SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers returned home this week after a 1-2 road trip that did nothing to get the team out of its early-season malaise.
With just 12 points, the Panthers (5-9-2) are last in the Eastern Conference and next-to-last in the entire league.
On Tuesday night at the BB&T Center, the Panthers will host the Dallas Stars (9-8-0). Dallas took a 5-1 beating from the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday night.
The Stars are in a "win now" mode, hiring coach Ken Hitchcock, who was fired by the St. Louis Blues on February 1. Hitchcock was brought in by Dallas two months later, and he has a proud legacy with the franchise, having led the Stars to the only Stanley Cup title in their history (1999).
Hitchcock, who said he will start backup goalie Kari Lehtonen against Florida, wants to see his team perform better on the road -- and the coach mentioned that before the Stars allowed four third-period goals to Carolina on Monday. He also recently dismantled his top line of Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, looking for balance.
"We weren't getting it done with one line," Hitchcock told dallasnews.com. "That line was playing well, but we weren't winning games. And we're in the winning business."
So, of course, are the Panthers, who have lost five of their past six games and have had consecutive wins just once this season -- a two-game mini streak during the first week of the hockey year.
Panthers coach Bob Boughner said he is happy with how his team played the past two games -- a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres and a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
"We played six great periods," Boughner told reporters.
Translation: Boughner was disappointed in that Devils result but not his team's effort. But with nearly one-fourth of the season gone, the Panthers need a lot more points if they want to start to move up the standings. That's how much of a hole they have dug for themselves.
Tuesday's game is even more important for Florida because the Panthers will go right back on the road after Dallas. The Panthers will play at the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks before coming back home.
Injuries at center could add to Florida's issues. Derek MacKenzie left the Devils game due to a lower-body injury. Another Panthers center, Jared McCann, didn't play on the recent road trip, and that could leave Florida without two of its penalty-killing anchors.
The Stars figure to be without defenseman Marc Methot (lower body). He's one of Dallas' big offseason pickups, a list that also includes starting goalie Ben Bishop, Radulov and center Martin Hanzal.
Bishop and Radulov, so far at least, have been the best of those acquisitions. In fact, Radulov scored on Monday against Carolina, extending his points streak to eight consecutive games.
Radulov's goal on Monday came on the power play, which is ranked No. 1 in the NHL this season.
But as good as Radulov has been, perhaps the biggest Stars surprise is the improvement of defenseman John Klingberg, a 25-year-oild who leads Dallas with 18 points.
"I see a young guy maturing," Hitchcock told dallasnews.com. "He's really learning to live to fight another day with the puck."