Senators-Panthers Preview

The Ottawa Senators aren’t going to the playoffs, but they are

at least giving themselves reason for some optimism as they look

ahead to 2011-12.

The Senators look to continue their improved late-season play

Thursday night when they face the Florida Panthers in a matchup of

teams eliminated from postseason contention.

The Senators (29-38-10), last in the Eastern Conference, have

five games left in a season that fell apart during a 1-13-4 slump

from Dec. 29-Feb. 9. Ottawa, though, has managed to go 12-8-2 since

while killing off 76 of 79 penalties.

“We’re just doing a lot of good things,” coach Cory Clouston

said following a 5-2 loss to Tampa Bay on Tuesday that snapped a

three-game point streak. “We feel we have a good strategy going

into each game. The guys understand what they need to do, we’re

getting good goaltending and we’re reading and reacting. It’s a

credit to the guys going out there.”

Former Panther Craig Anderson has been one of the major reasons

for Ottawa’s turnaround, going 8-4-1 with a 1.99 goals-against

average in 14 starts since being acquired from Colorado last

month.

In his second start following that deal, Anderson made 23 saves

as the Senators defeated the Panthers 5-1 on Feb. 23 to snap a

season-worst 0-7-3 home stretch.

Anderson made 33 saves and defenseman Erik Karlsson scored twice

in the final 8:48 of the last meeting, a 2-1 Senators win at

Florida on March 10. That extended Ottawa’s winning streak in the

series to five.

Ottawa, two points back of the Panthers (29-36-12), has won

three straight road games in the series and has gone 15-3-0 in its

last 18 at Sunrise.

That doesn’t bode well for a Florida club that scored five times

during a 0-3-2 trip that ended with a 3-2 shootout loss to Columbus

on Tuesday. The Panthers have lost a season-high six straight.

“We looked like we were playing our fifth game in seven

nights,” said coach Peter DeBoer, whose club was eliminated from

playoff contention for a league-record 10th straight season Friday.

“It was a real gutsy effort by our group. The last game of a road

trip that hasn’t been easy.”

The last time Florida lost seven in a row was an 0-6-1 stretch

from Feb. 1-March 2, 2010.

Backup Scott Clemmensen could make his second consecutive start

for the Panthers, which could be a positive for Florida considering

the way Tomas Vokoun has struggled against the Senators. Vokoun,

who suffered back tightness after regulation in a 2-1 shootout loss

to Pittsburgh on Sunday, has gone 3-11-0 with a 3.36 GAA in 15

starts versus Ottawa.

Clemmensen, though, allowed all five goals Feb. 23.

Ottawa will try to sweep the season series from Florida for the

first time since 2006-07.