Derek MacKenzie is one of Florida’s most trusted penalty killers.
So when he had a chance to score a short-handed goal on a Florida kill Tuesday night and didn’t, that didn’t sit well with him.
Roberto Luongo joked that MacKenzie’s missed opportunity against St. Louis goalie Jake Allen on a breakaway put him into “beast mode.”
MacKenzie looked like a player possessed as he stole the puck from the Blues twice in the second period and scored on both chances to lead the Panthers to a 3-1 win and their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Before scoring twice Tuesday, MacKenzie had just one goal this season.
“I was so disappointed not to score on the [penalty kill] because our guys were working so hard right there,” MacKenzie said after Florida’s informal workout at Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday afternoon.
“I thought, at the time, that would would have been a big momentum swing. So then I wanted to come out and redeem myself a little and get on the board.”
Although MacKenzie has shown a little scoring flair in his season-plus with the Panthers, the team is by no means counting on him to score.
MacKenzie’s role, one he fully embraces, is as a defensive forward. He centers Florida’s fourth line, is on the Panthers’ top penalty-killing team — one that has killed nine consecutive chances over the past three games and 17 of its past 19 overall.
“You don’t judge MacKenzie’s game by goals or assists, ever, but when he gets an opportunity like that, everyone is happy for him,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “And those weren’t lucky goals. He looked like a goal scorer in that period.”
MacKenzie seems to enjoy the attention Tuesday’s performance has brought, even if it means a little extra ribbing from his teammates.
“Go ahead,” linemate Shawn Thornton said as he walked by the Nashville barbecue feast set up behind MacKenzie. “Tell ’em all how great you are.”
MacKenzie, his teammates all know, is far from a braggart, nor will he let this scoring outburst affect the game he plays.
When asked about his game Tuesday and Wednesday, the first people MacKenzie mentioned were his linemates and those who kill penalties alongside him.
Like MacKenzie, they don’t get much attention most days. When they do, some enjoy it. Put MacKenzie in that category.
“You nailed it; that was fun,” MacKenzie said. “We love our role, love our job on the fourth line and are willing to do whatever.
“We all enjoy scoring. It doesn’t happen often, but you hope it happens in a setting like that where it means something.”
▪ Center Nick Bjugstad continues to be evaluated in South Florida after a lingering problem continued in Monday’s practice and he was sent home from St. Louis.
Gallant said he didn’t have much of an update on Bjugstad’s injury, which the team will only classify as an upper-body injury, but did say he would miss at least the next two games.
Gallant did clarify that the injury is not to Bjugstad’s back; he missed the final 10 games last year after undergoing back surgery.
▪ Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov participated in Florida’s full practice Wednesday but isn’t expected back in the lineup until Friday at Columbus.
The Panthers don’t want Kulikov, who sustained a slight knee injury Nov. 14, to play on consecutive nights yet. That, and Florida’s defensive pairings have looked pretty good lately.
“It may be tough for him to get back in the lineup,” Gallant joked.
Thursday: Panthers at Predators
When, where: 8 p.m.; Bridgestone Arena, Nashville.
TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM (560), WMEN (640).
The series: Nashville leads 11-8-3.
Scouting report: The Panthers haven’t won in Nashville since the Preds’ second season, way back in 1999 — a span of nine games (there were two ties). Florida lost both games to Nashville last season in shootouts.