Last 10: Ottawa 5-4-1; Florida 2-5-3
Season series: The Senators are gunning for a season sweep of the Panthers on Thursday night after taking all three previous meetings this season, including the most recent, a 2-1 victory at BankAtlantic Center on March 10.
Big story: While Ottawa and Florida are both well out of the playoff race -- the two teams occupy the bottom two spots in the Eastern Conference -- both were very active at the trade deadline as they set themselves up for the future. With just five games remaining in the campaign, Thursday will be one of few opportunities remaining for players to make an impression that could impact what role they play next season.
Senators: The Senators are sitting in the East cellar, but their recent play indicates that they've taken on the spoiler role with great aplomb. Ottawa is a more than respectable 11-7-1 in its last 19 games which, not coincidentally, roughly lines up with the organization's acquisition of Craig Anderson from Colorado, who has gone 8-4-1 since coming north of the border. He'll start in goal again tonight.
The Sens dropped their last game 5-2 in Tampa, but with a three-game homestand coming up in which Ottawa hosts Toronto, Philadelphia and Montreal, the team's impact on the East playoff race is far from done. Knowing how the Senators have performed over the last month, that may not be great news for those other teams when they come to town.
Panthers: Florida is 14th in the East, but the Panthers don't share the same good fortune as their cellar-dwelling opponents. They suffered a shootout loss to Columbus on Tuesday that marked their fifth straight game without a victory; the Cats have just two regulation wins in their last 22 games. To make matters worse, goaltender Tomas Vokoun left a tie game against Pittsburgh earlier this week due to back spasms and hasn't returned.
If there is good news, it's that GM Dale Tallon -- who built the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks -- has set the Panthers up so he can mold the roster however he wants next season. The Panthers have an estimated $42 million in cap space for the 2011-12 campaign, the most in the league by a margin of more than $10 million. Tallon will be able to craft whatever team he wants with that kind of versatility, and he'll be keeping a close eye on the talent currently on the squad as the season winds down in an effort to see which players will be sticking around.
Who's hot: One of those Panthers likely to be fighting for a spot next season is Evgeny Dadonov, and he appears to be responding of late. Two of his eight goals have come in the last three games … Many things are going well for the Sens right now, but the most exciting might be Jason Spezza regaining his scoring touch. The pivot has 14 points in the last 10 games.
Injury report: Florida has suffered a rash of recent injuries as Alexander Sulzer (groin), Jack Skille (ankle sprain), Shawn Matthias (ankle) and Vokoun (back spasms) all missed Tuesday's game in Columbus, while Marty Reasoner left during the action with a groin injury. Their statuses are not yet known for Thursday … The Senators are still dealing with the absence of Sergei Gonchar, who suffered a concussion a week and a half ago, and Daniel Alfredsson, who has been out with a lower back issue since early February.
Stat pack: Vokoun has respectable numbers beyond his won-loss record -- Florida's netminder has a .921 save percentage and a 2.60 goals-against average this season -- but his 28 defeats are notable compared to his career numbers. While it is short of his highest loss total (31), which he totalled with the Predators in 2002-03 despite a 2.20 GAA, that record was accumulated in 69 games played. Vokoun has only played in 56 games this season.
Puck drop: Neither of these teams can make the postseason at this point, but the Senators are still managing to make an impact and there is plenty of pride on the line, both confidence-wise and in the standings. A win by Ottawa in regulation would pull the Sens ahead of the Panthers -- and out of the basement -- in the East.