The Ottawa Senators' scoring issues, as well as injuries, finally seem to be catching up with the club.
Riding their longest losing streak of the season, the Sens hope the anticipated return of forward Milan Michalek can provide a spark to the offense in Wednesday night's rivalry matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ottawa has been held to three goals or fewer in 13 straight games and ranks 29th out of 30 teams in the NHL with 2.13 goals per game. Losing the likes of Erik Karlsson, Jason Spezza and Michalek to injury hasn't helped, but the Sens still managed to win five straight from Feb. 18-25.
However, they have been held to four goals over their first three-game slide of the season, though two of those defeats came after regulation. That includes Sunday's 3-2 shootout setback to the New York Islanders.
Patrick Wiercioch's first NHL goal tied the game with 1:09 left in the third period, but Jakob Silfverberg and Daniel Alfredsson came up empty on their shootout chances, while Robin Lehner was beaten twice after making 33 saves through overtime.
"It's disappointing ... I thought in the second and third we were dictating play better than we did in the first," said Ottawa head coach Paul MacLean.
Lehner was making his second start of the season and MacLean will go back to Ben Bishop on Wednesday in the fourth of a five-game road trip with Craig Anderson still sidelined with a sprained right ankle.
Bishop is 4-3-0 with a 2.15 goals against average and .938 save percentage in seven games this season, making 26 saves on 28 shots faced in a 3-2 home win over the Leafs on Feb. 23.
Michalek missed that game, as well as a 3-0 loss in Toronto on Feb. 16, because of a sprained knee that has held him out of the past 10 games overall. The forward netted a career-high 35 goals last season and has two goals and eight points in 13 games this season.
"I'm ready. It was a good practice today and I'm excited for tomorrow," he said on Tuesday. "My knee feels good right now and I'm ready to play."
Michalek returns to action in time for the third edition of the Battle of Ontario this season and the Sens snapped a three-game series losing streak in the most recent encounter.
They have has also won four of their past six in Toronto despite the shutout loss in mid-February, one that featured a 34-save shutout by Maple Leafs goaltender Ben Scrivens.
Scrivens was handling the starting duties with No. 1 James Reimer out of action for nearly three weeks due to a strained MCL.
Reimer made his second start on Monday since returning from injury and posted 28 saves in a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils. He helped keep his club in the game before Toronto's offense erupted for three goals in the third frame. He won his fifth straight start and improved to 8-3-0 with a 2.43 GAA and .923 save percentage on the season.
"We weren't very happy with what we were doing for the first 40 minutes of the hockey game and we were fortunate that we were only down one goal," said Toronto head coach Randy Carlyle. "The tide had really turned."
Nazem Kadri, coming off his first career hat trick, had a first-period tally and added an assist to give him nine points over a five-game point streak, while Clarke MacArthur was one of three goal scorers in the third. He has six points in his last five games.
Jay McClement and Phil Kessel also scored, with Kessel picking up his first goal on home ice this season.
Toronto moved to 5-5-0 at home in 2013 by winning its second straight and for the sixth time in nine games overall.
Reimer is a good choice to get the start tonight given that he is 5-1-1 in seven career games versus the Senators with a 1.70 GAA, .943 save percentage and two shutouts.