CORAL SPRINGS, FL – The Florida Panthers returned to play Wednesday night in front of a crowd of rabid hockey hungry fans at their practice facility in Coral Springs. The energy of the arena was electric as fans got to see their team suit up and compete against each other for the first time this season.
The Panthers’ roster was split in two as the red and white squads battled through two 15 minute periods en route to a scoreless tie. The team entertained fans with shootout drills during intermission and the creative shootout goals of Peter Mueller and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau dazzled fans and brought them to their feet.
From what I saw on the ice, it looks as if Peter Mueller is poised to have a great season this year if he can stay healthy. His play making and skating abilities were on full display as he anchored a scoring line alongside rookie Jonathan Huberdeau and veteran camp invitee Alexei Kovalev.
Shawn Matthias, a former second round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings and currently in his 6th season with the Panthers, looked great on the ice as well. His natural abilities and hustle were evident as he did a fantastic job of chasing down loose pucks and creating scoring chances for himself and others. With the Panthers currently weighed down by injuries, Matthias could get a chance to be the team’s 3rd line center at the start of the season, an opportunity I expect him to relish.
Forwards Sean Bergenheim and Marcel Goc both did not participate in the game as they both recover from injuries. As of tonight, Bergenheim has been suspended by the club for being unfit to play after suffering and injury while playing overseas during the lockout.
Also missing from tonight’s action were defenders Ed Jovonovski and Erik Gudbranson. Gudbranson is currently suspended by the club for suffering a wake boarding related injury during
the lockout, but has been practicing with the team this week. Jovonovski is reportedly nursing an injury though greater details are still uncertain – he was however present in the arena for Wednesday’s scrimmage.
The injury bug may have bitten the Panthers once again as defenseman Mike Weaver went down during the second period and immediately headed to the locker room after doing what looked like an awkward split that could have possibly resulted in a lower body injury. More information on Weaver’s injury should be available Thursday.
The current streak of injuries to the Panthers’ defense could lead to the Panthers looking to free agency or trade in order to fill their now thin blue line. Players like Wade Redden could potentially be coming to South Florida if team management feels that the team’s current injuries could extend deep into the season.
The Panthers’ last practice will be Friday at the BB&T Center as the squad gets ready for their opening night matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.