|Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau battles for the puck with Flyers defenseman Bruno Gervais on Saturday, Jan. 26. (Getty Images)
Looking to end this early season slump and following a 7-1 lopsided loss to the Flyers on Saturday, the Panthers were back on the ice Monday at the JetBlue Practice Facility at Saveology.com Iceplex for a highly spirited hour and a half session.
No there wasn't suicides like one saw in the movie Miracle as head coach Herb Brooks put his team through following a poor game but the drills were filled with a lot of highly competitive battles in five-on-five play, special teams, and individual aspects.
"We accomplished what we tried to today," said head coach Kevin Dineen.
Certainly, starting to win those battles can only help.
"We didn't win the battles in front of the net and even in the offensive zone, we didn't have any time almost," said forward Tomas Fleischmann regarding Saturday's game and what needs to be improved. "You can't win a hockey game like that and that's what we have to change."
"We're not playing well enough right now," said Dineen. "There's numerous things that you talk about internally that are there to help.
"Really, the big picture, we're not playing well enough, as organized enough and as intense enough as we need to to get this thing turned in the right direction."
In a normal season, the team might have focused on one area to work on in a practice but in the condensed schedule where they've already played over 10% of their season, the Panthers spread the focus around on Monday. It's how they have to attack it in getting out of their rut.
"In this shortened season, there's just so many days in the course of the year that we're going to get a chance to work on things," said Dineen. "So instead of really picking one specific thing, I picked three or four which we normally wouldn't do but we're trying to stay on top of the big picture."
While there's only two games on tap this week, following a five game in eight night schedule, the Cats can make up some ground by getting on the right track. They'll play two division opponents that have gotten off to strong starts. Tuesday's opponent, Tampa Bay, has won four of their first five games to put them at the top of the division. They've done it with offense too, outscoring their opponents 24-13. Thursday's opponent, Winnipeg sits second with a 3-1-1 record but the games have been much closer as they've outscored opponents by a 15-14 margin.
"Very critical. Very tough part of the schedule for us right now," said Dineen. "We had a couple of days where we were able to take a little bit of a breather here but this is a pretty important piece of the puzzle this season."
"I think right now every game is big for us," said Fleischmann. "It doesn't really matter if they're the best team in the division or the worst team. We have got to play our best."
"Just a win," said forward Jonathan Huberdeau said about gaining confidence as a team. "To get a win, it's going to be better."
Forward Kris Versteeg went through the full workout, working on a line with Fleischmann and center Tomas Kopecky. The winger has missed the first five games of the season with a lower body injury but it looks like his time away from the ice during games will come to an end as he should make his season debut this week, hopefully against Tampa.
"I'm excited to get him back," said Dineen. "He's a large part of our lineup.”
"I'm excited about the possibility of finally getting back in," said Versteeg. "It's been almost nine months since the last hockey game. It's definitely been a long wait to finally get this over so I'm definitely excited about the opportunity of playing."
Being the jokester that Versteeg is, the forward quipped about needing help in his potential first game back.
"Someone might need to bring an oxygen tank on the bench," said Versteeg. "But I'm excited about it. I was itching to get started at the start of this season...Now it's time to go and I can't wait."
"It's nice. It's a nice addition to have on the line," said Fleischmann about the return of his line mate. "It's not about one player but it can always change the momentum for a team. Hopefully he's going to that and help us to get on a good start."
Following the close of practice on Monday, Huberdeau met with the Panthers brass to find out where he would play for the rest of the season. If he were to play in a sixth NHL game his Entry Level Contract would go into effect and pretty much guarantees his stay in the NHL for the season.
If there was any doubt he would be returned to his junior club, Panthers GM Dale Tallon and Dineen put him at ease in telling him that he was staying with the club for the season.
For Huberdeau, just meaning he plays in his sixth game and thus staying with the team, doesn't mean that's the end of it.
"It's not like if I play six games, I can stop working and I'm on the team," said Huberdeau prior to finding out his fate. "I have got to keep working. I want to play the best as I can and that's what I'm going to try to do.
"Work hard and keep it simple."
The 19-year old had a grand NHL debut, posting three points, but like the rest of his team has found it hard to pick up points in the last four games. Huberdeau knows that the goals and points will come as long as he keeps working as an individual and as a team.
"For sure it's hard but I think we had more chances the last game and I think we want to build on that," said Huberdeau. "It's going to go in one day for sure like it has to because I've missed a lot of chances the last game. I think I just have to work hard and it's going to go in one day."
Forward Drew Shore was sent down on Sunday but it wasn't due to poor play. In fact he was reassigned because of great play.
Shore was named an AHL All-Star and Dineen wanted the forward to take part in Sunday's Skills Competition and Monday night's All-Star game in Providence, RI.
"He is being honored tonight by getting a chance to play in the All-Star game in the AHL," said Dineen. "It was something I really encouraged."
Shore has improved in each game he's played since making his NHL debut on Tuesday, Jan. 22 in Montreal. The forward has gone from 9:20 of ice time to 11:31 against Ottawa and 16:12 on 24 shifts against Philadelphia. He was fantastic in the face-off circle, winning 83% of his draws (10-of-12) and had five shots on net.
"He had a good couple of games here and I liked him," said Dineen. "Obviously, in a disappointing game against Philadelphia, Drew I think stood out in a real positive way."
The Panthers could very well call up the 21-year old following the conclusion of the All-Star game. He certainly has impressed in what Dineen has called the "initial snap shot".
"I think he's made a statement that he's going to do everything he can to stay here," said Dineen.