Help is on the way.
Looking for more offensive production from forwards not named Stephen Weiss
, Nathan Horton and Michael Frolik, the Panthers should get a shot in the arm with the return of Cory Stillman on Thursday.
Stillman went through his first full practice today as the team took part in an hour-long session at incredible ICE.
Stillman, who has been out since Nov. 20 when he suffered a knee injury in a game against the Red Wings, says that his knee felt pretty good and that he’s anxious to get back to playing after the workout.
“It's probably going to be as good as it's going to get throughout the year,” said Stillman. “Today was obviously my first practice with the team, first real practice in six weeks. The plan is to play on the 31st, which I'm excited to do.
“It's been a long time off.”
For Florida, getting Stillman back on a second line with Steven Reinprecht would be a huge boost. Both players played very well together prior to Stillman’s injury. Stillman had 10 points in his previous eight games, scoring all six of his goals on the season during that span while Reinprecht had 14 points (nine goals) in the 14 games before Nov. 20.
“Cory was our best player just prior to getting hurt,” said head coach Peter DeBoer. “Reinprecht and him really had some chemistry.”
“He's a great player, a lot of fun to play with,” said Reinprecht, who set up four of Stillman’s six goals, including the game-winner in Buffalo on Dec. 18. “For him to come back, it's a big boost to our team and I'm looking forward to have him out there again.”
There will be some rust as the duo finds their rhythm again. Six weeks apart will do that.
But both Stillman and Reinprecht know each other’s game well enough and think that they will be able to find it again.
“We just read off each other,” said Stillman. “We almost play the same way of give-and-go hockey.
“If you watch, we're not how you would say fancy players. We don't toe-drag and beat people. We rely on our line mates. When things are going, he's a lot of fun to play with.”
“He's such a smart offensive player,” said Reinprecht. “He creates stuff when he doesn't have the puck and when he does, he just knows where to go, knows how to be an option, what plays to make. Offensively, he's done it his whole career.”
If and hopefully when they do find that rhythm again, Florida’s offense will be that much better for it.
“With our team, sitting and watching as many games as I have, guys are contributing but obviously Weiss and Horton have been carrying the load,” said Stillman. “To be successful in this league you need to have more than just one line and if we can do that and get two or three lines scoring, we'll win our share of hockey games.” GETTING INTO PLAYOFF MODE
A day after a 2-1 loss to the Bruins, DeBoer was still unhappy with the offensive contributions, even though the team is still one point out of a playoff spot and just six points away from fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
“The reality of our situation, and we saw it last year, is January 1st on, we have to play playoff hockey,” said DeBoer. ”We're fighting for our playoff lives. We can't afford slumps. We can't afford guys underachieving and that's just the facts.”
DeBoer put the team through hustle and shooting drills in Tuesday’s practice session.
The Panthers take on Montreal on New Year’s Eve (5 pm start) for the first time this season. The Canadiens are currently two points ahead of the Panthers and in seventh place in the Conference. MATTHIAS, MACINTYRE TO ROCHESTER
With the return of Stillman and Rostislav Olesz, the Panthers reassigned Shawn Matthias
and Steve MacIntrye to Rochester. Matthias saw 7:03 of ice time while MacIntyre was on the ice for 1:04 against the Bruins.