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Behind Enemy Lines: The Slumping Florida Panthers Face a Must-Win

The Panthers are currently on a three-game losing streak, trying to right the ship at home against the Hurricanes.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Somebody call a cab, it’s the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers.

Last time these two met in November, national headlines were made when the Panthers immediately fired head coach Gerard Gallant after a 3-2 loss. After the loss, assistant general manager Tom Rowe took over the coaching duties.

Many felt that the firing was unwarranted due to the team dealing with key injuries to forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Jussi Jokinen, and Nick Bjugstad. The team did not respond well to the firing immediately and went 5-4-6 in the month of December which set the team back.

It wasn’t until last week when the Panthers had climbed back into playoff position, where many believed that the team would be before the season started. However, right after getting to third place in the Atlantic Division, the Panthers immediately started a three-game skid which has left them in fifth place in the Atlantic. Tonight’s game has now become one of the most important games in the Panthers season, as it is key for them to stop their skid and get two valuable points for the playoff race.

The good news for the Panthers is that they finally have a healthy lineup. Huberdeau now has 10 games under his belt after recovering from a torn Achilles. Since returning the 23-year-old winger has averaged a point per game and has recorded four goals and six assists.

February 3rd also marked the return of forward Aleksander Barkov who had been out since December 28th. Since returning, Barkov is tied with Huberdeau for most points on the team with 10 but leads the team with seven goals. The two players have combined for 20 points in 10 games and their return has led to a 6-4-0 record and a five-game win streak. With a win tonight this would be the best monthly record for the Panthers this season with just over a month remaining in the season.

This game is also unique in the fact that both teams have a significant chance of looking different tonight than they do right now. The deadline may be Wednesday, but teams have been very active over the past week. The Panthers are looking to buy and the Canes are looking to sell.

Game Notes:

  • This is the 12th back-to-back for the Hurricanes who have a 6-3-2 record in the first half of them.
  • Florida’s career point per game leaders against Carolina are Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr. Huberdeau has 12 points in 12 games (4g, 8a) and Jagr has 118 points (38g, 80a) in 87 games.
  • The Canes match up well against the Panthers in the faceoff circle. The Panthers rank 27th in the league with a 47.9% win percentage whereas the Canes rank 5th in the league with a 52.4% faceoff percentage.
  • The game will be fast and furious, the Panthers average the fourth most shots for per game with 31.9. They also let up 31.6 shots per game. Expect a high volume of shots from both teams.