Defenseman Aaron Ekblad and winger Matthew Tkachuk are back for the Florida Panthers.

Next, the Panthers will try to get back on the winning track Tuesday night when they host the slumping Washington Capitals.

Ekblad played on Saturday for the first time since he suffered a lower-body injury on Oct. 17. Tkachuk also returned Saturday but from a shorter absence as he had been suspended for two games for jabbing Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick with his stick.

Despite the return of Ekblad and Tkachuk, the Panthers lost, 4-2, at home Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers.

Despite missing those two games, Tkachuk still leads the Panthers in points (17) and assists (12).

“Every shift, every game, every second on the ice, (Tkachuk) is doing something to help us win,” Ekblad said. “He does it in a million different ways.”

Ekblad, meanwhile, jumped right in on Saturday, playing a team-high 23:42. He posted no points and owned a minus-one goals ratio, but he also had three shots on goal and two blocks.

“Sitting out sucks, but I’m excited to be back,” Ekblad said.

Meanwhile, the Capitals have won just two of their past eight games (2-4-2), most recently sustained a 6-3 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday. They have not won consecutive games since Oct. 22-24.

Washington will be without forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who is serving the second of a three-game suspension for a head-high hit on Tampa Bay’s Cal Foote on Friday.

In addition, Capitals coach Peter Laviolette has missed two games due to COVID protocols. Assistant coach Kevin McCarthy has filled in for Laviolette, overseeing a split of the two games against the Lightning.

Following Friday’s 5-1 win at home, the Capitals fell into a 4-0 first-period hole on Sunday in Tampa, prompting McCarthy to say: “Very disappointed with our effort, especially in the first period.”

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin leads Washington in goals (eight) and points (14), but has been kept out of the net for three consecutive games.

Two other Capitals players have reached double figures in points: Evgeny Kuznetsov (13) and Dylan Strome (12).

But, in an indication of how the Capitals have struggled so far this season, Ovechkin has a minus-14 ratio on a team that has allowed only four more goals than it scored this season.

In net, the Capitals employ Darcy Kuemper, who is 5-7-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average. Backup goalie Charlie Lindgren is 2-1-1 with a 2.98 GAA.

The Panthers are expected to start goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who is 3-4-1 with a 3.29 GAA. He hasn’t played since losing to the Kings, 5-4, on Nov. 5.

Panthers backup goalie Spencer Knight has played the past three games, going 2-1-0. For the season, Knight is 5-2-0 with a 2.31 GAA.

On offense, Carter Verhaegeh leads the Panthers with eight goals. Captain Aleksander Barkov is off to a slow start with just three goals and eight assists.

Defenseman Brandon Montour has been a bright spot, emerging with 15 points, second-best on the team.

–Field Level Media