As a young team, the Florida Panthers have struggled finding an identity on the road in the early going. They get another chance to begin forging one on Thursday night when they continue their five-game road trip against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Panthers (4-6-1) have just three points from their first six road games - going 1-4-1 - and are 0-3-1 during a current four-game losing streak overall. But with three days to regroup after a 5-3 defeat at Atlanta on Sunday in which they showed little jump at the outset, first-year coach Peter DeBoer is trying to get the message through to his players to start fast.
"We didn't have a good first period," Panthers forward Nathan Horton said about Sunday's loss to the team's official Web site. "That controls the game. If you have a good first period, a good start, you can build on that. That's what we want."
Horton will have to carry more of the offensive burden since leading goal-scorer Cory Stillman did not make the trip after suffering a concussion and facial lacerations on Sunday. It is unknown if center Stephen Weiss will miss his fifth straight game due to a groin injury, while puck-moving defenseman Bryan McCabe, who has missed Florida's last 10 games, is still day-to-day with a back injury.
The Kings (3-6-2) also are struggling in the early going, and currently mired in a five-game losing streak (0-3-2) after a 1-0 overtime loss to Anaheim on Tuesday. Erik Ersberg earned another start after stopping 26 shots before conceding the game-winner by Chris Pronger 40 seconds into the extra period.
"I think I played pretty well, we got one point, I guess that's good," said Ersberg, whose only previous action was two relief appearances of Jason LaBarbera in the first 10 games. "After the game you're just upset because you lost. It's my first start and it's really fun to be out there on the ice and get some shots. I guess it's a good game to build on. Hopefully next time we can get two points."
Scoring goals at Staples Center has been an issue for Los Angeles, which has been shut out three times in eight games there. Ten of its 18 goals came in its two wins, and its current five-game home losing streak is the longest since also going 0-3-2 from Oct. 12-22, 2006.
Coach Terry Murray is also concerned about his special teams. The power play has gone 4-for-41 (9.8 percent) the last eight games after scoring three times with the man advantage in a 6-3 win Oct. 14. While the Kings did kill five penalties Tuesday, Pronger's goal came four seconds after Wayne Simmonds' hooking penalty that carried over from the third period expired.
"It comes down to the special teams again," Murray bristled. "I thought we played very well against that hockey club five-on-five, but the special team part of the game right now is coming back at us. Our power play needs to get something going."
The Kings have won the last three games between the teams, but it is the first meeting since a 7-0 victory Feb. 3, 2007, in which Alexander Frolov had two goals and two assists.