By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
|Florida plays Colorado at the BankAtlantic Center for the second year in a row. Last season, the Avalanche earned a 4-3 shootout victory over the Panthers on January 13th. (Getty Images)
CORAL SPRINGS – It’s been 15 days since the Panthers stepped foot on their home ice at BankAtlantic Center. That will change Sunday afternoon when the Panthers play host to Colorado.
For the Panthers, it’s a chance to start their three-game homestand this week against the Avalanche, Predators and Lightning by accumulating more points in their ascent up the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers picked up seven of a possible 10 points in their last road trip and are hoping to build on that success at home, where the Panthers are 6-4-2 this season.
“We weren’t a good home team last year,” said coach Peter DeBoer, referring to the Panthers’ 18-15-8 home record in 2007-08. “I thought early this season we were playing pretty good hockey at home, and I’m hoping that will carry over even though we haven’t been here (at BAC) in a while.
“You’re at home, (maybe) you take your foot off the gas a little bit. You try and play a more complicated, fancy game than you do (on the road), keeping it simple and sticking to your system. We have to bring the same determination we bring to games on the road here, and I assume we’ll have more energy.”
The Panthers are 6-2-2 over their past 10 games (eighth best in the NHL), and will come into Sunday’s 5 p.m., game against the Avalanche with nearly everyone healthy. Nathan Horton, Richard Zednik and David Booth, who all missed time prior to Thursday’s game in Carolina, should benefit from having a game and two practices under them going into Sunday’s game.
The Avalanche (16-15-1) are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and 8-9-1 overall on the road. They finish their four-game road trip against the Panthers.
The Panthers will once again be without Rostislav Olesz, who hasn’t skated since suffering a groin injury Dec. 4 against Boston. Olesz said he’s scheduled to meet with doctors Sunday.
“It’s tough,” Olesz said. “I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it was.”
DeBoer said by the time Olesz gets a week of conditioning, it would be two weeks at the earliest before he returns.
“Considering we’ve had four, five forwards out, having only one out is almost like Christmas for me,” DeBoer said. “(Olesz) is a valuable guy, and I thought he was just starting to turn the corner and play well for us, which is unfortunate. But we’re finally having to make some decisions up front about healthy scratches, and that’s a nice position to be in for the first time in a while.”
Anthony Stewart will see a familiar face on the other side of the ice Sunday – his younger brother Chris. Chris will suit up for the Avalanche after being called up earlier in the month from the American Hockey League. The brothers played against each other last season when Anthony was in Rochester and Chris was in Lake Erie.
“It’s fun,” said Chris, who before practicing Saturday with the Avalanche at IncredibleIce greeted his brother in the hallway. “We look forward to that kind of stuff.”… NOTE
The Panthers have moved up to 11th in the NHL in penalty killing. They’re 24th on the power play…