Tomas Kopecky isn’t scoring at the rate he did last year, but he said Sunday that he is OK with the role he plays with the Panthers.
Kopecky tied a career-high with 15 goals last season, doing so in just 47 played because of the lockout-shortened campaign.
Although Kopecky is doing many of the same things he has done in the past, the scoring hasn’t come as he hoped. He feels like things are going to even out.
In Saturday’s 5-4 shootout win over the visiting Predators, Kopecky scored his fourth goal of the season before ending the contest with a goal in the sixth round of the shootout.
“Each year is different, and I’m playing against the other team’s top lines,’’ said Kopecky, who got the shootout winner in Florida’s 10-round marathon against Washington on Dec. 13.
“The priority is on the defense. Last year I was playing on the first power play, and this year I’m not. Whatever helps the team win.
“I learned a long time ago not to feel sorry for yourself, just accept your role. Obviously it’s more fun when you’re scoring goals. But I’m putting the priority on shutting the other guy down.’’
Kopecky’s forte is creating traffic in front of the net and playing tough defense.
“He and Marcel Goc have been doing a lot of our penalty-killing duties,’’ coach Peter Horachek said.
“He’s a smart guy, a big body who you put in a lot of responsible situations, like late in the game. He’s come up big in a few shootouts and has been a guy who gets you 10, 15 goals. He’s a guy who has some skill, and [you] think he could hit that 20-goal plateau sometime.’’
As for Kopecky moving up higher in the Panthers’ shootout pecking order, don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Florida’s top three of Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes are pretty solid, with Nick Bjugstad a nice option if a shootout goes longer.
Kopecky is 3 for 7 in shootouts over his career with both game-deciding goals coming this season.
“You have to have a feel for what you have,’’ Horachek said.
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson might be back in the lineup Monday in Montreal but will do so wearing a steel cage on his helmet.
Gudbranson needed orbital bone surgery after being struck in the face by a puck Dec. 20 in Winnipeg. That was a rough trip for Gudbranson as he was slashed by a skate in Montreal a few days earlier.
“We’re hopeful he could play on this trip, as early as Monday,’’ Horachek said. “He’ll have to wear the cage because of the surgery. You can’t risk a direct hit.’’
Florida’s defensive depth has been receding of late with Alex Petrovic going down with an upper-body injury Saturday. Horachek said Petrovic will not be on this road trip. Dylan Olsen (lower body) will not fly to Montreal but could meet the team later on in its travels.
“We’re going to let [Petrovic] get some treatment and see where he is,’’ Horachek said. “We’ll know in the next few days. It’s better to have our doctors here look at him.’’
• Winger Jesse Winchester is three weeks removed from injuring his hand blocking a shot in Montreal.
He doesn’t have a cast on the hand anymore and said he should be back later in the month. Winchester won’t be on the trip.