Wednesday night saw the Florida Panthers have yet another come-from-behind OT win, this time against the host Capitals.
A few games back, coach Paul Maurice used the expression “battle and grind” to explain how his team had to “win ugly.”
The wins have not come easy this season.
Yes, Maurice was right; his team has to both battle and grind each night to stay afloat what with Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour and Sam Bennett being out of the lineup.
At 7-4-1 without those key pieces is commendable considering the shortages of personnel, the many new faces and the disadvantage of having not a single right-handed shooting defenseman on the active roster.
All seven wins were by a single goal if you eliminate the empty netters.
This trend will have to continue during the upcoming two-game homestand.
On Friday it’s Carolina, a team which had to be considered a strong Stanley Cup contender before the illness which sidelines goalie Frederik Andersen.
Sunday afternoon in Sunrise it’s Chicago, a weaker team but with a budding superstar named Connor Bedard leading the team in scoring.
This is the very same team which jumped all over the Panthers in Chicago just last weekend.
Special teams have not found their groove although they have slowly improved of late.
The power play at 13.2 percent is a dismal 26th in the NHL. The penalty kill at 72.5 percent stands 24th.
Not long ago and the PK was tied for last in the league.
If Maurice was worried, he never showed it.
Last season, after the same number of games, the power play and penalty kill stood 31st and 28th in the NHL, respectively.
The team has not been scoring but they have only three fewer goals than at the same juncture last season.
With close to 15 percent of the season gone the team should be commended for treading water so well, considering the missing players and the roster turnover.
What Maurice referred to as “battle and grind” will continue.
The good news is that Ekblad and Montour have been skating hard at practice and may be back ahead of schedule.
Maurice is encouraged by the penalty kill performances despite the substandard stats.
One concern is the wear and tear on his players.
Gus Forsling has been a beast on the penalty kill and is averaging 24:17 per game and 2:52 on the kill which leads the team.
The PK has been helped by the recent superior play of Sergei Bobrovsky in goal. Kevin Stenlund, who was acquired for his penalty killing skills, has been doing his job.
Sasha Barkov and Sam Reinhart have significant time logged, both on the PP and PK.
This, too, could have a detrimental effect if it continues for too long.
The bottom line is Florida is “finding a way to win.”
Or, as Maurice said Wednesday night: “We’re not worrying about style points.”
Getting back those three high-end players certainly will help.
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.