Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers ready for struggling division rival Canadiens

Florida Panthers head coach Gerald Gallant looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 3-2.
Florida Panthers head coach Gerald Gallant looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 3-2. AP

The Montreal Canadiens came into their game Monday in Tampa with losses in nine of their past 10 games including their previous six.

Pardon the Panthers if they don’t feel sorry for them.

That doesn’t mean the Panthers will overlook the Canadiens because of their recent woes.

Florida, after all, lost four of five to the Canadiens last season and nine of the past 12.

“We know they’re a great team, and they are right there in the standings with us,’’ Vincent Trocheck said. “This is a huge divisional game, a four-point swing. We’re going into this game as if they have won 10 in a row. We obviously noticed we caught them and that shows how well we’ve been playing.’’

The Panthers have been the biggest beneficiary of Montreal’s fall from atop the Atlantic Division standings as the Panthers made up 16 points over the past month.

Florida, which came into Monday in first place in the division, goes into Tuesday’s meeting with Montreal riding a six-game winning streak with wins in 12 of its past 15 games.

“They’re dangerous; we know they’re a great team,’’ said coach Gerard Gallant, who came to the Panthers in 2014 after spending two seasons as an assistant with the Canadiens.

“They’re having their struggles, but every team goes through it during the year, it has just been longer than Montreal figured it would. But they’re a good team, and they will turn it around sooner than later.’’

The Panthers have been watching Montreal’s struggles closely as they quickly closed the gap in the standings before overtaking the Canadiens after Sunday’s 3-2 win over the visiting Blue Jackets.

With Montreal, which started the season 9-0, coming back to the pack, the division is now tightly bunched.

Coming into Monday’s games, just two points separated first-place Florida from fifth place Ottawa. Montreal went into Tampa a point back of the Panthers.

“We don’t worry about the team we’re playing, we just concentrate on our own game,’’ said Jonathan Huberdeau, a Montreal native who grew up rooting for the Canadiens.

“We just need to keep playing the way we have been. Being from Montreal, I know they’re struggling. My dad watches every game. But this is a huge game for us. We want to win, stay on top.’’

Montreal has been struggling every since MVP goalie Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher have been out with injury.

On Monday, the Canadiens made a move to help their goaltending situation by acquiring Ben Scrivens from Edmonton.

Scrivens, who went 2-7-1 for Edmonton’s AHL team in California, was expected to be in uniform Monday and could make his Montreal debut against the Panthers.

“They started off hot and had some injuries but that is still a very skilled team,’’ Shawn Thornton said. “We know they are tough to deal with. We’ve been hot, but we’re not on top of the world. Montreal is very dangerous.’’

▪ Center Nick Bjugstad took part in Florida’s full practice Monday for the first time since leaving the ice in St. Louis on Nov. 30 because of migraines.

Bjugstad has been skating for the past week and is now in conditioning mode for a possible return as early as this weekend.

Gallant said Bjugstad will not play Tuesday but is looking forward to having his big center back.

“We’ll see how he feels, but he’s had three good days,’’ Gallant said. “We just want to see how he’s doing. Believe me, I’ll be happy to have him back. He’s one of our star players. He’ll be fresh and ready to go.’’

▪ Forwards Brandon Pirri and Jussi Jokinen didn’t practice Monday but Gallant said both would play Tuesday.

▪ Roberto Luongo will start again Tuesday with Al Montoya getting his next opportunity to play during Florida’s upcoming back-to-back set against the Rangers or Wild.

Tuesday: Canadiens at Panthers

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210.

Series: Montreal leads 40-37-6.

Scouting report: The Panthers are 3-0 so far in this six-game homestand with three one-goal victories over Vancouver, Ottawa and Columbus. Montreal won four of five against the Panthers last year with four games being decided by a goal — three going to shootout.

Related stories from Miami Herald