|The Panthers celebrate a goal earlier this season (Getty Images0|
The practice days are starting to add up for the Florida Panthers.
After going through the beginning of the season where it seemed like it was a game every other day scenario, the Panthers have played just two games in the last eight days heading into Thursday's game against Winnipeg. They took advantage of this last three-day break following Sunday's game against Ottawa by practicing on Monday and Wednesday with an off day sandwiched in between.
"I think there's good spirits and enthusiasm," said head coach Kevin Dineen following Wednesday's up-tempo and long practice and prior to the team making the four-plus hour flight to Winnipeg. "Like I said earlier it's nice to have a few days off."
With the way the season has been and the sprint from the start to finish, Florida certainly would have enjoyed the extra practice days earlier in the 48-game schedule but having them now has had it's advantages.
"If I had my choice as far as how to spread your days out over the course of the season, I probably wouldn't pack all my days off in a row as much as you wouldn't want a bunch of games in a row," said Dineen. "But I think we made good use of the time that we had."
When you have 10 guys on the team under the age of 25 thanks to the need to press young guys into the lineup due to injuries, the practice sessions, even at this point in the season is huge.
"The practice days are important as well," said rookie forward Drew Shore. "Obviously when you play every other day, it's really hard to get good practices in."
"Being able to just settle in and get to know the guys better. You feel a lot more comfortable walking around the rink and not so nervous," said fellow rookie forward Quinton Howden. "It's been great. The guys have been awesome with me. Every day it just keeps on getting better."
With the impletmentation of the new faces into the lineup, the Panthers coaching staff has used the time, both on and off the ice to get them up to speed as quickly as possible.
"There's more individual conversations. Individual meetings that are trying to keep these guys on page with the way the Panthers play hockey," said Dineen. "Areas that we're continuing to talk about every day and working with guys.
"It's about being a group and being a team too. Getting them to understand that. In saying that, anybody that's been in sports knows that coaches do a lot of talking. A lot of times examples are set and the template for the team is set in the locker room and I like the bunch that we have in here right now."
SHORE POSSIBLE AGAINST JETS?
Missing the last three games with an upper body injury, Dineen said that Shore could be back for Thursday's game in Winnipeg. The forward has been skating with the team and made it through a full practice on Wednesday.
"Drew had a good day and he's feeling good about his chances of playing tomorrow night," said Dineen. "I don't want to fully commit to that but a good chance that he'll be back in the swing."
For the rookie forward, it's been tough sitting out the last few games and not being able to help.
"It's tough. Anytime you get hurt, you get to the rink and see the guys and they're ready to play the game," said Shore. "It's something that's a little disappointing and at the same time I just try to look at the positives."
The positives for shore is watching the game from the press box and taking in a different perspective in how the game is played out.
"The game is a lot different from up top. It's a lot slower," said Shore. "Certainly you can see plays develop a lot quicker than you can on the ice. There's not a lot of positives about being hurt but I guess that's the one positive you can take. You can always watch and try to learn the game better that way."
Despite the time out, Shore is anxiously itching to get back in the lineup.
"You want to be out there helping the team win," said Shore. "There's not many games left in the year that every game is important so you want to get out there as quickly as possible."
THEODORE BEGINS SKATING
Out since March 2 when he went down with a lower body injury early in the game in Carolina, netminder Jose Theodore resumed skating on Monday prior to the team's photo shoot at the BB&T Center. Theodore told the Miami Herald following Monday's skate that he hoped to return this season.
It was a good sign for Dineen but the fact that he goaltender started skating again doesn't put a definitive answer on his return for this season. In fact with just two-and-a-half weeks left in the regular season it's too early to tell.
"I think we're a long way from making that decision," said Dineen of a possible return of Theodore between the pipes. "Basically a couple of weeks but he's making some strides and he's getting there. We'll make that decision when the time comes."
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