The Florida Panthers haven’t exactly broke out of the starting gates strong in the past few seasons.
In each of the past few seasons, the Panthers sat at the 10-game mark hovering around .500 following losses to the Boston Bruins.
In 2014, coach Gerard Gallant’s team was 4-2-4 after losing to the host Bruins 2-1 in overtime on Nov. 4; last year, Florida was 5-4-1 after a 3-1 loss to the visiting Bruins on Oct. 30.
On Wednesday, the Panthers reconvened at BB&T Center following a 2-1 loss to the Bruins which left them at 4-5-1 and tied for last place in the Atlantic Division they won last year.
There was no fighting, no bag skates. No, Wednesday was a simple “work day” as captain Derek MacKenzie referred to it as the Panthers realize this is quite the long season.
The Panthers bounced back two seasons ago and were in the playoff hunt until the final weeks; last year, a 12-game winning streak helped Florida rise to the top of its division and pretty much stay there the rest of the way.
This season, Gallant points at a handful of games — against Washington and at Buffalo — he hasn’t been pleased with. Aside from those games, the Panthers have been right there.
“I’m not worried,” Gallant said Wednesday, “I wish we were 7-1 but we’re 4-5-1. We work hard, we play hard. We’ll see what happens. I’m not going to come in here sulking already. It’s too early for that.”
The Panthers haven’t exactly been tearing things up lately, losing six of eight after a 2-0 start with home wins against New Jersey and Detroit.
Of Florida’s four wins this year, two have come against the Red Wings and one against the Devils. New Jersey is back in town Thursday.
“I think we have to just stick to the game plan,” MacKenzie said about Florida’s slow start. “It’s easy to come up with reasons ‘why?’, but they don’t matter. Moving forward, we have to focus on the things we’ve been doing well. And I think there have been lots of them. Today was a work day in the sense where we worked on things that we’re not doing well.”
The Panthers did a little bit of everything at Wednesday’s practice including work on a power play that failed them badly on Tuesday.
Florida saw its power play ranking drop from 19th in the league to 24th after going 0-for-7 against the Bruins — which have won 11 of their past 14 at BB&T Center including the past three.
Gallant said his team was getting too fancy and not creating enough chances.
“When you go out there, stand out and try and make cute plays like we did [Tuesday],” he said, “it’s not going to work.”
Aside from the standings, Florida is seeing some of its top guns get off to slow starts to the season.
While Jonathan Marchessault has thrived on Florida’s top line, Sasha Barkov has two goals and five points; Jaromir Jagr has a goal and four points after leading the Panthers in scoring last season.
Reilly Smith, who went on a scoring tear early in the playoff series against the Islanders, is tied for eighth on the team in scoring with a goal and three points.
“We have to capitalize,” said defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who is tied for 17th on the team in scoring with a goal and no assists. “We need to get shots the net, create rebounds because that’s where most of the goals are scored these days. ... The whole game of hockey sounds simple; you put the puck in the net, win a game. There’s a lot of little intricacies we go through every night. Those details are going to help us win games moving forward.”
▪ Gallant said both Nick Bjugstad (hand) and Jussi Jokinen (lower body) could be back with the team as early as next week.
Bjugstad suffered a fracture in his hand when jammed up against the goal cage during an exhibition game in Dallas; Jokinen was said to have tweaked a knee during the World Cup of Hockey and has been out since leaving against the Capitals on Oct. 20.
Gallant said Bjugstad has been skating hard and was scheduled to have the cast on his hand taken off. Jokinen is said to have begun skating again on Tuesday.
“They won’t play the next two games, but the start of next week, that’s what we’re hoping for,” Gallant said. “We will know more next week. They are getting close.”
Thursday: Devils at Panthers
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560; WMEN 640, WMYM 990.
Series: New Jersey leads 52-31-7.
Scouting report: The Devils are well rested after not playing since beating the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 on Saturday night. New Jersey has won three of its past four games and has a point in all four. Florida has lost six of its past eight but beat the Devils 2-1 in overtime on opening night at BB&T Center last month.