As Dave Bolland remains questionable for Thursday’s matchup against Arizona at BB&T Center, Brandon Pirri is taking advantage of the minutes he’s getting in Bolland’s stead.
Bolland left the ice with a lower-body injury at the end of the Oct.17 win in Buffalo and hasn’t returned to play since. The center did not practice with the Panthers on Tuesday, though he did skate by himself in the morning.
Coach Gerard Gallant said Bolland is still day-to-day.
Meanwhile, Pirri stepped up on the road and became a difference-maker almost immediately.
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Grouped on the third line with Tomas Fleischmann and Jussi Jokinen, Pirri has scored two goals in three games. He is one of just three Panthers players with two goals this season.
Now Pirri, who logged seven goals and seven assists in 21 games last season with the Panthers, is hungry to prove he can be an “everyday guy.”
“It’s been really good. Sometimes you don’t build chemistry that quick, but [Fleischmann, Jokinen and I] are finding each other, working well together, keeping the puck out of our own net, and we’re creating chances,” Pirri said.
“It was fun to get in, and I have to make an impression to be a consistent guy in this lineup.”
Despite offensive production that relegates the Panthers to the bottom of the pack, Florida returned from its four-game road trip boasting one of the best defenses in the league.
They have the sixth-best goals-against record in the NHL, behind the likes of Nashville, Chicago and Los Angeles, and have allowed the fewest goals in five-on-five play this season.
For Gallant, that type of defense is the foundation for long-term success.
“We’re playing good defensive hockey,” Gallant said. “It’s all about scoring a few more goals, but you know what, when you start your franchise and you want to win hockey games, it’s about stopping goals before scoring goals.
“I think we’re doing a good job defending in our zone and not giving up scoring chances, and that’s where it’s going to start. The goals are going to come, but we’re happy with how we’re playing.”
Gallant said Tuesday that Florida’s high penalty count is a correctable discipline issue, and part of the solution involves taking shorter shifts to eliminate sloppy mistakes.
The Panthers have been short-handed more times than any other team this season, and 10 of their 16 goals allowed have come on opponents’ power plays.
Pirri said the players aren’t happy with the penalty count, and it’s a flaw they have to take accountability for.
“We just have to work that much harder to move our feet,” Pirri said. “Our penalty kill has been good, it’s just when you’re giving up eight a game, they’re going to score — that’s just percentages, right? So for us, it’s just working hard, playing a little smarter and being a little smarter with our sticks.”