The Ottawa Senators will get some much-needed reinforcements Thursday night, though the returning players shouldn't expect to be eased back in the lineup.
That's because head coach Dave Cameron's charges will be up against the NHL's hottest team in the visiting Florida Panthers at 7:30 p.m. ET, a team seeking an 11th consecutive victory.
Centre Mika Zibanejad will be sporting a black eye, courtesy of a high stick in Monday's 3-2 overtime win over St. Louis, while right-winger Milan Michalek's broken right index finger cost him 16 games. They skated alongside Mike Hoffman at Wednesday's practice.
Defenceman Cody Ceci has sat the past six contests with an upper-body injury and is questionable for Thursday.
"I missed [the game] a lot," Michalek, who has five goals and eight points in 24 games this season. "When you're injured it's tough. … But I'm happy to be back and I'm excited."
Without Michalek and others, Cameron was forced to mix and match his lines the last month but the added stability is welcomed by a team looking to get back to playoff position.
Ottawa is ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 19-15-16 record for 44 points, eight behind the second-place Panthers, who sit atop the Atlantic Division at 24-12-4.
Longest NHL win streaks
- 17 games: Pittsburgh (March 9, 1993 - April 10, 1993
- 15 games: NY Islanders (Jan. 21, 1982 - Feb. 20, 1982
- 14 games: Boston (Dec. 3, 1929 - Jan. 9, 1930)
- 13 games: Boston (Feb. 23, 1971 - March 20, 1971)
- 13 games: Philadelphia (Oct. 19, 1985 - Nov. 17, 1985)
- 13 games: Washington (Jan. 13, 2010 - Feb. 7, 2010)
Fresh off Tuesday's 5-1 win at Buffalo to open a six-game road trip, Florida has received production throughout its lineup during a 16-3 run since Nov. 27.
Forward Jaromir Jagr, defenceman Aaron Ekblad and goalie Roberto Luongo will join head coach Gerard Gallant at the Jan. 31 all-star game in Nashville.
"We saw this all starting last year," Luongo, who has allowed 10 goals during the team's win streak with a .956 save percentage, told the Miami Herald this week. "We knew coming into this season we had a pretty good team."
The Panthers boast a legitimate top forward line with Aleksander Barkov centring fellow youngster Jonathan Huberdeau and Jagr, a 43-year-old future Hall of Famer who has four goals in as many games. Barkov has five goal and 12 points during the 10-game streak and Huberdeau has four multi-point efforts in his past seven outings (goal, seven assists).
"We're not lucky to win anymore," Gallant told reporters. "We're a good team, we know we're a good team. … We're just having fun."
But it hasn't been all fun for the Panthers this season against the Senators, who won the first meeting on Dec. 8, 4-2, before dropping a 2-1 shootout decision two weeks later on a Barkov goal.
Ottawa is also strong on home ice with a 7-2-1 mark in its last 10 starts at Canadian Tire Centre.
And despite the firepower on both sides, don't be surprised if it's a low-scoring tilt that could be determined by the goalies. The Senators' Craig Anderson, who played parts of three seasons with Florida from 2006 to 2009, is 12-4-2 with a 1.99 goals-against average, .938 save percentage and three shutouts against his former team.