So no surprise, then, that Florida’s had difficulty matching opponents in the toughness department this season — something that irked head coach Gerard Gallant in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Flyers.
The Panthers had no suitable enforcer to respond Tuesday when Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds got feisty or when Radko Gudas flattened Vincent Trocheck with a headshot. Gallant said he regretted not having Thornton available.
“You always think that when things happen to your team. It’s frustrating to see that happen, especially in your own building,” Gallant said. “The Simmonds situation and then the Gudas hit on Trocheck, you’d like a response on that.
“But when you don’t have personnel to put out there for that it shows.”
We don’t want this to devolve into a new-school-vs.-old-school debate, but facts are facts — right now, Florida is without four of its most physically engaging players from last year. Petrovic and Gudbranson are both huge (6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, respectively) and finished first and third on the team in hits.
Kulikov finished fifth — routinely playing larger than his 6-foot-1, 204-pound frame — and Thornton was an active pugilist, scrapping six times.
It’s not like Florida hasn’t tried to replace some of the sandpaper element. The Dylan McIlrath acquisition was viewed as a direct response, and the club named grinding veteran forward Derek MacKenzie as team captain this season. MacKenzie has routinely been one of the club’s leaders in hits, and will toss the mitts when required.
But on nights like Tuesday, the toughness void was apparent. One has to wonder if team president Dale Tallon and GM Tom Rowe won’t try to address this as February’s trade deadline draws closer.