NHL

Senators, Panthers return to work in division matchup

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Let the stretch run begin.

Now that the NHL All-Star Game is out of the way, the Ottawa Senators (26-15-6) visit the Florida Panthers (21-19-10) on Tuesday night in an Atlantic Division battle at the BB&T Center.

The Senators are in second place in the division and have played well lately, going 4-0-2 just before the break. They have 58 points.

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Even so, the Senators were disappointed with the final game they played before the break, losing 3-2 in overtime to the Calgary Flames.

"We didn't play the way we wanted," Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson told the media after that loss. "We were lucky to come away with a point."

The Senators promise to come into Tuesday's game motivated.

Meanwhile, Florida (52 points) has a lot of work to do. The Panthers are in fifth place in the division and not in playoff position at the moment. In addition, the Panthers have played 50 games, three more than the Senators and more than most of the teams they are chasing.

The Panthers are biding their time until forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau return from injuries. Barkov and Huberdeau, when healthy, join Jaromir Jagr on Florida's top line.

But Huberdeau (ankle) has been hurt all season, and Barkov has been out since Dec. 28 with a back injury.

Both players skated with the Panthers on Monday, although they wore yellow non-contact jerseys. Still, it was good and rare sight for Panthers coaches to have both of them on the ice simultaneously.

"I feel better every day," Barkov told George Richards of The Miami Herald. "I'm able to skate with the team, and I'm happy to do that. It's a lot more fun than skating on my own. I hope to be able to play soon."

Barkov is expected back at some point in February.

Huberdeau is a bit farther behind and could return in March.

"I feel good," Huberdeau told The Miami Herald. "But I don't know when I will be back. There's really no timetable. I need to be in game shape. I want to come back, but I don't want to do it at 60 or 70 percent."

Certainly, the Panthers need to be careful with two of their more valuable assets. It's one thing to skate non-contact and quite another to take the hits required in an NHL game.

Huberdeau's comments on Monday were his first since he got hurt in the preseason. The injury occurred when the skate of New Jersey's Sergei Kalinin came down on Huberdeau's ankle.

It was a shattering injury for Huberdeau and the Panthers, who haven't lived up to their title as defending champions of the Atlantic Division. Preseason injuries to Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad got the Panthers off to a bad start, morale-wise at the very least.

After all, Huberdeau was coming off a career-best season of 20 goals and 59 points.

"It's been a hard time," Huberdeau said of his comeback attempt as well as his spirits. "This is the first time I've had a bad injury. It's been tough mentally and physically."

In other news:

-- Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe announced that backup goalie James Reimer will start Tuesday. Rowe said starter Roberto Luongo is not hurt but that Reimer has been playing well and deserved to start.