The Florida Panthers face an uphill battle in their quest to repeat as Southeast Division champions. They look to get on track Tuesday evening and avoid a fourth straight loss in a home matchup with the Winnipeg Jets.
The Panthers' first ever division title snapped a 10-season playoff drought for the club, but a year of higher expectations has thus far been a disappointment. Florida is tied for last in the division with the Washington Capitals and its six victories on the season are tied for the fewest in the NHL.
A sweep in a home-and-home set over the weekend at the hands of the first- place Carolina Hurricanes only furthered the Panthers' current rut as they have lost five of six and 10 of their previous 12 (2-6-4). Following a 6-3 loss in Carolina on Thursday, Florida was handed a 3-2 home defeat by the Hurricanes on Sunday.
Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau scored both goals, his team-leading ninth and 10th of the season, while Scott Clemmensen allowed three goals on 24 shots in the loss.
"It's the win that's important. I don't care if I score two goals and we lose," Huberdeau said. "We have to work harder."
Clemmensen could get the bulk of the work in the near future after Jose Theodore was placed on injured reserve on Sunday, one day after he suffered a lower body injury 2 1/2 minutes into the game versus the 'Canes. Theodore reportedly has a torn right groin and could be headed for surgery.
However, with Clemmensen falling to 2-3-2 with a 4.15 goals against average and .859 save percentage in 10 games this season, the Panthers could give 2008 second-round pick Jacob Markstrom a hard look as well.
Either way, Theodore joins defensemen Dmitry Kulikov, Ed Jovanovski, Mike Weaver, Michael Caruso and forward Kris Versteeg on IR.
The Jets were looking for a little help from the Panthers over the weekend, but Carolina's sweep and Winnipeg's 3-0 loss to Washington on Saturday dropped the Jets four points out of first place in the division.
Winnipeg had won three straight before getting shut out by the visiting Caps and saw a string of five straight games with at least three goals scored snapped.
The Jets, who had scored 11 goals over their win streak, outshot the Capitals 15-5 in the first and 16-3 in the third, but saw their power play go 0-for-3. They are now just 1-for-32 on the man advantage over the past 12 games.
Ondrej Pavelec recorded 18 saves in the setback, but yielded a goal in the second period and a pair of tallies less than a minute apart in the third.
"I think when you're the home team, you don't want to let a road team off the hook," said Jets forward Evander Kane. "I thought we did that, especially going into the second period. In terms of the third period, just some breakdowns defensively and the pucks (end up) in the back of our net."
The Jets open up a four-game road trip and will also visit the Panthers on Friday following a contest in Tampa Bay the previous night. They have won five of the past seven as the guest in this series, though they did suffer a 6-3 loss in Sunrise on Jan. 31.
The Panthers notched five goals in the third period of that game, their only win in the past four overall meetings with the Jets.