The Panthers enter the heart of their divisional schedule this month with nine of the next 13 games coming within the Atlantic Division starting with Tuesday’s home game against the Senators.
Florida, to be kind, has struggled in its new division as the Panthers are the only team in the NHL to not win a divisional game this season.
The Panthers go into Tuesday’s game with a 0-5-1 record in the Atlantic.
“I don’t spend a lot of time looking at those things because it becomes frustrating,” coach Peter Horachek said after Monday’s morning practice. “You can’t look at it as a daunting task.”
Although the Panthers have played 27 games this season, only six have come against fellow teams in the new division.
Florida and Tampa Bay were taken from the old Southeast Division and put into the Atlantic this season.
The Panthers were members of the Atlantic Division from their expansion season through 1997-98. The Panthers began the 1998-99 season in the Southeast Division and stayed there until this year.
Florida’s previous Atlantic Division win came April 9, 1998. The Panthers’ 3-2 win against the Flyers was their final victory at Miami Arena.
“How we play in the division will help determine where we’re going to be,” Tomas Fleischmann said. “This is going to be an important stretch for us. We have to really push it. It’s been strange because we haven’t played too many divisional team. But we need points and it doesn’t matter who it comes against.”
Horachek gave Dmitry Kulikov a shot of confidence Monday after another rough game for the 23-year-old defenseman. Kulikov had a turnover that led to a Pittsburgh goal and also had an ill-timed penalty.
“He’s very skilled and is one of our most-skilled defensemen,” Horachek said. “He can skate, he can skate. He has all the tools. Right now, I think it’s a mental thing. I think it’s bothering him. He needs to learn how to let it go, get to a better place. He’ll find his way. Everyone eventually does.”
Kulikov, obviously, isn’t alone in the turnover department. The Panthers’ sloppy play has cost them in consecutive losses to the Rangers and Penguins.
“Unforced errors have come back again,” Horachek said. “We have to get that part out of our game.”
Jesse Winchester spent four seasons playing for his hometown Ottawa Senators and had dozens of fans and family members at Florida’s game at Ottawa on Nov. 9.
Winchester didn’t play in that game, however, as he was starting a three-game suspension.
On Tuesday, Winchester will get a chance to go against his former team for the first time.
“I spent a lot of good years with them and know them pretty well,” said Winchester, whose four goals this season are the most he has scored since tallying four for the Sens in 2010-11.
“I’m excited to get on the ice and compete against them. I wanted to play before, but my plans fell through.”
Tomas Kopecky went through an entire practice Monday for the first time since injuring his elbow Nov. 21 at Edmonton.
Kopecky was scheduled to meet with the team’s training staff to determine whether he could come off the injured list and play Tuesday.
“It was a good sign that he was able to practice,” Horachek said.