With Brian Elliott playing so well in net, Pascal Leclaire has been banished to the Senators bench as Ottawa charges into the postseason.
He didn't show much rust on Tuesday night. Of course, the way the Panthers are playing these days, they are veritable WD-40 for creaky goalies.
Leclaire got his first start since March 20 and the Panthers didn't offer up much of a challenge as the Senators rolled to a 5-2 win in front of perhaps the smallest actual crowd at BankAtlantic Center this season. The Panthers announced it at 11,790 – making it the fifth home game to be under the 12,000 mark.
And the Panthers aren't exactly making fans want to come to the rink as they crawl to the finish.
Florida has lost nine of 12 as Tomas Vokoun has lost his past seven starts. The Panthers sure haven't helped their goalies too much as they have scored two goals or fewer in seven straight games. The team set a franchise record with 14 such games earlier this season.
Ottawa, meanwhile, clinched the fifth overall seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs as captain Daniel Alfredsson played in his 1,000th game. The Senators will open against either New Jersey or defending champion Pittsburgh. The Panthers clean out their lockers on Monday.
“The good news is our young guys were our best players,'' said coach Pete DeBoer. “What's bad is we need the veterans to play better. I would expect some of these veterans to be playing for jobs too. They don't realize the situation they are in if they don't think they are playing for their jobs. For me, going through what we're going through and the season we're going through, we're evaluating everyone.''
The Panthers trailed by two in the second but Shawn Matthias got his seventh goal of the season at 8:41 of the period. But just 19 seconds later, Florida defenseman Keith Ballard tried to knock down a puck in front of his net and instead deflected it past Vokoun to make it 3-1. Chris Neil was credited with the goal that took whatever momentum the Panthers had away. “Hopefully,'' DeBoer lamented, “we get all of those out of our system this year.''
Ottawa scored twice within a 90 second span in the third to make it 5-1 before Kamil Kreps scored his fifth of the year.
“Everyone needs to be accountable for themselves,'' said Vokoun. “You have to prepare the same every day. It's tough around here. It's not fun, but everyone needs to be prepared.''
HORTON AND KITCHEN COOL LIKE THAT
Nathan Horton stormed off the ice Tuesday morning after getting into a verbal altercation with assistant coach Mike Kitchen. Horton apparently was shooting pucks into a drill Kitchen was running with the defensemen in the corner. When Kitchen objected, the two had heated words with DeBoer separating them.
After the argument was broken up, Horton continued screaming as he skated toward the tunnel leading to the locker room, repeatedly smashing his stick along the Panthers bench. Once the stick was obliterated, Horton flung the bashed up shaft of his stick clear across the ice.
While everyone kind of looked around in stunned silence, Rostislav Olesz – who watched the stick shaft come to rest at his feet -- picked it up and skated it to the bench where it was thrown away.
Horton was spotted rushing out of the locker room moments later as he left the arena.
“We had a heated discussion on the ice and that was it,'' Kitchen said after the game, noting that Horton came looking for him before Tuesday's game to talk it out. “It's nothing serious. It's nice to see a little emotion.”
Said DeBoer: "It's that time of year. If you didn't have people who were upset about the situation we were in, if the nerves weren't frayed, you'd worry about people's competitiveness.''
-- Nick Tarnasky finally got to fight Ottawa's Chris Neil on Tuesday, almost eight months after Neil fractured Tarnasky's orbital bone during the first preseason game of the year in Nova Scotia.
The injury cost Tarnasky almost half the season as he had complications from the hard hit. Tarnasky didn't return to the Panthers until Dec. 27.