SUNRISE — Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice said that Sam Bennett, Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour could return from their respective injuries during their California road trip next week.
Ekblad and Montour have been out of the Florida lineup since the start of the season after having shoulder surgery in the offseason.
Maurice said his two star defensemen would most likely return for the final game of the road trip against the Anaheim Ducks next Friday, if they return before the team returns from the trip.
“We are not putting five months into this to bring him back a day early,” Maurice said.
“We are going to be as comfortable and confident that they are ready to go… It’d be a chance for one, possibly two. I wouldn’t put them in at the start of a back to-back so it may only be one, but we’re in the 10-day window where I think we are going to see these guys back.”
Bennett, who has played one period this season after sustaining an injury to the same leg he injured during the preseason in Boston on Oct. 30, could be back even sooner.
He practiced with the main group for the first time since the injury on Friday and could be back in the lineup as soon as Sunday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Bennett will not be in the lineup Friday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
“He is going to get a full, hard practice in tomorrow, and he feels good today, so if he feels good coming off that, it’ll be up to the medical people and him to decide what game he wants,” Maurice said.
“There is a chance it would be Chicago, but I doubt that. I think because of what happened I think we are going to sit back and give him at least one more day, but he is going to be on that road trip for sure.”
Bennett’s return would breathe some life into a Panthers lineup that desperately needs it.
Florida is in the bottom 10 in the league at 2.92 goals-for per game and its power play sits near the bottom five at 13.2 percent.
Matthew Tkachuk’s production has taken a bit of a hit without Bennett in the lineup, as he has started the season with just two goals and 11 points in 12 games after scoring 40 goals and 109 points last season.
”Sam is an identity player for our team and that style makes whoever he plays with more functional,” Maurice said.
“Matthew’s defensive game is light years ahead of where it was last year at this time, his offensive numbers are slightly down, you can attribute that to the power play. If you put five or six more goals on the power play, he’s getting points on four. Throw Bennett in there, he’s getitng one or two more.
“Sam Bennett has an impact. He impacts whoever he would be playing with when he’s in the lineup. He is a super important player for us, that being said, the most important metric for us is even strength expected goals against right now.”
Tkachuk does not want to use Bennett’s absence as an excuse, however.
“I think if you get carried up in injuries, we could be talking about it all year with the defense,” Tkachuk said.
“Bennett has only played one period all year. Every team deals with it. Our team has found a way to get a bunch of wins with the absence of those three guys and I’m sure they’re going to be back soon and our team’s very excited.”
In the meantime, Tkachuk wants his line to recreate the style of play it had when Bennett was playing down the middle.
“We have to play in the offensive zone, we have to play with the puck and we have to come up with speed together,” he said.
“When we’re separated or not coming up together and supporting each other, that’s when we’re playing a lot of defense or playing in our own zone. So I think our line and our team is way more successful below the goal line making plays, having defensemen up the rush and having everyone tight together.
“For us to be successful, we have to do it all as a unit.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
CAROLINA HURRICANES @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 95.6 FM2,WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last Season — Regular Season: Carolina won 2-1; Eastern Conference finals: Florida won 4-0.
- This Season: @Florida Friday; @Carolina Feb. 22, March 14
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: Florida 1-0 (2023 ECF)
- Up Next for the Panthers: Sunday vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.