That was the word here from Panthers’ coach Peter DeBoer after Wednesday’s practice at IncredibleIce. As the Panthers continued preparing for the second half of the season – one point out of the playoffs and boasting the best record at this point in the season since Whitney Houston and Sugar Ray were still on the charts – DeBoer wasn’t going to allow his team to take it easy.
Two hard practices this week was a clear message that DeBoer won’t let his team come out of this two-day break the way they did a similar break at Christmas, when the Panthers lost four consecutive games.
“We have two breaks, this week and the All-Star break coming up, and we can’t afford to come out of either one of them and drop three, four in a row,” DeBoer said. “I think whatever we did at Christmas, we’ll do the opposite.”
After a slight pause, DeBoer, with a smile, added, “And we won’t have to worry about guys being full on turkey these two breaks.”
“I’m not sure it can all be chalked up to the break,” continued DeBoer of the team’s setback after Christmas. “I think we got away from our game plan, got a little complacent and forgot how hard we had to work to win those games. We just have to make sure we don’t make that mistake.”
DeBoer said much was made about the Panthers getting off to a better start than they had over the past eight season. But he said it’s just as critical for the team to raise their game in the second half.
“We recognized the first half of the season was critical,” he said. “That this team historically, at this point in the year, had been on the outside looking in, almost far enough that it almost seemed hopeless. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen.
“But the league gets a lot better the second half. Everyone cranks their game up another level. We’ve got to be able to raise ours to stay in the hunt.”
MURPHY BACK IN TOWN
Defenseman Cory Murphy was back at practice Wednesday after completing a two-week conditioning stint with the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Rochester. Murphy, who’s been bothered by shoulder problems during his stint in Florida, played well in Rochester, scoring two goals (six points) in five games and finishing a plus-two.
When asked about Murphy’s status with the Panthers, DeBoer said; “We’ve got eight healthy ‘D.’ I think he fits in a lot like our 13th and 14th forwards. They’re waiting for an opportunity to play due to injury or someone not getting the job done.”
“He’s back and healthy,” added DeBoer of Murphy. “Unfortunately, he’s missed a long time (45 games this season) with his shoulder injury. He’s just got to wait for an opportunity and make the most of it.”
KREPS SLOWLY COMING AROUND
Kamil Kreps, out since Dec. 28 with a shoulder injury, is slowly improving, DeBoer said, and was listed as “50-50” for Friday’s game at BankAtlantic Center against the Flyers.
“He took a little bit of contact today,” DeBoer said. “He’s definitely not 100 percent yet. We’ll see him soon. I don’t know if it will be Friday.”
ALLEN WATCHES AND CONTINUES REHAB
Defenseman Bryan Allen watched practice Wednesday as he continues to slowly progress from knee surgery in October. Allen said he’s pretty much accepted the fact he won’t be returning this season.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I’ve gone through such a process that there’s no point of rushing it now. I’m 28 years old. It’s not like I’m 38 and trying to play one more year. You have to look at the longterm, and I’m trying to be smart about it.”
Allen visited doctors in Colorado recently and was given the green light to ride a bike to try and maintain some strength and range. He’ll return to Colorado in March to check his progress.
“Right now I’m still pretty limited,” he said. “There’s no weight-bearing exercises.”
Allen, who had arthroscopic surgery over the off-season, played the first two games of the season before the knee swelled and cartilage surgery was deemed necessary.
“I never thought it would be this long a process,” Allen said. “It’s a pretty frustrating time going back to when I hurt my knee last March and it bothered me ever since. But it’s encouraging to know that once I go through this process I won’t have this problem again.”