By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
|Forward Ville Peltonen has been one of several Panthers players out of the lineup due to injuries. Peltonen (broken foot) is looking to return after the All-Star break. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam)
There’s 60 minutes left to play and light at the end of the tunnel.
That’s what the Panthers have to look forward to when they play host to Edmonton at the BankAtlantic Center. Coming off a 5-3 victory Tuesday against the Eastern Conference-leading Ottawa Senators, Thursday will mark the Panthers final game before the All-Star break. When they return next week, more of their walking wounded could be ready to rejoin the team.
With their victory Tuesday, which featured goals from five different players and four assists by Nathan Horton, the Panthers are only four points out of first place in the Southeast Division with two games in hand on division leading Carolina. The Panthers could make up more ground in the division with a victory Thursday as the high-flying Capitals visit Toronto before the break and Atlanta travels to the New York Rangers.
GM and coach Jacques Martin said the Panthers succeeded Tuesday and last week in New Jersey by “working hard and committing to play well away from the puck.”
The Panthers are also starting to welcome some of their injured players back. Cory Murphy returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing 30 days with a shoulder injury.
Jozef Stumpel, who’s missed six games with a shoulder injury, practiced (non contact) with the team Wednesday and, while “probably doubtful,” for Thursday’s game, Martin said, should be in the lineup Jan. 30 when the Panthers host Buffalo. Ville Peltonen, out since Dec. 16 with a broken foot, has skated this week and Martin is also hopeful Peltonen will return “soon after the All-Star break.”
“With the number of injuries we’ve had, it hurts your team,” Martin said. “Having people coming back, I think it will be a lift.”
Peltonen said he’s going “day to day” with his return.
“Right now I’m skating and, hopefully, I can skate tomorrow,” he said. “It’s tough. Things like this happen, they’re part of the game. All I can do is get ready to play. I just hope we’re right in the top of the division when I come back.”
EXPERIENCE FOR MATTHIAS
Although rookie Shawn Matthias
wasn’t the force Tuesday he had been in his previous two games, Martin said he believes the 19-year-old is doing well and taking advantage of being an emergency call-up from juniors.
“When you look at this kid last year, he had an excellent playoff season,” Martin said. “This year, he’s a kid who worked his way to the World Junior Tournament for Team Canada and was one of the better players. Now he has an opportunity to come up and play some games and we’ll see how he does. I think it’s a good experience.
“What I like about him is he knows where he’s at. He understands the game. He realizes a game like (Tuesday) night, he wasn’t as good as before. But the competition was probably better. Ottawa is a fast team. But I think it’s a worthwhile experience for him.”NOTE
All-Star goalie Tomas Vokoun leads the league in total shots (1,381), fifth in the league in total on-ice time (2,545), and fourth in games played (44)…The Panthers have the league’s fifth-best power play, converting on 36 of 184 opportunities (19.6 percent)…Olli Jokinen is fourth in the league in shots taken (207)…Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is second in the league in ice-time per game. Bouwmeester is averaging 27:14 a game, second behind Nicklas Lidstrom by a tick of a second…