When asked if he could pick out what has exactly gone wrong with his team this season, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon sits back in his chair and closes his eyes.
Tallon doesn’t really have one.
“We had a pretty good team last year,” Tallon said, literally wringing his hands. “To have this happen is frustrating. I’m actually confused. I can’t figure out for the life of me how this happened. But it did, and we have to deal with it and get better.”
The Panthers hoped to compete for a second consecutive division championship this season, but those plans unraveled not long after Florida’s opening-night dismantling of the visiting Hurricanes.
Florida had a bunch of players injured coming out of the lockout — and many of those who weren’t injured came in out of shape. The Panthers lost five in a row following the 5-1 win over Carolina and were treading water from then on.
The Panthers came into Saturday’s game — their sixth consecutive loss — with seven regulars on the shelf as Ed Jovanovski returned after missing six weeks.
Florida might spin off some players by the April 3 trade deadline, although Tallon said he is not going to do anything crazy despite reports to the north saying otherwise. A fire sale, Tallon said, isn’t forthcoming.
On Friday, Tallon made an addition by acquiring defenseman T.J. Brennan from Buffalo for the fifth-round pick the Panthers got from Los Angeles for Keaton Ellerby.
“I’m listening to everything there is, but there’s a lot of vultures out there,” Tallon said. “Guys want to pluck our top players. I’m not going to do anything emotionally, anything to disrupt the future of this team for a Band-Aid for this year.”
• The Panthers had a familiar face in the lineup Saturday as Jovanovski, Florida’s captain, returned after missing 21 games. Jovanovski had been out since Jan. 29 with a lower-body injury. But Jovanovski left in the second period and did not play in the third. Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said he would give an update on Jovanovski’s injury Monday.
“That’s a heck of an addition, having our captain back,” Dineen said. “He’s been sorely missed. He makes a big difference with our group.”
Jovanovski was reunited on Florida’s blue line with Erik Gudbranson. Those two paired up last year for much of Gudbranson’s rookie season.
Gudbranson, who was named an alternate captain Thursday in Boston, said he was glad to see Jovanovski — the top pick of the 1994 draft by the Panthers — back on the ice.
“It’s really good to have him back, and we’re all excited about it,” Gudbranson said. “He’s been around for so long, he really understands the game. He knows how to get a team fired up. We need him to bring our confidence back.”
• Jovanovski said he felt for Kris Versteeg, who will have season-ending knee surgery likely in the coming week. Versteeg spent last summer rehabbing after hip surgery and spent most of this season in the training room with one injury or another.
“He’s going to be rehabbing for like three summers in a row. You feel for him,” Jovanovski said. “But he’ll come back stronger than ever. But it’s a grind, that’s for sure. He has to dig deep and find it.”