Panthers hoping for reinforcements vs. Kraken

Panthers center Sam Bennett, who has yet to play this season, has returned to practice and could be back in the lineup when Florida hosts the Seattle Kraken in Sunrise on Saturday night.

Bennett, who scored 44 goals over the past two years, sustained a lower-body injury against the Tampa Bay Lightning in an Oct. 5 preseason game.

“It feels great,” Bennett said of his recovery. “When you’ve been out for a while, you really miss being out there.”

Bennett’s first practice since the injury was Thursday, and he was back in a comfortable spot — centering an explosive line that includes Matthew Tkachuk and Carter Verhaeghe.

Tkachuk scored 40 goals last season, finishing with a career-high 109 points. But with Bennett hurt, Tkachuk has no goals and six assists in six games so far.

Verhaeghe, who posted a career-high 42 goals and a career-high-tying 31 assists last season, has also been just a bit off. He has three goals and no assists this season.

When Bennett, Tkachuk and Verhaeghe skated together last season, they outscored opponents 23-12.

Besides hoping Bennett can return on Saturday, the Panthers also have captain Aleksander Barkov and defensemen Dmitry Kulikov battling the flu. They, too, could return on Saturday.

Two more Panthers players — defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour — are on injured reserve.

Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who rested on Tuesday when backup Anthony Stolarz beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1, is expected to return to the lineup against Seattle. Bobrovsky is 2-3-0 with a 3.06 goals-against average.

Another Panthers player to watch is center Sam Reinhart, who leads the team in goals (seven) and points (nine). He was the NHL’s “Third Star” last week after scoring five goals in three games.

Meanwhile, the Kraken made a massive leap from 60 points as an expansion franchise in 2021-22 to 100 points last season. Seattle then upset Colorado in the first round of the playoffs before losing in seven games to Dallas.

This season, the Kraken are off to a slow start, losing six of their eight games. Most recently, Seattle lost 3-2 at Carolina as the Hurricanes scored on a shot with just 10 seconds left in overtime.

“We played hard the full 60-plus minutes,” Kraken coach Dave Hakstol said.

The Kraken this season have used two goalies, giving four starts each to Joey Daccord, 27, and Philipp Grubauer, who turns 32 in November.

Daccord, who recorded 42 saves on Thursday, is 2-0-2 with a 2.83 goals-against average.

Grubauer, who was strong in last season’s playoffs, has yet to earn a win in the current campaign, going 0-4-0 with a 3.04 GAA.

Center Matthew Beniers, the NHL’s reigning Calder Trophy winner as rookie of the Year, keys Seattle’s offense. He had 24 goals and 33 assists last season. This season, he has yet to score a goal and has just three assists.

The Kraken also have two forwards on the injured list — Brandon Tanev and Andre Burakovsky. They combined last season to score 29 goals.

Fortunately, the Kraken still have defenseman Vince Dunn, who had a career-high 64 assists last season. This season, he has seven points in eight games, including a team-high six assists.

Jaden Schwartz leads Seattle with four goals, and ex- Panthers forward Jared McCann has three.

McCann, still just 27 years old, became the expansion Kraken’s first 40-goal scorer last season.