After a coaching change made in hopes of ending a long losing streak, the Panthers attempt to regroup Saturday at Ottawa, where the Senators are beginning to resemble the playoff-caliber team many expected them to be.
Ahead of only Buffalo in the Atlantic Division with a 3-9-4 record, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon fired coach Kevin Dineen as well as assistants Gord Murphy and Craig Ramsay on Friday. A 4-1 loss to Boston on Thursday left Florida at 0-3-4 in its last seven.
"It's embarrassing," forward Shawn Matthias said. "I can't remember the last time we won. There are no positives right now."
Tallon installed Peter Horachek from the team's AHL affiliate as interim coach, and he also served notice that he's not afraid to dismantle the team and start over, saying, "If players don't respond to this, they won't be Panthers for very long."
The GM has the support of owner Vinnie Viola, who released a statement following Dineen's firing in which he expects the Panthers to be competing for a playoff spot by season's end with a "team that plays hard, sacrifices for each other, that gives everything they have for our fans and supporters, and a team that wins hockey games."
The Panthers' season-long struggles aren't restricted to one area of play. They've scored 12 goals during the losing streak, and their five power-play goals are fewest in the league. Florida's offensive woes have been magnified on the road, where it's been outscored 27-9 during a six-game skid and is 2 for 32 on the power play.
Coming to Ottawa in such disarray could prove beneficial for the Senators (6-6-4), who seek a season-high third straight victory. They've ridden the strong play of backup goaltender Robin Lehner to consecutive 4-1 victories, with Lehner making 33 saves against Montreal on Thursday as Craig Anderson continues to recover from a stiff neck.
"I think the 'D' is helping me a lot to see pucks and boxing out," said Lehner, who will start Saturday even though Anderson has been cleared to return and is 9-1-1 with a 1.90 goals-against average against the Panthers. "I think we're getting a little better chemistry and it feels good."
Lehner has faced at least 33 shots in four of his five starts and also made 45 saves in relief of Anderson in a game last month.
Bobby Ryan had a goal and two assists, giving him three goals and six assists during a five-game point streak. The left wing has a team-high 18 points in his first season with the Senators, including three goals and four assists in his last three home games.
Florida avoided being swept in the 2013 season series with a 2-1 victory April 7. Ottawa has won six straight at home over the Panthers.