As the winless Panthers embark on a four-game, nine-day stretch away from home with only three goals under their belts, a road trip sounds pretty good right now.
Florida (0-3) is looking forward to restarting and refocusing on finding the back of the net beginning Friday at division rival Buffalo (1-3).
“I think everybody’s very excited to get on the road. I think this is perfect timing for what we’re doing,” said Erik Gudbranson, who scored in Florida’s season opener at Tampa Bay. “Get away from the normal home life and get out there and really grind out a couple wins in some tough buildings. It’s going to be really good for us to get out there as a team.”
Looking ahead to the road trip, coach Gerard Gallant also is looking forward to a day in Colorado and a few days off in Arizona to re-tool on the road.
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Shawn Thornton returned to work Thursday after he sat out Wednesday’s practice with a lower-body injury and was scratched in Tuesday’s game against Ottowa. Gallant said the veteran is still day-to-day, although Thornton said he’s making progress.
“Feeling better today than yesterday, hopefully better tomorrow than today,” Thornton said. “That’s the goal, anyways.”
Gallant started Jimmy Hayes in place of Thornton on Monday.
In his first game of the season, Hayes led the team with four shots.
He said execution, meaning being able to finish second-chance opportunities on offense, among other things, needs to be better in order for the Panthers to get their first win.
“We’re getting a lot of shots on net, but I think we just need to get some more in traffic, get those second opportunities and start capitalizing on our chances,” Hayes said.
“We’ve missed a couple 2-on-1s, that can change the game. … So if we can start capitalizing on chances down there and get more bodies around the net, I think we’ll be successful.”
ONE VS. TWO
Aaron Ekblad faces his old friend Sam Reinhart, who went to Buffalo as the No.2 pick in this year’s draft, on Friday.
Reinhard has seen action at center in all four Sabres games but has yet to record his first point in the NHL (Ekblad got his at Tampa Bay). To Ekblad, it’s all part of a longstanding, friendly competition.
“We’ve always been really good friends, it was a fun competition all year, thinking about ‘who’s going to go first, who’s going to go second,’ all that good stuff,” Ekblad said. “But we’ve always been really good friends — we keep in touch — but when the puck drops, it’s going to be a battle between me and him, and between the Florida Panthers and the Sabres.”
Friday: Panthers at Sabres
When/where: 7 p.m.; First Niagara Center, Buffalo, New York.
TV/radio: FSNF; WQAM 60.
The series: Buffalo leads 44-31-4.
Noteworthy: Last year, when these two teams were at the bottom of the NHL standings, Florida won the outright season series 3-1 for the first time since 2005-06.