Coyotes-Panthers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 20, 2011
The Florida Panthers haven't lost at home in regulation in their last eight games. That's not to say wins have been coming easily. The Panthers go for their third straight victory at BankAtlantic Center when they host the stumbling Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night. After finishing with the third-fewest points in the NHL last season (72), Florida (18-9-6) is leading the Southeast Division, in part because of its success at home. The Panthers are 8-2-5 on their own ice, including 6-0-2 in the last eight. They'll try to extend that success Tuesday, but will likely be without Sean Bergenheim, who strained his groin in a 3-2 overtime win over Carolina on Sunday. He scored earlier in the game after recording two goals in Friday's shootout win against Calgary. "Huge loss with the way he's playing," coach Kevin Dineen said. Florida will also be without Jack Skille, who injured his shoulder Friday and is expected to miss a month. Scottie Upshall (hip) and Marcel Goc (concussion) have been out since last month and aren't expected back until January. The growing injured list makes the team's recent success - especially in close games - even more impressive. Florida's last 12 home games have each been decided by one goal. The Panthers led the NHL with 49 one-goal games last season, going 19-18-12. They've been better this season in those close contests, going 9-3-6. "They're finding ways," Dineen said. "Sometimes it's not a thing of beauty but we're finding a way to get our two points. ... Nothing comes easy for this team." Things definitely seem to be easy for Kris Versteeg, who scored the game winner Sunday - his team-leading 16th of the season. He has four goals and four assists in eight games this month. While Florida, which is 5-1-2 in its last eight overall, has been coming up with big goals, Phoenix (16-13-3) is giving them up, losing four of five to drop to 3-6-0 in December. In a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers on Saturday, the Coyotes led after two periods, but gave up the winning goal with 0.1 seconds left. "Mistakes keep piling up," coach Dave Tippett said. "You're giving away points like this, and it's not good. But, it is what it is." Phoenix has been outscored 21-8 in its last six losses and it's not hard to see why given the lackluster effort. The Coyotes put only 23 shots on net Saturday - the second time in three games they had fewer than 25. Their once steady penalty-kill unit, meanwhile, has given up 12 goals in 31 chances (38.7 percent) after allowing 8 power-play goals in the previous 76 (10.5 percent) opportunities. "I firmly believe some of this adversity will help us but only if we allow it to help us," Tippett said. "We've got to use it use it as a motivating factor and not as a crutch or use it as an excuse. We've gotten better as a group, but now you've got to prove that you've gotten better; not just talk about, you've got to do it." Florida won the last meeting between the teams 2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 4, 2010.
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