It’s tough to pinpoint if the Florida Panthers can return to the form that took them to the Stanley Cup Final last June, ultimately losing to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.
Florida will try to continue to recapture some of that grinding force heading into Winnipeg on Saturday afternoon to take on the Jets, in both teams’ second game of the season.
With one game under their belt, a 2-0 loss to the host Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, the early part of the season seems to be more about bringing the Panthers — who have been hampered by injuries — together following a lengthy playoff run.
Eight new skaters made the opening night roster, while top defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour are expected to remain out until at least mid-December, both recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
Those injuries were a big reason that veteran blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson was brought in on a one-year deal as a free agent.
“It’s not that hard to come in with all these guys,” said Ekman-Larsson on his comfort level. “They’ve been so good since Day One, just trying to help me and trying to get me to feel a part of it. It’s been pretty easy. Some details I still need to work on, but overall I’ve felt pretty good.”
Also missing is forward Sam Bennett, who is not on the road trip.
“He won’t be too much longer, but he’s not here,” said Panthers coach Paul Maurice when asked about the status of Bennett’s lower-body injury.
On the flip side, the Jets are attempting to find an elusive consistency. They started this season with the mission of better defining themselves as a team that is tough to play against and turns strong defense into offensive opportunities.
Despite a season-opening 5-3 loss at Calgary on Wednesday night, where the Jets surrendered the game-winning goal to Elias Lindholm with 1:32 remaining, Winnipeg coach Rick Bowness was happy with his club’s play.
“We certainly played well enough to get at least a point out of there,” Bowness said. “It just didn’t go our way … but I really liked the way we played and if we play like that, we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
The Jets dominated, outshooting Calgary 37-22, but were not able to beat goalie Jacob Markstrom, despite peppering him with several high-quality chances from directly in the slot.
“I thought we played a really solid game,” said Jets forward Mark Scheifele, who scored in the opener. “We got to be positive here, it’s the first game. Our first game with really our entire lineup so … we can’t dwell on the result too much and just keep building.”