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Panthers push to continue home success vs. Senators

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The Ottawa Senators will face two main challenges when they visit the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at Sunrise, Fla.

First, the Panthers are the best home team in the NHL at 14-1-0. Ottawa is just 3-7-1 on the road.

However, the Senators have won two straight road games, beating Carolina on Dec. 2 and New Jersey on Dec. 6.

Secondly, the Senators on Monday will be facing a Panthers offense that is second in the NHL, averaging 3.7 goals per game.

But there’s hope for the Senators here, too, because they have won four of their past five games overall, and that includes a 4-0 defensive gem against the elite Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

Anton Forsberg, who was third on the Ottawa depth chart to start this season, has won four games in a row.

In fact, Forsberg, who is 5-4-0 with a 3.34 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage, has emerged as Ottawa’s No. 1 goalie. The win over Tampa Bay was the first NHL shutout in 66 career games for Forsberg, a 29-year-old native of Sweden.

“It’s easy to root for a guy who has worked so hard,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said of Forsberg, who was Columbus’ seventh-round pick in 2011.

“He’s been waived. He has switched teams. I’m sure at times he’s wondered, ‘Am I an NHL goalie?’ But if you stay with it, you never know when you will get your break.”

The other big story for Ottawa is winger and captain Brady Tkachuk, who had his first career hat trick on Saturday. His father, Keith Tkachuk, had 10 hat tricks. His brother, Matthew Tkachuk, who plays for Calgary, has one.

Brady Tkachuk, 22, is second on the Senators with 11 goals, trailing only Joshua Norris (12). Tkachuk also has 21 points, trailing only Drake Batherson (24) on the team.

Tkachuk missed the first three games this season while he got his seven-year contract signed, but he has 17 points in his past 15 games.

“Two weeks ago, you could see he got his legs under him,” Smith said. “He plays with emotion. He makes heavy plays. He makes smart plays. He’s driving us.”

The Panthers are normally driven by the two-way play of center Aleksander Barkov. But he has missed 10 of Florida’s past 11 games due to an upper-body injury.

Panthers winger Anthony Duclair drives play with his speed. But he, too, has an upper-body injury. Duclair has missed eight straight games.

The good news for the Panthers is that they will play their first home game in 10 days. They had a decent road trip out west — going 1-1-1 — but they appear ready to return to South Florida.

“We love being home,” Panthers forward Sam Bennett said. “We’re looking forward to getting back there.”

The Panthers, who have yet to face the Senators this season, have two solid goalies in Sergei Bobrovsky and rookie Spencer Knight.

Bobrovsky is 12-2-2 with 2.37 GAA and a .920 SP. Knight, Florida’s first-round pick in 2019, is the heir apparent for the starter’s job, going 6-3-2 with a 2.98 GAA and a .904 SP.

Winger Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers in assists (22) and points (31). Defenseman Aaron Ekblad is second in assists (16) and second in points (24).

–Field Level Media

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