The Panthers have their collective fingers crossed future Hall of Fame goalie Roberto Luongo doesn’t get hurt this year.
If he does, however, they hope they have a capable replacement.
Luongo didn’t miss much time last season, save for a shoulder injury suffered in March. During that same game, backup Al Montoya also got hurt leaving the Panthers in a tough spot.
Veteran Dan Ellis was recalled from Florida’s AHL team in San Antonio and played better than expected and helped keep the Panthers in the playoff conversation until Luongo was ready to come back.
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This year, Ellis is gone.
If Florida were to lose both Luongo and Montoya again this season, a well-traveled veteran is ready to take their spot.
Mike McKenna, a sixth-round pick of Nashville, has played in 22 NHL games for four different teams (Lightning, Devils, Blue Jackets and Coyotes).
His minor league résumé is much more diverse as he’s not only spent time in the ECHL (with Las Vegas) but has played in 332 AHL games for nine different teams from Milwaukee to Norfolk to Omaha.
Second-year pro Sam Brittain, who won 18 games between ECHL Cincinnati and San Antonio last year, returns and will likely see plenty of time in Portland as well.
“I thought this was the best chance I had to maybe get some NHL time and I’m going to make the most of that chance if it comes,’’ said McKenna, 32, who is pegged to start the season for Florida’s new AHL team in Portland, Maine.
“Everyone hopes to play with just two goalies in a season, but I have to be ready. This is what I always work for. I’ve had a few chances, but I sure would like another solid crack at it.’’
McKenna played in Portland last year as a member of the Arizona organization and quickly signed on with the Panthers in July.
Staying in Portland wasn’t the reason, he says.
“This is my 11th year and I’ve seen most scenarios,’’ McKenna said. “I feel comfortable that I can help out.”
Florida looked to solidify its goalie position last offseason by bringing in Montoya to back up Luongo.
Montoya had an inconsistent season as he went 6-7-2 and stopped just 89 percent of shots faced.
In June, general manager Dale Tallon went shopping, trying to acquire New York goalie Cam Talbot to not only backup Luongo, but to serve as his eventual heir apparent.
Tallon’s deal fell through but Montoya apparently noticed.
“It doesn’t bother me because nothing in the professional ranks has been handed to me,’’ Montoya said. “I’ve always had to compete and I feel, right now, I can take my game to the next level.’’
Tallon said he noticed the shape Montoya came to camp in and predicted he is due for a “big year.”
Montoya, drafted sixth overall by the Rangers in 2004, says he has confidence in the work and his skill to be up to the challenge.
“I went through some trying times last year, but on a personal note, I learned a lot,’’ Montoya said.
“Whatever this year throws at me, I’ll be ready for and I’m ready to help this team make the playoffs. I feel stronger mentally and physically and that’s going to show on the ice. I have the talent, I just have to do it and make it through a whole season. There was a reason I was drafted sixth overall, a reason I’ve won championships.’’
▪ Tuesday’s preseason game — Florida 3, Dallas 2: Jonathan Huberdeau didn’t waste much time reintroducing himself to the home fans as he scored Florida’s first two goals in the Panthers’ first home exhibition game of preseason.
Huberdeau’s first goal came when he picked off John Klingberg — one of the few Stars’ regulars to make the flight east — and deked out goalie Jack Campbell.
Just 38 seconds into the second, Huberdeau took a slick feed from Jaromir Jagr and snapped a high shot past Campbell to make it 2-0.
Luongo started for Florida and stopped all 15 shots he faced.
McKenna played the entire third and surrendered goals to All-Star Tyler Seguin and Jason Demers off nine shots.