With what was a rare practice day at the start of this congested season, the Panthers put to good use of their time working on various things at the JetBlue Training Facility at the Saveology.com Iceplex on Friday.
For the Panthers, finding time to practice and work on improving their problem areas has been difficult so far. Saturday's game against Philadelphia will be their fifth of the season in just eight days. That's over a tenth of the season that will be complete come Sunday.
"It is a work in process," said head coach Kevin Dineen to the media following an on and off ice session. "There are areas we have to address every day."
After recording five goals in the opening game against Carolina, the Panthers offense has managed just two goals since in the three games, all of them ending up with the Panthers on the wrong side of the score board. For Dineen and his players, they realize the significance of fixing their deficiencies.
"The good thing about (practicing) is the players are very aware of (the problems) too so they're on board," said Dineen of the problem areas and the early losses. "They want to stop the flow of blood here. We're all on the same page."
Prior to the season, every team said how important a start would be for this season and while playing 10% of their games after Saturday, it's no where close to the end of the season but a 2-3 record sounds a lot better than a 1-4 or 1-3-1 record. Luckily, many of the teams in the Southeast haven't had great starts to the season with the exception for Tampa who is 2-1-0 after three games. Winnipeg is 1-1-1, Carolina is 1-2-0 and Washington has yet to win a game (0-3-0).
After getting off to such a good start last season and leading the division for a majority of the campaign, this season's start definitely has the Panthers on a different level.
"Before the season I think every team and every player in every interview talk about how important the start is," said Dineen. "Now we're in a muck. It's a little bit of foreign territory for us."
The Panthers will hope to the good vibes of last year, starting Saturday night as they host a team that has also struggled early this season in Philadelphia. The Flyers won Thursday night for the first time this season (2-1 over the NY Rangers) after dropping their opening three games.
"I think we had a little bit of consistency over all last year so as for our core group, it's a little bit of foreign territory but that's fine," said Dineen. "We're in it right now and I can assure you that there's no one in Washington, Philly, Carolina and certainly Tampa that feel bad for us.
“It's up to us to straighten this thing out."
It will certainly be a team effort in getting back in the win column, especially if the top line trio is unable to go. Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg are all listed as questionable for tomorrow night's game. Fleischmann was cut on the top of this foot during the game against Ottawa on Thursday, Weiss missed the game with a lower body injury and Versteeg has yet to play a game this season with a lower body injury.
"All those players right now are question marks for tomorrow which I look at probably as a good thing because it's not like me coming in here saying Mike Caruso is out six weeks with a broken (arm)," said Dineen. "We're cautiously optimistic that they are going to be short term injuries but they'll be questionable for tomorrow night."
If they're unable to go, Dineen will certainly mix and match lines to get his offense flowing and find the best combinations that will give the team a win.
"Once I have an idea on the injury report like today, things will be up in the air becasue there will be some question marks out tomorrow morning but once those decisions are made, you move forward," said Dineen of the injuries. "Do we miss them? Yeah. We miss them a lot but is there anything we can do about it? No. We get out there and play."
HOWDEN TO MAKE NHL DEBUT?
Forward Quinton Howden was called up on Friday night with all of the Panthers injuries and could possibly make his NHL debut on Saturday against the Flyers.
Howden has recorded 19 points (9-10-19) in 41 games for the San Antonio Rampage in his first full professional season.
The 21-year old Oak Bank, MB native was the Panthers third first round pick (25th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. If he makes his NHL debut, he'd be the fourth Panther to make their NHL debut. Forward Jonathan Huberdeau (3rd overall, 2011 NHL Entry Draft) and defenseman Mike Caruso (103rd overall, 2006 NHL Entry Draft) made their debuts against Carolina in the Panthers season opener on Saturday, Jan. 19 while forward Drew Shore (44th overall, 2009 NHL Entry Draft) made his NHL debut on Tuesday, Jan. 22 in Montreal.