Last season's Presidents' Trophy winners Florida Panthers travel to TD Garden to take on the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.
The Panthers finished last season with a 58-16-6 record and 122 points (.744 per-game percentage) which was the best in their franchise history.
This season, though, they find themselves fourth in the Atlantic Division (15-13-4) with a .531 points percentage and three points outside of a playoff position.
Topping the Atlantic and the overall NHL standings are the Boston Bruins (24-4-2), who are an exceptional 16-0-2 at home while the Panthers are 7-9-1 on the road.
Boston are -170 to win the Atlantic clash and Florida +150.
In complete contrast to the Bruins, the Panthers have struggled for consistency this season, not helped by a recent bout of illness that has spread through the group and left them short-handed.
After being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the second-round stage of the playoffs, General Manager of the Panthers Bill Zito took drastic action in the off-season.
Jack Adams finalist Andrew Brunette was fired and replaced with long-time Winnipeg Jet Paul Maurice and rugged forward Matthew Tkachuk was acquired from the Calgary Flames in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to give the Panthers some much missing snarl.
While Tkachuk has instantly settled and leads the team with 39 points (14 goals, 25 assists), others like Captain Aleksander Barkov and top defenceman Aaron Ekblad have significantly dropped off from last season's heights.
In fact, Tkachuk is the only player on the Panthers roster averaging more than a point-per-game compared to Huberdeau, Barkov and Sam Reinhart last season.
Their average goals per-game is down from an NHL best 4.14 to 3.34 (10th) and their goals against up from 3.00 to 3.22 (20th).
After a seven-game first-round playoff exit to the Carolina Hurricanes, Bruins' General Manager Don Sweeney also decided to make a coaching change, replacing Bruce Cassidy with Jim Montgomery who formerly coached Dallas Stars from 2018 to 2020.
The move came as a huge surprise given that Cassidy had led the Bruins to the playoffs in each of his six seasons in charge, including making the Stanley Cup Final in 2019.
But it has paid dividends as Montgomery has led the Bruins to their best start in franchise history with contributions coming from up and down the line-up and on special teams, something sadly lacking in Boston's playoff loss to the Hurricanes.
The Bruins are led by David Pastrnak who has 20 goals and 42 points and he is one of three players on a point per-game pace.
Montgomery's side have scored the second most goals in the league with an average of 3.80 per-game and conceded the least with 2.13. Their powerplay of 28.9% ranks third of all teams and their 84.6% penalty-kill is the best in the NHL.
The Panthers will draw confidence from the previous match between the two teams at the end of November which they won 5-2 in one of, if not their best, performance this season.
The victory at FLA Live Arena ended a seven-game winning run for the Bruins and saw the aforementioned Barkov and Ekblad star, each collecting a goal and two assists. Reinhart and Tkachuk also had a goal and assist.
Goalie Spencer Knight made 37 saves to record the win but it's unclear if he will be available to face the Bruins again, being one of the Panthers suffering from recent illness.
The 21-year-old is 8-4-3 with a .919 save percentage and 2.64 goals against average.
If he doesn't appear, the experienced Sergei Bobrovsky, 34, will get the start who is 7-9-1 with a .894 save percentage and 3.26 GAA.
As previously mentioned, the Bruins' special teams have been dominant for most of the season but on that night the Panthers won the battle scoring three times on seven powerplay opportunities. The Bruins were two for six.
While the Panthers' powerplay has struggled in recent games and ranks a lowly 26th in the NHL (18.8%), they did manage to register in a 4-2 win over New Jersey Devils on Sunday and, with the amount of offensive talent on either side, staying out of the box will likely prove pivotal in the meeting on Tuesday.
The November fixture was the second game between the teams this season with the Bruins winning the first 5-3 in mid-October.
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