The Panthers have two huge games this week, starting on Tuesday as they face the Eastern Conference leading Ottawa Senators. (AP Photo/Sean Kilpatrick,The Canadian Press)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
After a three-game road trip that yielded two points, the Panthers got back to work Monday morning at IncredibleIce and began preparation for two “huge games” this week at BankAtlantic Center, according to GM and coach Jacques Martin.
Just four points from the top in the Southeast Division and with a game in hand on division-leading Carolina, the Panthers could enter the All-Star break at the top of the Southeast with victories this week against Ottawa and Edmonton.
“I think these are two huge games for us,” Martin said. “Talking to the team this morning, when you look at the division right now, we’re four points out of first place with a game in hand.
“But we control our own fate with the number off games we have. We have to win some games, and the way to do that is to play well away from the puck.”
The Senators will come to town Tuesday after suffering Sunday their worst loss of the season, a 6-1 setback to the Flyers. Coupled with Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Lightning, the Senators will come to town having lost four of their last five games. Goalie Martin Gerber was replaced Sunday by Ray Emery after allowing four goals on 14 shots. The Senators are expected to get a huge lift Tuesday with captain Daniel Alfredsson back in the lineup after missing the past two games with a hip flexor injury.
The Oilers, like the Panthers, are fighting to climb into a playoff spot. They’re five points behind Colorado for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Oilers play in Tampa Tuesday. They won 4-2 Sunday in Atlanta.
“We know Ottawa coming in is going to be a challenge, especially with Alfredsson coming back,” said Martin of the Senators, who remain atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 30-14-4 record. “But we have to be prepared to play well defensively and play like we did in New Jersey Friday night. I thought it was a strong, team game. And be prepared to win the specialty team battles. In Washington the other night (Saturday), they got three (power play) goals and we got two. They won the hockey game.”
Olli Jokinen said the Panthers just need to play with a little more consistency.
“It’s pretty amazing that we’re still right there (in the Southeast), only four points behind (Carolina) and three games under .500,” he said. “I just think we need more guys playing consistent. We do pretty good when we have 20 guys doing that. We win most nights when we do that.”
Along with being home for two important games before the All-Star break, the Panthers are close to getting some key players back in the next week. Defensemen Cory Murphy (shoulder) and Branislav Mezei (hand) both practiced with the team Monday and could be ready to play against the Senators. Forward Jozef Stumpel (shoulder) could be ready to play as soon as Thursday.
“We’ve got some guys who are close,” Martin said. “Cory, whether he’s back? We’ll see how he is tomorrow. He’ll probably be a game time decision. Mezei the same thing.”
While the Senators are expecting Alfredsson back against the Panthers, Dany Heatley, the ninth-leading scorer in the league (25 goals, 31 assists) is out indefinitely after hurting his right shoulder last week against Detroit…The Panthers power play is now sixth in the league overall, fourth in the league at home. The Senators power play is ranked 13th overall and 13th on the road…