Defenseman Noah Welch will play in place of Jassen Cullimore tonight against the Predators. (Getty Images)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Before taking their two-day Christmas break, the Panthers are hoping to add to their holiday cheer this evening when they play host to Nashville at BankAtlantic Center.
A victory over the Predators, and the Panthers can head into the break with a 9-2-3 mark over their last 14 games and winners of five of their last seven before a home-and-home series Friday and Saturday against the Lightning.
The Panthers will be without defenseman Jassen Cullimore this evening, who injured his hand during Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Colorado.
The good news is tests are negative, according to coach Peter DeBoer.
“It doesn’t look like they see anything on it,” said DeBoer after Tuesday morning’s skate at BankAtlantic. “We figured to give him the break, it’s still pretty sore, and, hopefully, he’ll be ready to come back against Tampa (Friday).”
Noah Welch, who filled in Dec. 18 when Cullimore was fighting the flu at Carolina, will be back in the lineup. Welch recently completed a two-week conditioning stint at the Panthers’ American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.
“I think Noah came in and he’s improved,” DeBoer said. “He realizes what we need for him to get in the lineup and be effective and that for him is to be simple, safe and physical. When we’ve stuck him in lately, even before the two week stint but right after the conditioning, he’s played well. I think the two weeks helped him as far as getting on the ice and playing 25, 30 minutes a game and contributing.”
Welch said it was “good to play” during his two weeks in Rochester. “And I’m back in tonight, which is good,” he added. “Hopefully, we can get two points before the break.”
Welch said DeBoer spoke to him before the Carolina game and told him to “play physical and keep the puck out of the middle of the ice.”
“Keep it safe,” Welch added. “I can do that.”
BELAK ON THE OPPOSITE SIDE
Wade Belak, who was traded to Nashville Nov. 27 in exchange for Nick Tarnasky, will be in the lineup tonight facing his old team. The Panthers have gone 7-2-2 since the trade, but DeBoer said crediting the Belak trade with the team’s turn-around would be “simplifying things.”
“I didn’t have a problem with Wade,” DeBoer said. “He came and worked hard every day. He did his job. We needed at that point in the season to shake up the team somehow and he was a casualty of that. He’s gone on and done good things in Nashville and we turned our season around. But it wasn’t because of the Wade Belak trade.”
DeBoer will sit Tarnasky tonight and go with Anthony Stewart in the lineup.
One former Predator who is in the Panther lineup tonight is goalie Tomas Vokoun, who enters tonight’s game off his 27th career shutout Sunday against the Avalanche.