Before coming to the Panthers in a trade from Chicago last year, Jimmy Hayes struggled to find offensive success in the NHL.
By playing close to the net and taking advantage of his size and speed, Hayes has been able to give the Panthers some much needed scoring.
“That’s how we’re going to score our goals,” said Hayes, who has scored in each of Florida’s past two games.
“We had some nice passing, but it was right around the crease. We’re not going to be going east-to-west but north-south. That’s the kind of team we are.”
And that’s the kind of game that seems to suit Hayes’ style best.
Hayes played in 53 games with the Panthers last year after arriving from the Blackhawks in the Kris Versteeg deal and was a very pleasant surprise.
After scoring six goals in 43 games with Chicago over the course of three seasons, Hayes scored 11 with the Panthers.
In Saturday’s 6-4 loss to the Flames, Hayes got his first goal of the season by getting his stick on a Scottie Upshall shot and putting it through.
On Tuesday, Hayes gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead in an eventual 4-1 win over San Jose by knocking in a pretty pass from Vinny Trocheck.
“Trocheck made an unbelievable pass to find me back-door with an empty net,” Hayes said. “It was nice to be able to finish that one off.”
Coach Gerard Gallant said coaches talk to Hayes all the time about keeping his feet moving and utilizing not only his 6-5 frame but also his speed.
By going to the net, Hayes is finding good things are happening.
“He’s skating and he’s going to the net and he’s working hard,” Gallant said. “He’s a guy who can score goals. He’s a big-bodied guy and when he’s playing the way he is, he’s a very effective player for us.”
Brandon Pirri, out since Oct. 30 with a concussion, skated on Wednesday although the rest of the team did off-ice work.
Pirri, who was hit in the head by a Keith Yandle elbow, finished the game against the Coyotes but hasn’t done much work since.
The Panthers hope Pirri could be ready for next week’s west coast trip but are being cautious.
“He’s coming along pretty good,” Gallant said. “He hasn’t been cleared to play but is on the [concussion] protocol. I think he’s real close to coming back and skating.… There have been good signs. I think everything is going the right direction.”
▪ Florida has scored four goals in each of their past two games with the eight goals the most scored by the team in consecutive games since it tallied nine in back-to-back wins at Buffalo and Pittsburgh on Jan. 20-21.
The Panthers are 1-1-0 in the past two games.
“It’s good but we only got two points,” Gallant said. “It’s nice to score, nice to see some results and I know the players are happy to see some result because they’ve worked hard all year. The puck’s starting to go in.”