Florida Panthers

Shane O’Brien ‘solid’ in Panthers debut

Florida Panthers defenseman Shane O'Brien (74) and Florida Panthers right wing Scottie Upshall (19) celebrate O'Brien's goal against the Dallas Stars in the second period of an NHL hockey preseason game, in Sunrise, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014.
Florida Panthers defenseman Shane O'Brien (74) and Florida Panthers right wing Scottie Upshall (19) celebrate O'Brien's goal against the Dallas Stars in the second period of an NHL hockey preseason game, in Sunrise, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. AP

Although coach Gerard Gallant didn’t want to talk about it, trying not to jinx things, the Panthers have been extremely fortunate when it comes to the health of their defensemen.

On Friday night, Erik Gudbranson became just the second Florida defenseman to miss a game with an injury after sustaining a slight injury during the morning skate earlier in the day.

Unlike in past years, Florida didn’t have to go to its minor-league team and recall an inexperienced youngster as a replacement.

Instead, the Panthers called up NHL veteran Shane O’Brien, who has over 500 games of experience. Florida’s defense didn’t seem to miss a beat, as the Panthers held Buffalo to seven shots on goal in the opening period and won 2-0.

“I thought he was real solid,” Gallant said of O’Brien, who was paired with Dylan Olsen.

“He’s played a lot in the NHL, so he’s a veteran, did his job and did it well. I didn’t see any mistakes. There’s no doubt he has experience, and he knows all our guys. It’s great when you can bring up a guy like that.”

Florida hasn’t had to mess with its defensive pairings very much this season, as the six players it started the season with have played in every game but five.

Dmitry Kulikov, whose play has been much improved this season, is the only other defenseman to miss time. He was out for four games with a knee injury in November.

Gudbranson didn’t practice on Saturday and is doubtful for Sunday’s game against the host Capitals.

“It’s good to be able to have the same partners, have some camaraderie, and I think it’s really helped us,” defenseman Brian Campbell said. “O’Brien has a lot of games worth of experience, but it’s never easy to step in and play that first game. But I thought he was good.”

Knowing a player with O’Brien’s experience was playing in San Antonio was one reason Colby Robak was deemed expendable. Robak had been Florida’s seventh defenseman until he was traded to Anaheim last month.

When Kulikov was injured, Robak filled in. After Robak was traded, O’Brien became Florida’s top option, as general manager Dale Tallon told him he would be.

O’Brien came to the Panthers on a tryout during training camp after he and Calgary parted ways following last season.

With Robak occupying the seventh spot, O’Brien was offered a two-way deal by Tallon with an opening assignment in the minors.

O’Brien didn’t think it would take so long, yet Friday marked his first game with the Panthers. Sunday should be his second.

“I know I can still play, and you want to take advantage of your opportunity when you have it,” O’Brien said. “I know a lot of the guys here, and being in the NHL is definitely fun. When something is taken away from you, you have a real appreciation when it’s back.”

this and that

▪ The Panthers haven’t enjoyed many of their trips to Washington lately. Since the 2009-10 season, Washington has won 12 of 13 against Florida at home, including the past nine.

And although Florida’s previous loss here in October was a respectable one (2-1 in a shootout), most of its losses here have been ugly. In those past 13 games at Verizon Center, the Capitals have outscored the Panthers 53-20. Florida hasn’t won at Washington since Dec.9, 2010.

▪ Tomas Fleischmann did not practice Saturday and is doubtful for Sunday’s game.

▪ Gallant said Roberto Luongo would be in goal against the Capitals. Luongo has won seven of his past eight starts at Washington either for the Panthers or while with Vancouver.

Sunday: Panthers at Capitals

When/where: 3 p.m.; Verizon Center, Washington.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560.

Series: Washington leads 59-45-9.

Noteworthy: The Capitals are fresh off a 3-2 win over Chicago in Thursday’s Winter Classic at Nationals Park. … Washington has at least one point in 12 of its past 13 games (9-1-3).

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