The Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators made noteworthy turnarounds last season and enter this campaign looking for more following first-round playoff defeats.
Each team opened this season with a victory but the Senators might have a better chance at another one Monday night, judging by their recent home dominance of the Panthers.
Florida finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2010-11 but won its first division title last season and ended a 12-year playoff drought. The Panthers, though, fell in seven games to New Jersey in that long-awaited postseason appearance.
Florida got its drive to return to the playoffs off to a strong start as Brian Campbell scored two opening-period goals in a 5-1 rout of Carolina in Saturday’s season opener. Former first-round draft pick Jonathan Huberdeau, 19, had a goal and two assists in his NHL debut, and 39-year-old linemate Alex Kovalev matched that production.
“We just have to play every game like it’s our last game, like a playoff game, and that’s what it’s going to be, I think,” Kovalev said.
The Senators improved from 13th in the East in 2010-11 to eighth last season and made the playoffs for the second time in the past four seasons. Ottawa, though, also fell in seven games – to the New York Rangers – but started this season with a 4-1 victory in Winnipeg on Saturday.
Reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson had a goal and two assists, and Craig Anderson kept the Jets scoreless over the final 54 minutes while making 27 saves.
“As the game went, we got a little better,” coach Paul MacLean said. “We have to still get even better than we were if we want to continue to win.”
In their home opener, the Senators (1-0-0) will try to win their first two games in a season for the first time since staring 5-0-0 in 2007-08. They’ll also try to record a sixth straight home win over the Panthers (1-0-0).
Ottawa won both of last season’s matchups at Scotiabank Place in dramatic fashion. The Senators scored with 2.5 seconds left in a 4-3 victory Oct. 27, 2011, and won by the same margin in overtime in December.
Florida snapped a nine-game skid in the series March 4 by scoring four unanswered goals in a 4-2 home victory.
The Panthers haven’t won their first two games since Oct. 5-7, 2005, and might have to figure out a way to get the puck past Anderson, a former teammate, during that attempt. Anderson is 6-0-0 with a 1.82 goals-against average in his last six games against Florida.
Jose Theodore could make a second straight start for the Panthers. He’s allowed two goals in each of his last three appearances against Ottawa.
If he starts, Theodore might want to keep a close eye on Daniel Alfredsson. The Senators captain has six goals and seven assists in his last eight games against Florida, and he’s recorded a combined seven points (three goals, four assists) in his last three home matchups.
Alfredsson also has at least one point in each of his last 12 home games versus the Panthers, totaling nine goals and nine assists.