That’s the word Radek Dvorak chose recently to describe how he feels about this year’s Florida Panthers.
“We showed last year, the last 20 games, we can win hockey games,” said Dvorak, entering his 13th NHL season. “It’s something that gives me confidence. We showed we can do it. The league knows we can do it. If we started like we ended last season, it would have been a whole different situation.”
For Dvorak, who brings speed and incredible enthusiasm to the rink every day, it’s an important time in his career. In the last year of his contract, Dvorak has been to the playoffs only twice since making it to the post-season during his first stint with the Panthers in 1996-97. He’s anxious to help the Panthers get back to the playoffs, and he says so much is going to depend on start of the season.
“We didn’t have a good start last season, and everyone knows how important it is to start well,” Dvorak said. “We didn’t have that start, that (consistency). We were up-and-down. Too many times we won a couple games then lost three, four games. That can’t happen if you want to have a good run to the playoffs.
“You need a good start because all those points in the beginning are very important. If you have too much of a gap at the beginning, it’s tough to catch those teams ahead of you. We were trying last year, we were playing good at the end, but the gap was too big. We have to make sure we’re putting points in our pocket right from the start.”
In an effort to get more points, GM Jacques Martin shook up the Panther roster by bringing in defensemen Bryan McCabe, Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard along with free agent Cory Stillman.
“I’ve played against McCabe for 12 years and he’s one of the better defensemen in the league,” Dvorak said. “He was a big force in Toronto for a lot of years. Ballard is a great young defenseman, and Stillman is a smart player who can make things happen. He’s won the (Stanley) Cup a couple times so it shows his presence will be big on this hockey club.
“These guys bring a lot of experience. It’s what we needed. We’re a young team and they’re great for us.”
Dvorak, who signed as a free agent in the summer of 2007, was one of the Panthers’ top penalty killers last season, finishing with 17 points (eight goals). But Dvorak is capable of scoring more.
He scored 19 goals with the Panthers in 1998-99. He had a career-high 31 playing with the Rangers in 2000-01, and had 15 in Edmonton in 2003-04.
Those numbers have Panther coach Peter DeBoer thinking Dvorak is one of several players who can contribute more this season.
“Radek is a guy who’s going to have to chip in offensively this year as we try to fill that offensive void through committee,”DeBoer said. “He’s one of the guys on my list that has to make a jump in goal totals, along with (Gregory) Campbell and (Brett) McLean and (Stephen) Weiss and all those guys.
“What I like about Radek is his speed, he’s a great person, great in the room, and has a smile on his face and enjoys the game. That enthusiasm is contagious, but there’s no doubt there’s some pressure on all those guys to step up.”
Dvorak agrees with DeBoer and believes he has more to give offensively.
“I know I can do better, that’s for sure,” he says. “I’m wasting a lot of chances. That’s been one of my problems the last couple years and it’s something I want to change this season. I know I can score goals on this team, so I’ll be focusing on that.”
When asked why his offensive numbers have been down, Dvorak replied; “I think it’s a confidence thing. I know I’ll have chances every game. Once you score a couple goals, hopefully, you’ll have a different outlook.”
For Dvorak, the most important thing will be “to help this team have a good start.”