Jay Bouwmeester, left, and Karlis Skrastins have helped the Panthers defense in scoring. The back unit is second in the league in scoring with 26 goals. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)
During the summer, GM Jacques Martin was adamant that the Panthers improve their blue line. There had to be more speed and the talent to rush the puck up ice and pitch in more goals.
Through the halfway mark in the season, the Panthers’ defense has scored 26 goals. That’s second in the NHL behind only Nashville (27) and ahead of Boston (24), Edmonton (24), Chicago (23), San Jose (23) and Toronto (23).
Jay Bouwmeester, who scored in Thursday’s 4-2 victory over Carolina, and Bryan McCabe each have seven goals. Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard each have four while Karlis Skrastins has pitched in with two and Jassen Cullimore and Noah Welch have one each.
McCabe was acquired over the summer for Mike Van Ryn and a draft pick, while Ballard and Boynton came via the trade for Olli Jokinen.
“Over the summer Jacques wanted to get more mobile, more puck-moving defenseman,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “I’m not sure that we felt we’d be at the top of the league, but I know our game plan at the beginning of the year was to utilize those guys to try and put more pressure on the other teams with our ‘D’ jumping into the rush and our ‘D’ pinching a little more than they have in the past, and I think we’ve been rewarded.”
The Panthers went through a 35 minute workout Friday at IncredibleIce in preparation for Saturday afternoon’s game against the Thrashers. The Panthers are 12-5-5 in their last 22 games and have taken seven of a possible eight points in their last four games.
After playing 10 of their last 15 games on the road, the Panthers will play six of their next eight games at BankAtlantic Center, where they’re 9-5-3.
“I know everyone is happy to be home,” DeBoer said. “But it’s important after the stretch of road games we had to take advantage of our home stand.”
DeBoer said Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 31 shots Thursday, would be back in the net.