A few gray hairs mingling with the orange is one clear sign that Brian Campbell is getting older. A look at his career numbers provides further evidence. He’s approaching 1,000 games in the NHL, a milestone that seemed out of the realm of possibility back when he was a benched youngster in Buffalo.
Once Campbell gets on the ice, though, it’s as if he hasn’t aged a day. The defenseman can still skate all night, make defensive plays and provide offense. He’s helped the Florida Panthers grow into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
“I feel good,” Campbell said Tuesday before a 7-4 victory over the Sabres. “I’ve felt better this year than I have in the last couple years. Nothing’s really changing. I feel like I can get the job done and keep going. I’m having a lot of fun with it.”
A few tweaks to his training regime and a winning team have reinvigorated Campbell, who turns 37 in May. He skates a team-high 21:36 per game for the Panthers, is tied for first with a plus-20 rating (including a plus-4 Tuesday) and is third in Corsi. He scored during the first period and picked up an assist in the second to run his totals to five goals and 22 points, which ranks 39th among NHL defensemen.
“Brian’s a great skater and he moves the puck real good for our team,” coach Gerard Gallant said in First Niagara Center. “He’s had a real good year for us.”
Overshadowed nowadays by Jaromir Jagr, Roberto Luongo, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau, Campbell still brings a championship pedigree to the Panthers (31-16-6). He won a Stanley Cup in Chicago and likes what he sees in Florida – usually.
“We’re still trying to find some consistency with our team,” he said. “When we’re on our game, we can play with anybody. There’s some lapses here and there that we need to be more consistent with.
“We’ve got a lot of good, young players mixed in with some veteran guys, so it’s a good locker room to get the job done.”
Campbell continues to get it done every night for the Panthers. He’s played in 348 consecutive games since arriving in 2011. He skated in his 974th game Tuesday, putting him on track to reach 1,000 before the regular season ends.
“I don’t think anybody here in Buffalo or anywhere would have thought that,” said Campbell, who was still competing for playing time at age 24. “Obviously, that’s special. Hopefully, I can get there. It’s pretty rewarding for myself. I’m pretty hard on myself and I’m pretty intense and focused and don’t have a lot of time to breathe throughout a season. That I feel is pretty special for myself.
“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a good ride.”
It’s not over yet, though his contract nearly is. The eight-year, $57.1 million deal he signed with Chicago in 2008 expires after the season. Though he enjoys spending time with his 2-year-old and 8-month-old children, he’s not ready to be a stay-at-home dad.
“I feel like I’ve got more left in me,” Campbell said. “Do I want to continue playing after this year? Yeah, I definitely do and I feel like I can. That’s how I’ll take it for now.”
Dan Bylsma isn’t a fan of using seven defensemen and 11 forwards. He had no choice against the Panthers.
Center Johan Larsson got hurt during the morning skate, and left wing Zemgus Girgensons was unable to go because of a lower-body injury. The Sabres, who are at the roster limit of 23 players, would have needed to put a player on seven-day injured reserve in order to call up a forward from Rochester. With the injuries deemed minor, Buffalo opted to use an extra blue-liner as a forward.
Jake McCabe filled in at right wing on the fourth line with David Legwand and Daniel Catenacci.
“Larsson came to the game still with a possibility of being able to play,” Bylsma said. “We knew that was the case. We were still comfortable going with seven defensemen if he wasn’t able to go, which he wasn’t.”
The injuries jumbled the Sabres’ lines. Sam Reinhart dropped from first-line wing to second-line center in the middle of Evander Kane and Brian Gionta. Nicolas Deslauriers skated with center Ryan O’Reilly and right wing Jamie McGinn, while Jack Eichel centered for Marcus Foligno and Matt Moulson.
The Sabres moved one day closer to the Feb. 29 trade deadline, with McGinn’s status still the key talking point. If the sides can’t work out a contract extension, he’ll be on the block.
“You do think about it, but right now it’s not in my control,” McGinn said. “Hopefully, everything takes care of itself, but first and foremost I have to take care of what I do on the ice and how I’m playing and make them want to keep me here.”
McGinn, O’Reilly and Rasmus Ristolainen were each minus-4 against the Panthers.
The Panthers played without No. 1 center Aleksander Barkov, who took a hit to the head from Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader on Monday. Barkov has 16 goals and 35 points in 43 games while skating between Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau.
There was no supplemental discipline leveled against Abdelkader. There is no timeline for Barkov’s return.
“It’s one of those borderline hits where if it’s against your team you’re not happy,” Gallant said. “They’ll definitely look at it and argue about it, but I don’t like it.”