Riley Nash has filled in nicely for the injured Jordan Staal, providing a bright spot for a Carolina Hurricanes team that has struggled to find consistency through the first quarter of the season.
The Florida Panthers haven’t had many positives to point to lately as they look to avoid dropping a fourth straight meeting with the visiting Hurricanes on Wednesday night.
Staal broke his leg in the preseason and is expected to be out for about two more months, forcing Nash into a top-six role that he’s embraced.
The center leads Carolina (6-11-3) with 15 points after recording two assists Saturday, though the Hurricanes lost 4-3 to Colorado for their fifth defeat in six games since going 5-0-1 to begin the month.
Three losses during this rough stretch have come by one goal, which Nash nonetheless sees as an improvement from Carolina’s season-opening 0-6-2 slide.
"Considering the start we had, I think we’re showing some development and progress," he told the team’s official website. "The last 10 games or so, we’ve been in every game. It’s just a matter of getting on the other side of those one-goal games. That’s the NHL nowadays – figuring out how to win those games."
The Hurricanes had to battle through earlier injuries to Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, but one of the biggest disappointments has been the lack of production from Alexander Semin.
The forward, who has scored at least 26 goals five times in his career, has no goals and five assists in 15 games and has been a healthy scratch three times.
"When you play hard, you’re going to get ice time and stay in the lineup. When you don’t, you come out," coach Bill Peters said. "That’s how that’s going to go. You’ve got to be an everydayer, and you have to bring it. We need our top-end guys to be top-end guys."
Florida (7-6-6) couldn’t get much going in Monday’s 4-1 loss to Minnesota and is 1-2-1 in its last four. Shawn Thornton scored his first goal of the season after the Panthers had fallen behind by two.
"We weren’t good as a group," coach Gerard Gallant said. "We had 20 guys who didn’t compete hard enough."
Roberto Luongo made 35 saves, two nights after stopping 48 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss to Nashville.
”There’s no excuses,” Luongo said. ”We were just not ready to play from the start of the game. We can’t spot the other team two goals and expect to come back every night. That’s not how this league works.”
Florida hopes recently returned forwards Sean Bergenheim and Brandon Pirri can provide a spark. Both played for the first time in 10 games Monday and could help a team that ranks 28th in goals per game at 2.11.
The Hurricanes’ Cam Ward has a 2.05 goals-against average in his last eight starts against the Panthers. He’s gone 1-2-0 with a 3.74 GAA in his last three starts after going 5-2-0 with a 1.57 GAA to begin the month.
The Hurricanes have won three straight and five of six against the Panthers.