On The Prowl

The Florida Panthers struggled offensively while losing their first three games of the season, but Olli Jokinen's surge has helped them recover from their slow start.

Jokinen and the Panthers look to even their record with their third straight win on Tuesday when they visit the Montreal Canadiens.

Florida averaged 2.99 goals per game last year, ranking 11th in the league. But the Panthers (2-3-0) totaled just four goals while dropping their first three contests - their first 0-3-0 start since the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.

They've rebounded with back-to-back victories, outscoring their opponents 9-4 in that stretch. Jokinen has two goals and two assists in those games, tying Scott Mellanby for Florida's career scoring lead. He had one goal and two assists in Florida's 6-4 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Montreal -130 money line favorites (NHL Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 5.5 goals (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 75% of bets for this game have been placed on Montreal -130 (View NHL Bet Percentages).

"Before the season, I knew the stats," said Jokinen, who has 156 goals and 198 assists for 354 points in seven seasons with Florida. "But the main thing is we got two points."

Despite doubling their previous season-high scoring output, the Panthers nearly blew a big lead. They had a 4-0 advantage, but their lead was cut to 5-4 midway through the third period. Jokinen scored on a power play to finally seal the win with less than eight minutes remaining.

"We learned a lesson again tonight," said Jokinen, who has either scored or assisted on six of the Panthers' 13 goals this year. "We can't relax against a good team, even if we have a four- or five-goal lead."

The Canadiens (2-1-1) got off to a strong start on a three-game season-opening road trip, but suffered their first regulation loss against Carolina on Saturday. Montreal managed only 24 shots against Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward, and was outshot 30-8 in the first two periods of the 3-1 defeat.

"That's an eyesore," said forward Chris Higgins, who scored Montreal's only goal. "We came in after two, that was one of the main things we talked about. We didn't generate many chances at all, and eight shots after two, you're not going to win too many games with Cam Ward, who's a pretty good goalie."

Montreal netminder Cristobal Huet stopped 35 shots, but gave up two goals while the Canadiens were short-handed. Montreal is near the bottom of the league with a 77.3 penalty kill percentage.

"If you don't play 60 minutes in this league, there's no way you're going to win," defenseman Patrice Brisebois said.

Florida, meanwhile, has converted five of 14 power-play opportunities in its back-to-back wins.

Florida outscored Montreal 9-2 in going 3-0-1 in the series last season, and the Panthers are 7-1-3 with one tie against the Canadiens since the 2003-04 season.

Jokinen has 10 goals and 10 assists in 29 career games against the Canadiens, including three goals and one assist in four games against them last season. He recorded the second of his four career hat tricks last Nov. 16 against Montreal.

"He's a special player," Florida forward Nathan Horton said, "and we're lucky to have him here."

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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