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East-West Road Trip Key for Cats

by Mike Lewis / Florida Panthers

The Panthers will be on the road for ten days, playing four games and traveling over 10,000 miles in the process. The first long road trip of the season, and the first time the team will head out into Western Conference territory for a game, the Panthers will certainly be racking up the frequent flyer miles.

Searching for their first win of the season, Florida will face the Sabres on Friday night (10/17) in a meeting that will showcase the top two picks in the 2014 draft. Aaron Ekblad (first overall, Florida) and Sam Reinhart (second overall, Buffalo) will meet on NHL ice for the first time in their young careers. Florida has found success over the Sabres in recent years, defeating them in their last three matchups and hasn’t lost a game in Buffalo since Dec. 9, 2011.

The stay in Buffalo will be short-lived as the Cats travel to Washington D.C. the next day to face their old rival of the Southeast Division days, the Washington Capitals, before heading west to play the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes to round out the road trip.

Despite falling to the Ottawa Senators on Monday night, there is optimism still surrounding the locker room. D Erik Gudbranson has mentioned “keeping it positive” as being important for them going forward. The 22-year old defenseman feels that despite the recent losses, the team has made good progress early in the season.

“There have been a lot of really good things we’ve done,” said Gudbranson.

“With exception to the home opener, we didn’t start that game very well, we didn’t get started until mid-way through the second period. Obviously power play and penalty kill are our main focuses. You’re not going to go anywhere in this league unless those are in the top ten. That’s our goal, to get up there and be clean through the power play, solid through the penalty kill and do the little things, like managing the puck well.”

Off the ice, the Panthers have had opportunities, like the visit to West Point, to become a closer, more cohesive unit. The first road trip of the season is a continuation of that opportunity to bring the team together.

“I think everybody’s very excited to get on the road”, said Gudbranson.

“I think it’s perfect timing for what we’re doing. To get away from the normal home life and get out there and really grind out a couple wins in some tough buildings. It’s going to be really good for us to get out there as a team and I definitely think we’re going to have a good trip.”

Coach Gerard Gallant sees a lot of positives in his team and feels that the work they’ve done in practice will pay off soon. With a new group of players learning a new system and learning to jell with one another, bumps in the road are to be expected, but coach Gallant believes in nine periods of hockey, the team has played eight strong ones.

“In eight periods, we played real well,” said Gallant.

“We’ve had one bad period, besides that we played well, played really hard. It’s disappointing not scoring many goals early on, but it’s tough to score goals in the NHL. A lot of teams are struggling to score goals.”

The Panthers face the Sabres tomorrow at 7:00pm at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

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