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After finishing with the fewest points in the Eastern Conference last season, the Florida Panthers are one of the NHL's biggest surprises.
Perhaps just as surprising - they're atop the Southeast Division despite having gone more than six weeks without a road win.
In the opener of a three-game trip, the Panthers try to avoid a seventh straight road loss Wednesday night against the struggling Colorado Avalanche.
Florida (21-14-9) has never won a division title in its 18 years but owns a one-point advantage over Washington for first place. That lead could be larger if it could figure out a way to win away from home.
The Panthers are 0-3-3 on the road since beating Boston 2-0 on Dec. 8. They had only six losses in their first 16 away games.
Florida, which has also lost its last two visits to the Pepsi Center since a 4-1 win Jan. 2, 2003, arrives in Colorado after falling 3-2 to the Bruins in a shootout Monday. The Panthers had plenty of chances with four breakaways but only converted Shawn Matthias' second attempt to tie it at 2-all in the second period.
Despite falling to 3-5-3 in its last 11 games, Florida was pleased with its effort after a lackluster performance in Friday's 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh.
"We would have liked to come out on the other side, but if we play like that, we're going to have success," said Stephen Weiss, who assisted on Matthias' goal, giving him the franchise record with 232, passing Olli Jokinen.
"We needed to bounce back and have a better effort than the last time out. We had a few chances to win it. It just wasn't meant to be."
To get a win on the road, Weiss and the offense likely need to get going.
Florida's top four goal scorers - Kris Versteeg (17), Tomas Fleischmann (15), Jason Garrison (12) and Weiss (11) - have combined for two goals during the road losing streak.
Goaltending has also been a problem during that skid, with Florida surrendering 28 goals.
The Panthers appear to be getting a bit healthier in goal, with Jose Theodore expected to return to face his former team after sitting out the last five games with a knee injury. He's 1-2-0 with a 3.68 goals-against average in his last four starts.
Theodore, who appeared in 91 games with Colorado between 2006-08, is 2-1-0 with a 2.67 GAA in three starts against his former team since last wearing an Avalanche sweater.
The Avs (24-21-2) are returning home for one game after Monday's disappointing 6-1 loss to Phoenix in the finale of a three-game trip. Chuck Kobasew scored for Colorado, which didn't have a power play for only the second time all season.
The Avs are struggling offensively, totaling six goals while going 1-3-1 in their last five games. They had averaged 2.7 goals in winning nine of their previous 10.
"We need to establish our game right off the bat," said center Peter Mueller, who has played in the last three games after being sidelined for three months with a head injury.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, 6-2-1 with a 2.19 GAA in his last nine starts, is expected to be in goal after getting the night off against the Coyotes. He is 2-1-0 with a 2.30 GAA in his last three starts versus the Panthers.
In the last meeting between these teams, Weiss scored his second goal 43 seconds into overtime to give Florida a 4-3 win Dec. 7, 2010.
|Jan 18 '12||FLA 3 at COL 4 - ot||R. O'Reilly|
|D. Van Der Gulik||14||1||4||5||+4||2||0||0|