SUNRISE — After dropping their first two games of the season, the Florida Panthers have settled into the 2023-24 season pretty quickly. And they would certainly like to keep things going against a Vancouver Canucks team that is off to a fairly strong start.
Both the Panthers and the Canucks are 2-2-0 starts this season, with Vancouver picking up wins in its first two games against the Edmonton Oilers before losing games in Philadelphia and Tampa.
Florida, meanwhile, settled into a strong, chippy style of game that helped it earn wins in each of its past two games against the New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs.
After seeing how close they were to missing the postseason last year — barely hanging on before going on a run to the Stanley Cup Final following a slow start to the regular season — the Panthers know how important it is to bring their A game early in the year.
“We were one or two points away from not making the playoffs at all last season,” Ryan Lomberg said.
“Every two points we lose, we know what that could mean at the end of the year. So every two points is tremendously important for us.”
And to do that, the Panthers have made it a point to put their bodies on the line for big hits and big shots.
It certainly showed as Florida blocked a flurry of shots to lock up a 3-1 win over the Maple Leafs on Thursday.
“The way they were blocking shots is something that goes a long way in this locker room,” Matthew Tkachuk said after the game.
“Everybody was putting their bodies on the line and that’s very important. We saw what it was like last year. We got in by one point, so these points matter.”
In Year 2 under coach Paul Maurice, the Panthers are much more settled into his system.
The struggles that came with learning that new system which plagued Florida early in the year seem to be gone now.
A run to the Stanley Cup Final certainly helped that.
Early on in the season, the Panthers are already starting to build back to the style of game that took them there piece by piece.
“That was almost a playoff style by our team,” Maurice said.
“We are further ahead of where we were last year at this time, so we’re comfortable with it. [But] I would still like to see a bit more physicality at the right time by our team.
The Panthers will go into tonight’s game against the Canucks with the same lineup they had in Thursday’s win over Toronto.
Sam Bennett is slated to return from his lower-body injury sometime next week, per Maurice — either Tuesday against San Jose or, more likely, Saturday against Seattle.
The starting goalies will be Sergei Bobrovsky and Casey DeSmith.
DeSmith, who is 1-0 this season, is 1-1-2 all-time against the Panthers with a .889/4.43.
He gave up seven goals in two games against Florida while with Pittsburgh last season.
PANTHERS ON DECK
VANCOUVER CANUCKS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
- DraftKings odds — Panthers Favored: Money Line (-155); Puck line (-1.5, +164); Over/Under 6.5 (-122/+102)
- Last Season: Florida won 2-0
- This Season: @ Florida, Saturday; @ Vancouver, Dec. 14.
- All-time Regular Season Series: Vancouver leads 18-13-4, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday vs. San Jose, 7:45 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
17 Evan Rodrigues // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
21 Nick Cousins // 15 Anton Lundell //24 Justin Sourdif
94 Ryan Lomberg // 82 Kevin Stenlund // 18 Steven Lorentz
42 Gus Forsling // 91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson
77 Niko Mikkola // 7 Dmitry Kulikov
28 Josh Mahura // 26 Uvis Balinksins
72 Sergei Bobrovksy
41 Anthony Stolarz
Scratched: Will Lockwood, Mike Reilly
Injured: Aaron Ekblad (LTIR-shoulder), Brandon Montour (IR-shoulder), Sam Bennett (IR-LBI), Jonah Gadjovich (UBI)
PROJECTED VANCOUVER CANUCKS LINEUP
34 Phillip Di Giuseppe // 9 J.T. Miller // 6 Brock Boeser
65 Ilya Mikheyev // 40 Elias Pettersson // 96 Andrei Kuzmenko
81 Dakota Joshua // 24 Pius Suter // 18 Sam Lafferty
72 Anthony Beauvillier // 23 Jack Studnicka // 8 Conor Garland
43 Quinn Hughes // 17 Filip Hronek
82 Ian Cole // 57 Tyler Myers
7 Carson Soucy // 47 Noah Juulsen
29 Casey DeSmith
35 Thatcher Demko
Scratched: Noah Juulsen, Nils Hoglander