CORAL SPRINGS - The Panthers packed their bags Wednesday afternoon for a flight to Boston and the start of what they hope to be better things.
Beginning Thursday against the Bruins, the Panthers will play 24 games in 42 days. That’s four games a week with 18 of those 24 against Eastern Conference teams. It’s a huge chance for a team currently four games under .500 to turn their season around.
“It’s an opportunity to make up a lot of ground and get things together,” said coach Peter DeBoer. In fact, DeBoer’s message to his team the past two days during practices here at incredible
ICE was rather simple. “Let’s cut off the first 15 games and start fresh and make sure over the next five weeks we’re all better.”
“We’re 15 games in,” he added. “We’re not where we want to be as a team as far as our record goes, and I know individually there are guys here who are not where they want to be after 15 games. For me, that’s good news. If we were 5-9 and playing great we’d be in real trouble.
“The good news is we have a lot more to offer, both individually and as a group. I think you’re going to see that. There’s a lot of hockey left to be played.”
Center Stephen Weiss
included himself in the group not happy with how they have performed.
“We talked about not being happy where we’re at,” Weiss said. “I know I’ve wanted to contribute more. But we have a lot of games to make up points and climb back into things. That’s how this league is. There are a lot of ups and downs, peaks and valleys. You’ve got to keep your head down and keep grinding. All it takes is a bounce here or there and things start working for you again.”
Cory Stillman said the Panthers have made strides, “but obviously we’d like our record to be better.”
“We haven’t found that rhythm,” he added. “We’ve won two, lost four, won three, lost three…in this league, right now, you have to be well over .500 to make the playoffs. Hopefully, we’ll be playing a lot of games in a short period now, playing every other night, and we’ll find that rhythm.”
Forward Radek Dvorak, who will return to the lineup in Boston after missing the previous six games with a knee injury, said the mood in the dressing room and on the practice ice has been good.
“The guys are feeling well, they’re pumped,” he said. “You can see the jump at practices. Everyone is well prepared and ready to go.”
DeBoer said the Panthers have improved over the past six games, especially in terms of the comfort level with their new defensemen.
“The reality of our group…we’ve got five new defensemen from last year, (Jordan) Leopold, (Dennis) Seidenberg, (Dmitry) Kulikov, (Ville) Koistinen and Bryan Allen, who played two games last year. Five of our seven defensemen are new. You’re going to go through some defensive, I guess, bumps in the road when you’re trying to put a new group in. It’s not just on the defense, but the forwards, too. I think that’s been the learning curve, the adjustment of those guys. I think we’ve gotten better. Over the last six games, I think we’ve cut our shots down to the lows 30s and I think we’re giving up a lot less quality chances. We’re a work in progress, but we’re heading in the right direction.” LINES AT PRACTICE
Steve Reinprecht, Cory Stillman, Nathan HortonStephen Weiss
, Michael Frolik, Rostislav Olesz
Dominic Moore, Gregory Campbell, Radek Dvorak
Kamil Kreps, Kenndal McArdle, Victor Oreskovich GETTING HEALTHY
Along with Dvorak returning to the lineup Thursday, Dominic Moore will also be back after missing fve games after nasal surgery and Kamil Kreps will be back after missing two games with a bruised foot.
DeBoer said Dvorak and Moore, who will play on a line with Gregory Campbell, give the Panthers added speed and tenacity.
“These guys are workers,” he said. “They’re the depth of our lineup but the identity players of our team. We have to be a team that’s fast and hard to play against and tenacious. Those kinds of guys lead the way in those departments. They really set the tempo. We’re a forechecking team and (their speed) allows us to get in their quicker and allows us to spend more time in the offensive zone rather than our zone.” BRUINS ON FIRST STREAK
The Panthers will meet a Bruins team coming off a 3-0 victory Tuesday over the Penguins and having won consecutive games for the first time this season.
“It’s something that we’ve had a hard time getting this year and its something we talked about before the game,” goalie Tim Thomas told the Boston Globe.
The Bruins, who beat the Sabres 4-2 Saturday, have killed off 28 of their opponent’s last 29 power plays. They’re 8-7-2 (6-4-1 at home). Patrice Bergeron leads the team in points (12) and goals (six). They’re still playing without Marc Savard and Milan Lucic. NOTES
Tomas Vokoun will be in goal for the Panthers in Boston. He has a 2.99 goals against and .916 save percentage…Tim Thomas has a 2.23 goals against and .922 save percentage…Dmitry Kulikov
is tied for ninth in rookie scoring with seven points (one goal). He’s third in rookie power play points with five…NHL.com asked who is the most worthy of Hall of Fame enshrinement in 2010. The results: Pavel Bure 27.12 percent, Doug Gilmour 20.71 percent, Joe Nieuwendyk 17.86 percent, Eric Lindros 14.14 percent, Dave Andreychuk 10.98 percent, Alexander Mogilny 9.17 percent…Tonight’s games: Edmonton at Buffalo, Anaheim in New Jersey, Islanders at Caps (still no Ovechkin), Kings at Hurricanes, Wings at Blue Jackets and Colorado in Chicago…