SUNRISE – With the trade deadline past and the “best defenseman in the league” still in a Panther uniform, coach Peter DeBoer had his players back on the ice Thursday morning in preparation for tonight’s game at BankAtlantic Center against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“A four-point game,” is how DeBoer described tonight’s game with the Panthers sitting sixth in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of the Penguins, who have won four consecutive games and six of their last seven.
“You see the standings, see where both teams are sitting,” DeBoer said. “The Penguins have won four in a row. These are all critical games down the stretch, especially when you’re playing a team you’re fighting for a playoff position with.”
The Panthers came out of Wednesday’s trade deadline not only with All-Star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester part of the team, but also with defenseman Steve Eminger, who was acquired from Tampa for Noah Welch and a 2009 draft pick.
Bouwmeester, an unrestricted free agent this summer, said he was happy to remain a Panther and was looking forward to the remainder of the season. DeBoer was equally as pleased.
“For me, he’s the best defenseman in the league,” said DeBoer of Bouwmeester. “He plays 30 minutes a night, he plays in all situations for us. It would have been an unfillable hole for us down the stretch (if he was traded). Whatever we got back in return we could have made the best of it, (but) it would have effected our team chemistry. It would have had an effect in a lot of different areas. Who knows whether we could have got through it or not.”
DeBoer also said the addition of Eminger gives the Panthers the “deepest seven defensemen in the league, which is a nice luxury to have.”
Eminger, who has averaged 22:27 of ice time this season and racked up 21 assists while playing in Philadelphia (12 games) and Tampa (50 games), will play tonight. Nick Boynton, who is back with the team after being sent home from last week’s road trip due to disciplinary reasons, will be a healthy scratch.
“My plan until we made the trade (for Eminger) was to play Nick (tonight),” said DeBoer, who coached Eminger in junior hockey. “We were through (the incident). We know what (Boynton) can do for us…but you don’t make a trade for a player and not play him.”NOTES
David Booth skated with the team Thursday morning and will be a game time decision… Sidney Crosby, who’s missed four games with a groin injury, is 50-50…Tomas Vokoun gets the start in goal…Keaton Ellerby
was sent back to Rochester…Cory Stillman has 33 points (11 goals) in 25 career games against the Penguins…Vokoun is 5-6-2 lifetime against the Pens with a 2.59 goals against and .914 save percentage…GUERIN TO MAKE DEBUT
Bill Guerin, acquired Wednesday from the Islanders by the Penguins for a conditional draft pick, will make his Penguin debut tonight. Guerin, who knew assistant coach and former Panther Tom Fitzgerald when they were kids growing up outside Boston, is expected to bring the Penguins size and scoring up front and veteran leadership. Guerin is one point shy of becoming the 14th U.S., born player to record 800 NHL points. He’s one of only eight U.S., born players to have 400 NHL goals.OLESZ SKATES WITH PANTHERS
Rostislav Olesz, who has missed 39 games after surgery to repair a sports hernia, skated with the team for the first time Thursday morning. “It felt good to be with the team,” said Olesz, who had been skating on his own the past six days. Olesz is hoping to be ready to play within two weeks…