Last-place Hurricanes visit inconsistent Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers continue to make very little sense.

They won the 2016 Atlantic Division title — against long odds — and then proceeded to change just about everything, from their uniforms to many of their players before finally firing coach Gerard Gallant.

Then, earlier this month, they finally seemed to have turned a corner, producing the first 5-0-0 road trip in franchise history … only to lose on Sunday night, marking four consecutive home defeats.

Worse yet, their starting goalie, Roberto Luongo, has lost confidence. And interim coach Tom Rowe apparently has lost confidence in Luongo as well, starting him just twice in the past six games.

Perhaps Luongo will get the start on Tuesday night when the Panthers (28-23-10) play host to the Carolina Hurricanes, who are in last place in the Eastern Conference.

After all, Luongo, who turns 38 in April, is a star in this league with 452 career wins. He is three wins short of passing Curtis Joseph for fourth place in NHL history.

However, Luongo’s .913 save percentage this season is well below his career average of .920 and would be his worst since the 2012-13 season, when he was limited to 20 games. In seasons in which he has played at least 25 games, this year’s save percentage is tied for the worst of his career.

Luongo’s 2.73 goals-against average is also poor, by his standards at least. If that number holds up, it would be his worst GAA since the 2005-06 season.

“Right now, I don’t deserve to be playing — that’s the bottom line,” Luongo told The Miami Herald at Sunday’s morning skate. “It’s been a battle (to get his game right) for the last little while.

“I’m glad we have a guy like (backup James) Reimer who is able to step in and do the job.”

Reimer made 31 saves but took a 2-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Sunday.

“For me, everything is about the team and us winning games,” said Luongo, who is 16-15-6 this season. “James Reimer gives us a better chance to win every night (right now).

“Until I figure my game out, this is the way it should go, I think.”

Reimer, who turns 29 next month, is 12-8-4 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.46 goals-against average, which are better than his career averages.

Luongo, who had labrum surgery after last season, hinted there might be an injury issue currently but simultaneously downplayed that as a factor in his struggles.

“I can’t talk about that right now,” Luongo said. “Things aren’t going the way I want.”

That’s the case for the rest of the Panthers, too. Reilly Smith, for example, missed an easy chance at what could have been a tying goal in Sunday’s loss to Ottawa.

“He fanned on it, so I think I got a lucky break there,” Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson said. “He didn’t get all of it, and I was able to track it because it was slow enough to where I could react.

“If he gets all of that — a slap shot at 90 miles per hour — you are not going to stop it unless it hits you.”

But as bad as things are right now for the Panthers, they are worse for the Hurricanes, who are 1-5-1 in their past seven games, falling even further out of contention.

The Hurricanes (25-25-8) squandered a five-game homestand that culminated in a 3-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Sunday.

As a result, the Hurricanes figure to be sellers before Wednesday trade deadline and have already dumped veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey in a deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“We’ve made it easy for management (to dump players),” Carolina coach Bill Peters said Sunday night. “(Management) will be making more decisions — I’m sure they are busy as we speak.

“I don’t have much of a leg to stand on, to argue (for keeping players).”