Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ Jimmy Hayes is planted in right spot

The Panthers are always looking to find bigger and stronger forwards, so it should have been no surprise when Dale Tallon acquired Jimmy Hayes in a November trade.

At 6-6 and 220 pounds, Hayes has been encouraged to continue to use his big frame to get down low by the net and create chances.

Since the Olympic break, Hayes’ commitment to doing that is paying off.

In Florida’s first game back from the break, Hayes got in front of goalie Braden Holtby, completely blocking his view of a Drew Shore shot that sailed through.

On Sunday, Hayes notched his first two-goal game of his NHL career.

In both cases, Hayes took advantage of his positioning.

The first goal came when Nick Bjugstad’s shot bounded off of goalie Chad Johnson’s pads and went right to Hayes camped in front.

His second goal against the Bruins — Hayes’ hometown team — came when he drove in on Johnson and put the puck between his skates.

“Every day is a work in progress,” Hayes said afterward. “I have to keep developing my game every day, move forward and be a consistent power forward each night. You have to get the mind-set to do it every night. I had success at the minors, I just have to bring that here. I know my role, I’m using my size. That’s what I am.”

Hayes didn’t see much playing time before the break as he was a healthy scratch for Florida’s final three games.

Upon returning to practice, coach Peter Horachek made it a point to get Hayes more time if he would get into those hard areas of the ice.

It’s paying off for both.

“He hangs around the net, is willing to go there and has been at the right place at the right time,” said Horachek, who is now using Hayes on the power play as well.

“We need more of that. Some people call them dirty or greasy goals, well, I just call them goals. In the NHL right now, you have to be around the crease to keep scoring. We’re not going to score all our goals on the rush. We have to be more diligent going to the net.”

Hayes came to Florida in the Kris Versteeg trade. Breaking into the Chicago lineup is a challenge, so when he was traded to Florida, it appeared he would get more of an opportunity.

In his 35 games with the Panthers, Hayes has seven goals and two assists. In his previous 43 games, Hayes had six goals and seven assists.

“This is where he can make his mark,” Horachek said. “There’s a lot of guys in the league who have done this and made quite a nice living.”

Said Hayes: “Being consistent as a pro is something I’ve been learning. That’s going to keep me in the game at this level. I have to bring it every night.’’

Crammed schedule

The Panthers will play 17 games this month as they now embark on a hard end-of-the-season run.

Florida has 18 games remaining and will play them in the following 32 days.

The Panthers have three sets of back-to-back games scheduled (starting with Thursday’s game in Tampa) and have two days between games only once until the end of the season.

“This is part of it, and last year was kind of the same,” Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We just have to battle through it. Everyone has the same schedule.”