Senators, Panthers may need defense to create offense

The Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers have discovered that some of their best offense comes from their defense.

The two Atlantic Division clubs meet for the first of four meetings this season in south Florida on Saturday night.

Ottawa (11-14-8, 30 points) slots at seventh in the eight-team division, and Florida (14-16-5, 33 points) is tied for fifth with Detroit.

When the teams meet Saturday, it may be the blue line putting up the goal-scoring numbers rather than the talented forwards up front.

Ottawa places fifth in the NHL among total goals by defensemen with 20.

Cody Ceci leads the Ottawa defensemen in goals and was the latest blue-liner to score, netting his fifth this season in a 4-3 shootout loss in Tampa on Thursday.

Captain Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf and Chris Wideman each have three.

The Senators are riding a two-game losing streak and have allowed 10 goals in matchups against Minnesota and Tampa Bay this week.

Last Saturday, goaltender Craig Anderson blanked Montreal 3-0 in the 2017 Scotiabank NHL100 Classic at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa.

However, that game — played in front of a sellout crowd of 33,959 — may be a distant memory to Senators coach Guy Boucher.

More significant is that Thursday’s loss occurred in Tampa, where he coached the Lightning for 2 1/2 seasons from 2010 to 2013.

Worse still was that Ottawa gave up a lead three times to Tampa Bay in the loss, but Boucher managed to find positives in the road defeat.

“I think we had a terrific first period. We knew they were going to push back, they are the best team in the league,” Boucher said to the media. “But our penalty kill played great, the power play scored, our goalie played great, Erik (Karlsson) had a great game.

“A lot of positives out of that game, and it’s too bad we couldn’t hold one of these leads.”

Florida has also benefited from strong offensive play from the club’s back end.

The Panthers slot right behind Minnesota in goals by defensemen with 19.

Aaron Ekblad leads the club with six, and Keith Yandle, Ian McCoshen, Mark Pysyk and Mike Matheson each have three.

Matheson has made the most of his trio.

The 2012 first-round pick (23rd overall) from Boston College has scored all three of his goals in the last six games after failing to net one in his first 28.

Two of the goals — his first of the season against Detroit in overtime on Dec. 11 and Tuesday in Arizona — have been game-winners for the sophomore blue-liner.

Matheson stole the puck near Arizona’s zone, made a powerful drive through the slot and slipped in the game-winner past Coyotes goalie Antti Raanta to end Florida’s road trip.

“Unbelievable goal,” Panthers forward Nick Bjugstad told the media. “I can’t believe he did that.”

Saturday’s game against the Senators is the second of Florida’s four-game homestand to end 2017.

The Panthers host Philadelphia next Thursday before playing Montreal on Dec. 30, an annual end-of-the-year match between the division rivals.