DENVER -- It will be a homecoming of sorts for Peter Mueller and Tomas Fleischmann tonight when the Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers meet at the Pepsi Center.
Mueller will play his first home game since opening night after he missed 41 consecutive games to recover from concussion-like symptoms. The 23-year-old right wing, who didn't play at all last season after suffering two concussions within a five-month period, returned to the Avalanche lineup last Thursday in Nashville and played in all three games of the road trip.
Fleischmann signed a four-year, $18 million contract with the Panthers as an unrestricted free agent on July 1 after collecting 8 goals and 13 assists in 22 games with the Avalanche last season. Acquired from Washington in a Nov. 30, 2010 trade in exchange for defenseman Scott Hannan, Fleischmann was a valuable offensive weapon but had to sit out the final 36 games after being diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs.
Fleischmann, 27, was put on medication and regained his health, and he's tied with Stephen Weiss for second in scoring on the Panthers with 15 goals and 19 assists in 44 games.
"He's a great kid and I enjoyed working with him last year," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said this morning. "He had some good production when he was with us; he had some good games when he was with us. Unfortunately, he got sidetracked by the injury there. Obviously, we went in a different direction in the offseason, but I'm glad to see that he's doing very well. I'm happy for him."
Sacco also has been pleased with the play of Mueller, who is still seeking his first point but had 11 shots on the three-game trip. He'll skate on a line with left wing TJ Galiardi and center Paul Stastny tonight.
"Good progression every game," Sacco said. "He feels more comfortable out there, and you can see that his energy level is increasing every time he steps on the ice. He's generated some scoring chances for himself and for his linemates. I think he's headed in the right direction. I know that he wants to get (a goal), and maybe feel a little better about himself. But I really like the way he's played, the way he's moving his feet. He's involved in the game physically, had three or four hits last game (Monday against Phoenix), so he's not shying away from the physical side of it.
"He's a good kid and he's gone through a long battle over the last couple of years. The guys in the room certainly are pushing for him and we're pushing for him and pulling for him and I'm hoping that he stays healthy and contributes to our team."
Mueller is excited to play before the home fans and is hopeful of returning to the form he displayed in 2009-10 when he had 9 goals and 11 assists in 15 games following his March 10, 2010 acquisition with Kevin Porter from Phoenix in exchange for Wojtek Wolski.
"I feel great. I definitely feel better than I did in the beginning of the year (when he played in the first three games)," Mueller said. "It seems like every game I've been getting more comfortable, and my ice time has been getting increased, which is nice. I'm still looking for that first (goal), but it's going to come sooner or later."
Tonight's game will be Mueller's first at the Pepsi Center since Oct. 8, when he had three shots in the Avalanche's 3-0 loss to Detroit.
"It's been quite some time," said Mueller, who is wearing a helmet with special padding and a tinted visor because bright arena lights can be difficult for concussion victims to handle. "I'm excited. It's going to be good to be in front of the home crowd and to hear the noise and just to be on the home ice. It's still a little weird waking up and knowing that you're going to play. It's a good feeling. I'm excited to be coming to the rink and being a part of the everyday situation."
Surgery for Jovo: The Panthers announced today that defenseman Ed Jovanovski will undergo hand surgery on Thursday at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, Fla., and will be sidelined indefinitely. Jovanovski, 35, was injured in a first-period fight with Boston's Daniel Paille on Monday. Keaton Ellerby, who has 2 assists in 15 games, is expected to take Jovanovski's place against the Avalanche.