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Red-hot Panthers set to face Senators

by Mike Battaglino

PANTHERS (13-17-5) at SENATORS (14-16-6)


Last 10: Florida 6-4-0; Ottawa 4-4-2

Season series: The Ottawa Senators defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Nov. 9. It was the first game for Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek, who took over for Kevin Dineen, who was fired the day before. The Senators won 4-2 on Dec. 3, putting Horachek's record at 4-7-1.

Big story: Since then, Florida has won six of seven, and four in a row. Three of those games in the winning streak, the team the Panthers defeated played the night before, as the Senators did Wednesday.

"Our focus is one game, and we've had a good opportunity to jump on a bad schedule for the opponent," forward Scottie Upshall told the Miami Herald.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Each of the teams Florida has defeated in its winning streak is in Stanley Cup Playoff position. The Panthers trail the Toronto Maple Leafs, whom they defeated 3-1 Tuesday, by six points (and five teams) for a wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Horachek is now 10-8-1, but general manager Dale Tallon is not ready to remove the interim tag.

"I don't see why we would rush into anything. Things are going well; let's just let things happen," Tallon told the Sun Sentinel on Wednesday. "... He's two games over .500 on a team with 13 new faces on it. He's done a good job."

Florida can get within three games of .500 for the first time since Oct. 22.

"We've got to get back to .500," defenseman Brian Campbell said. "If we can get there ... maybe even before the Olympic break, it will be a great success for us. … We really like what Pete is doing."

Forward Jonathan Huberdeau (foot) is expected to play after missing two games.

Senators: Ottawa for the seventh straight time failed to win two games in a row, losing to the New Jersey Devils 5-2 Wednesday. The Senators haven't won two in row since three straight from Nov. 5-9; they have lost at least two in a row three times since then.

"We're hurting ourselves by not stringing together some games, there's no doubt about that," captain Jason Spezza said.

The team held a closed-door meeting after the loss Wednesday.

"We have to find a way to come to the rink every day and work harder to get better than we are, because we're an inconsistent group," Senators coach Paul MacLean said, according to the Ottawa Sun. "... We can play good against good teams, we play bad against teams that are even with us or below us, and that's just a lack of focus, that's a lack of leadership, that's a lack of preparation, that's just a lack of us wanting to play in the National Hockey League and be a team that is willing to do what it takes to be elite. We're a long, long way from being an elite team in the League."

Craig Anderson will start in goal after Robin Lehner lost for the third time starting four of the past five games.

"Well, we've got lots of time till we play next," MacLean added sarcastically. "So we'll see if we can figure something out by the time we have to drop the puck again."

Who's hot: Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen has won three in a row (1.30 goals-against average, .944 save percentage). Defenseman Dylan Olsen has eight points in 11 games since arriving from the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade for forward Kris Versteeg. Forward Alexsander Barkov has four points in his past four games. … Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson has a three-game point streak after two points over the six previous games.

Injury report: Panthers forward Jesse Winchester (hand) will be out 3-4 weeks after blocking a shot against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, Tallon said. Goalie Tim Thomas (groin) skated for a second straight day and may be activated from injured reserve Friday to face the Winnipeg Jets. … Senators defenseman Marc Methot (flu) hasn't played since Dec. 10 (four games) but will return to the lineup.

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