SUNRISE — If the Florida Panthers are going to make a climb back into the playoff race, it is going to have to start now with the Coyotes in town on Tuesday night.
The Panthers have one more game left on home ice before they embark on a four-game road trip that starts a stretch of nine of their next 11 away from FLA Live Arena.
Now sitting eight points out of a playoff spot with 44 games to go, it is not going to be an easy task.
”It’s not about ‘one game at a time,’ it’s about ‘our game at a time,’” coach Paul Maurice said.
”I would say the last two periods of our last game against the New York Rangers were decidedly different from any other hockey we’ve played all year. So to say that winning percentage has to come in the environment of games that we played prior to that fight, it’s a pretty tall order based on the hockey we had played.
E-d”But if we play the way we played during those two periods against the Rangers every single night, and it’s going to be hard, but it is also the direction we have to go in to ever have a chance at winning a playoff series legitimately.”
The Arizona Coyotes look like the perfect team to start a run against on paper but have looked better than their 13-17-5 record suggests — especially against the Panthers.
When these two teams faced off in early November, the Coyotes rode a 42-save performance from Karel Vejmelka and dominance on both spectrums of special teams play to a 3-1 victory over the Panthers at Mullet Arena.
The key for Florida tonight is to win those battles on special teams — and it is a tough order for a team that is 1-for-10 on the power play in its last two games and a penalty kill that is operating at the eighth-worst efficiency in the league (72.4 percent) since the start of December.
“I’m concerned about our penalty killing, not our power play,” Maurice said.
”Our power play got off to this unusual start where we went 2-for-33 in the first seven games. Expected goals at the time, we were sixth in the NHL, so we had a whole bunch of chances. But since Game 7, we are running at just under 25 percent … that is good enough to win.
“Our penalty kill is the issue and that ties to our goaltending, that ties to our aggressiveness and the compete level we talked about in the last two periods. All of those things go together.”
PANTHERS LINEUP UPDATES
Spencer Knight will make his third start since leaving midway through Florida’s Dec. 6 loss to the Winnipeg Jets and subsequently catching an illness.
He is 0-2-0 with a .817/5.50 in losses to the NHL’s two best teams since returning to the lineup.
Chris Tierney was sent back to AHL Charlotte to get some games in before the Panthers’ four-game trip with Givani Smith being called up to the big club to be a healthy scratch against Arizona.
Anthony Duclair is still week-to-week after having Achilles tendon surgery during the offseason.
As expected, Duclair will not play until after the All-Star break in early February.
PANTHERS ON DECK
ARIZONA COYOTES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Panthers favored: Moneyline (-345); Puck line (-1.5, -125); O/U 6.5 (-105,-115)
- This season (Arizona leads 1-0): Coyotes 3, Panthers 1 (Nov. 1)
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Arizona leads 20-16-2, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Friday night at Detroit Red Wings
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 16 Sasha Barkov // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
27 Eetu Luostarinen // 9 Sam Bennett // 21 Nick Cousins
6 Colin White // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
94 Ryan Lomberg // 12 Eric Staal // 22 Zac Dalpe
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
18 Marc Staal // 62 Brandon Montour
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
30 Spencer Knight
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
Injured: Anthony Duclair (LTIR-Achilles), Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion)
Scratched: Matt Kiersted, Givani Smith
PROJECTED ARIZONA COYOTES LINEUP
9 Clayton Keller // 72 Travis Boyd // 53 Michael Carcone
22 Jack McBain // 17 Nick Bjugstad // 67 Lawson Crouse
12 Nick Ritchie // 29 Barrett Hayton // 36 Christian Fisher
3 Josh Brown // Laurent Dauphin // 44 Zach Kassian
6 Jakob Chychrun // 14 Shayne Gostisbehere
4 Juuso Valimaki // 90 J.J. Moser
2 Patrick Nemeth // 51 Troy Stecher
70 Karel Vejmelka
39 Connor Ingram