in the third but allowed the Sabres to tie it with 1.9 seconds left in regulation and lost in a shootout. A 6-0 loss to the Maple Leafs followed, and then there was the game in Tampa on Tuesday.

Overall, a team that had the NHL’s worst winning percentage last season when leading after two periods has allowed 14 goals in the third period and scored just six. The good news is the Canadiens are outscoring their opponents 27-18 through the first two periods, but coach Michel Therrien says his team is still trying to figure out how to translate that into wins.

“You can’t forget that a team needs to learn how to win,” he said after practice Wednesday. “It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to learn from your mistakes.”

Panthers: The Panthers allowed 11 goals while being swept in a home and home with the Capitals, and their 3.83 goals against per game is by far the worst in the NHL. Still coach Kevin Dineen has not lost faith in his goaltending tandem of Jose Theodore – who is expected to get the start against Montreal – and Scott Clemmensen.

For the mean time, Dineen says, there are no plans to bring in highly touted prospect Jacob Markstrom from San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

“I'm not being coy, but we have two goalies who are proven NHL guys who haven't performed up to their expectations the past couple of games,” Dineen told the Miami Herald after practice on Wednesday. “They have to be better and we have to be better as a team.”

The Panthers are allowing 30 shots against per game, which ranked 23rd in the NHL prior to Wednesday night’s games, and their penalty kill is struggling along at 72.9 percent, which was 27th in the League. The Panthers allowed the Capitals power play to go 3-for-5 in two games, and they’ve allowed a power-play goal against in four straight games.

Who’s hot: For the Canadiens, defenseman P.K. Subban had a goal and an assist against Tampa Bay and now has six points in the six games he’s played this season. Center Tomas Plekanec has two goals and two assists in his last four games. … For the Panthers, they are getting great production from their kids. Rookie Drew Shore scored his first NHL goal and added an assist against Tampa Bay. Fellow rookie Jonathan Huberdeau scored twice against Tampa and has four goals and an assist in his last six games. Tomas Fleischmann has two goals and four assists in his last six games.

Injury report: Panthers forward Kris Versteeg was given the day off from practice Wednesday and was called questionable by Dineen to face the Canadiens. Forward Scottie Upshall and defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Michael Caruso are all on injured reserve. … The Canadiens are without center Petteri Nokelainen.

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