Few players have been asked to do more in their time with the Florida Panthers than Tomas Kopecky.
In the past four seasons, Kopecky has played on all four forward lines and has been counted on as both a scorer (he led Florida in goals scored in 2013) and as a defensive maven.
“I don’t think he gets enough recognition,” Brian Campbell said. “He’s a great penalty killer, he is very reliable and was out there at the end of games. They spend a lot of time in the defensive zone. He’s kind of a glue player. I’ve been with him six years now and he’s a competitor. He wants to win and will sacrifice and do anything to win.”
In Sunday’s 4-2 win over the host Oilers, Kopecky scored his first goal in a month – and just his second of the season.
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Yet a lack of scoring belies Kopecky’s importance to the Panthers.
Playing on a shutdown defensive line with Derek MacKenzie and Scottie Upshall, the Panthers’ missed Kopecky’s presence when he missed four games from Dec. 30 to Jan. 4.
Florida lost three of the four games Kopecky missed. Since Kopecky’s return in Vancouver last week, the Panthers have won three straight.
“I’m not the most talented guy, but I’ll bet I outwork you every night,” Kopecky said Sunday. “That’s our motto. We just try to outwork the other guys. We haven’t gotten many lucky bounces. Perhaps it will start going the other way.”
Kopecky is one of a handful of Florida players on the verge of free agency.
Although he says neither the Panthers nor his agent have talked about a new deal yet, he has expressed interest in returning to Florida.
If coach Gerard Gallant has anything to say about it, expect Kopecky back next season.
“I like the guy, he’s in a perfect role here and does a good job,” Gallant said. “We could play him higher in the lineup some nights but I like the chemistry I see with Upshall and MacKenzie. They’re not a fourth line. They just aren’t.”
The Panthers have excelled away from home and have a chance at ending this six-game road trip with five wins Tuesday in Winnipeg.
Florida is 11-6-6 on the road this season and its 28 points was fourth in the league coming into Monday. The Panthers have earned points in 17 of their 23 road games.
“We’re a close-knit team,” Campbell said. “We enjoy hanging out together, enjoying sacrificing for each other. We’re committed. We have energy on the road and with [Gallant] playing everyone, we’re able to be fresh every night.”
▪ According to the Panthers, this monster road trip – which is the longest of the season – took them approximately 14,000 miles.
The trip started on Jan. 1 when the team flew to Buffalo and continued on to Washington, D.C. The team then took off for Vancouver with a stop to refuel their jet in Illinois.
After Vancouver, the Panthers visited Calgary and Edmonton.
▪ Jonathan Huberdeau’s point streak ended Sunday as he failed to record a point. In his previous two games, Huberdeau had a total of five points with three goals.