CORAL SPRINGS – For the past several weeks, Jassen Cullimore had been keeping in shape by skating at home in Ontario with his 4-year-old daughter, Alivia.
“She’s not near NHL caliber,” said Cullimore with a smile, “but she runs a mean practice.”
All that hard work will begin paying off Saturday night when Cullimore, who signed on with the Panthers earlier in the week, returns to the lineup in Nashville.
“I felt good in practice,” said Cullimore Friday afternoon after going through his first practice with the team since training camp.
And that’s enough for Panthers’ coach Peter DeBoer.
“I don’t know if he’s ready,” said DeBoer laughing, “but he’s in (Saturday). It’s not really an option.”
With defensemen Cory Murphy (shoulder), Bryan Allen (knee) and Bryan McCabe (back) out of the lineup, the Panthers are counting on Cullimore to bring the same dependable, gritty play he delivered to the team last season.
Cullimore, who signed as a free agent last October, played in 65 games in 2007-08 and led the team with a plus-21 while scoring three goals and 10 assists. Invited to training camp this year but let go before the start of the season, Cullimore returned to Ontario before getting a call to sign-on with the Panthers once again from GM Jacques Martin.
Cullimore, who was being courted with one-way contracts by three other teams, said he was happy to return to a familiar place. He admits he wasn’t certain, however, that he would return when he wasn’t signed after training camp.
“Confident? Not necessarily,” he said. “I knew they wanted me here. Whether the situation was going to work out? I had no idea and neither did Jacques. It’s just one of those things. I don’t want to see injuries. I feel terrible guys got injured.”
DeBoer said Cullimore should provide much-needed help for the Panthers.
“I think he’ll really help us,” he said. “I don’t know if he’ll help us Saturday night, but he’ll help us long term. The way we want to play is based around a forecheck and the ‘D’ supporting the rush and our defenseman getting up and keeping pucks alive in the offensive zone. To play that way defensively you have to have a lot of energy, and it’s tough when you’re playing 30-plus minutes a night, or high 20s and (playing) three games in four nights.
“If we have a gap between our forward and our ‘D’ because they’re not getting up there because of fatigue, we get in trouble. I think that’s been the case in a few games, especially last week when we had four (games) in six nights.”
DeBoer doesn’t think it will take Cullimore long to be ready.
“He’s a pro,” he said. “He plays the game at this stage in his career more with his head than his physical tools. It takes guys like that a little less time to get ready than a skater.”
Craig Anderson will start in goal Saturday in Nashville. Expect Vokoun the following night in Atlanta… Stephen Weiss
(groin) and Gregory Campbell (hip) did not skate Friday and are not expected to play Saturday… The Panthers reassigned Shawn Matthias
to Rochester. Matthias played 7:21 of ice time Thursday in the Panthers’ 2-1 loss to Ottawa…