Panthers notes: Injuries force Florida to make adjustments
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — For the first time since April, the rats rained down upon the rink at the BB&T Center as the Florida Panthers collected their first home victory of the season after downing the Arizona Coyotes 2-1.
The win, however, came at a great cost to the team, as forwards Sean Bergenheim, Aleksander Barkov and Brandon Pirri all sustained injuries.
Having maintained a healthy lineup through the entirety of training camp and the preseason, head coach Gerard Gallant addressed his suddenly ailing lineup after Friday’s practice.
"We’ve been healthy all season long and now we’ve got a couple injuries," said Gallant, who coached the team to a 3-2-3 record in October. "We’ve just got to keep moving on, we talked about it earlier in the year. There are no excuses. We’re bringing people up who are going to play games for us."
Pirri, who suffered a mild concussion after receiving an elbow to the head from Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle on Thursday night, could prove to be the biggest loss for the Panthers if he misses an extended period of time.
Since joining the lineup in place of injured center Dave Bolland, who remains inactive with a lower-body injury, Pirri has quickly become the team’s most reliable scoring threat, netting goals in three consecutive games.
"It’s too bad," Gallant said of Pirri’s injury. "He’s played real well. Hopefully it won’t be that long."
Bergenheim and Barkov, meanwhile, are said to be suffering from lower-body injuries, and it remains unclear if either of the team’s top-line forwards will be able to compete in Saturday’s game against Philadelphia.
Barkov, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, previously endured two separate knee injuries last season that limited his rookie campaign to 54 games. In seven games this season, he has notched one goal.
Once plagued by injuries that restricted him to 53 games during his first two seasons with the Panthers, winger Scottie Upshall knows firsthand how frustrating reoccurring health issues can be.
"It’s part of the game," said Upshall, who scored the game-winning goal Thursday. "[Barkov] works hard, he’s a good pro, and those things are going to happen. At 19 years old, a couple of bumps and bruises along the way are all part of the game."
Without several of their key players and looking to maintain their current five-game point streak, the Panthers will turn to their budding prospect pool for help.
Unlike years past, the organization now feels that they possess the depth necessary to succeed even in the face of adversity such as this. When one player goes down, another highly touted talent will seize the opportunity.
Hoping for the same success that Pirri saw prior to his injury, Gallant is confident the next batch players called upon will be just as prepared and effective.
"It’s tough to lose guys but, like I said, it gives guys an opportunity to step in," Gallant said. "We’ve got a lot more depth. We like our lineup and we liked the way things were going. Now, we’re getting challenged a little bit but there’s not doubt in my mind that these kids will come up and play real well."
TROCHECK, GRIMALDI GET THE CALL
With several regulars likely to sit out Saturday night, the Panthers recalled forwards Vincent Trocheck and Rocco Grimaldi from their American Hockey League affiliate in San Antonio.
Trocheck, 21, was a third-round pick of the Panthers in 2011 and made his debut with the team last season. A former MVP of the Ontario Hockey League, he’s tallied five goals and three assists in 20 NHL games. In eight games with San Antonio this season, he’s earned two goals and four assists.
Grimaldi, 21, was a second-round pick in 2011. Yet to make his NHL debut, the 5-foot-6 winger has notched three goals and one assist in eight games with San Antonio this season.
To accommodate the roster move, the Panthers have placed Bolland on injured reserve retroactive to Oct. 17 and Pirri on injured reserved retroactive to Oct. 30.
No strangers to one another, Grimaldi and Trocheck previously helped Team USA capture the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
EKBLAD NOT GOING ANYWHERE
As he prepares to play in his ninth NHL game Saturday, the Panthers have made it fairly clear rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad isn’t going anywhere.
Though the question of whether Ekblad would stick with the team past his nine-game tryout period was prevalent throughout the preseason, his play thus far has seemingly squashed that notion.
"We haven’t really talked about it," Gallant said of Ekblad’s situation. "The kid has been playing over 20 minutes, playing every situation. I didn’t expect him to be as good as he is at this level. He may have some ups and downs later in the season, I don’t know, but so far after eight games it’s been all positive. The kid has been outstanding."
Through eight games this season, Ekblad has certainly played up to the expectations that come with being the No. 1 overall pick. Playing alongside Brian Campbell on the team’s top defensive pairing, he has tallied two assists while averaging a hefty 21:56 of ice time a night.
"I think I’m playing well right now," Ekblad said. "I have some great guys to lean on and I feel good. I’ve been playing some important situations, getting every opportunity. Obviously, it’s something in the back of my mind, but they’ll tell me soon."
When Ekblad does receive the good news that we all expect is coming, he admits that while it will be a load off his mind, he doesn’t plan on taking his foot off the gas pedal.
"You don’t rest on your laurels," Ekblad said. "I’m the kind of guy who’s going to play with the same intensity and mindset throughout the whole year. I don’t want to change anything, I don’t want to let up on anything and I don’t want to overdo anything. I want to work on my game and be in the gym everyday working out to get better. That’s how I am."
Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere’s highly anticipated South Florida debut has been put on hold. Gostisbehere, the first South Florida-raised player to appear in the NHL, was sent back to Philadelphia’s American Hockey League affiliate after Friday’s morning workout in Sunrise.