The Florida Panthers have made it quite clear: They’re ready to get back on the ice.
Four days have passed since their season opener — a shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. They haven’t played a game since.
“You see all the games going on around the league, and guys are lighting it up pretty good,” forward Mike Hoffman said. “It makes you want to join in on that action.”
Come Thursday night, the Panthers will be back on the scoreboards when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center for the home opener of their 25th anniversary season. The puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. on a night when the Panthers will have most of their inaugural team from the 1993 season in town.
“It’s a long time in between games,” coach Bob Boughner said. “It’s easy to lose focus in practice. You want to try to have a good, sharp practice the day before the game. We were a little sloppy this morning, not because the guys were off but because we had so many practices. We’re excited to play.”
The Panthers enjoyed a successful year inside the BB&T Center during the 2017-18 season, going 27–11–3 on their home ice in Boughner’s inaugural season leading the team.
“We were a good home team last year,” Boughner said. “We want to remain that way.”
They also want to build on a strong performance in their regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a game Florida lost in a shootout after holding the top scoring team in the league last season to just one goal. The Panthers kept up the offensive tempo for most of the night with 43 shot attempts even though just one resulted in a goal.
“We had a lot of chances,” forward Vincent Trocheck said. “It’s just a matter of us putting the puck in the net.”
Boughner added: “I think we got a little bit unlucky, but those are the games you have to try to win before you get to a shootout because once that happens, it’s anybody’s game at that point.”
The Panthers are one of four NHL teams to have played in just one game so far this season along with the Lightning, New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers.
“Everybody wants to play,” Trocheck said. “Obviously the games are what we’re here for, right?”
Added veteran defenseman Keith Yandle: “When you haven’t played too many games since the season started, you get itchy, you get antsy and want to play, especially in front of your home crowd.”
But this slow start to the season is merely just the calm before the storm. After this brief homestand that ends with a Saturday night game against the Vancouver Canucks, Florida will have six games in a 12-day stretch. Five of those games will be on the road.
“That’s what we talked about today,” Boughner said, “how important tomorrow is, how important Saturday is before we start the heavy part of our schedule.“