BY GEORGE RICHARDS
The Panthers were back in Coral Springs for Day 3 of their mini-mini camp. Everyone was out there save for Tomas Vokoun and Nathan Horton.
Vokoun may be back on the ice for Saturday's big season ticket holder party at Incredible Ice.
Horton said he tried skating and there is still pain in his leg but he has been “working out pretty hard” with strength coach Craig Slaunwhite.
“Every day I'm feeling better, but there's still a little pain when I press on my toe,'' said Horton. “Hopefully that will go away quick so I can get back on the ice with the team. I had another test, and it's healing. I'll be going back to get checked again in a few days. I went on the ice and tried it, but I can't put all my weight on the toe and that makes it hard to skate. It's getting better every day. It's real soon.''
Added coach Pete DeBoer: “It was a pretty significant injury and we're right around the six week mark with it. The initial prognosis is eight weeks and sometimes guys come back early. We're pushing it, he's pushing it. It's not something you can play through without doing more damage. We have to push that fine line and make sure it's stable when he's back.''
“We're not going anywhere unless we put our heads down and win some games,'' he said. “We have to win a fair amount of them. It's not fun. We don't want to be in this position. .-.-. We know we have to win every game now. That's our focus. We know we can.
"It's definitely getting old and everyone feels this way. But we're in this situation and we have to do our best to get out of it. There's not much else you can do but work hard and play together as a team, finish the season right.''
Horton says the players are trying to put the trade stuff behind them. Word is, only a handful of players are untouchable with the Panthers right now – and Horton isn't one of them.
The players believed to be off limits for trade talk are young players like Dmitry Kulikov, Michael Frolik, David Booth and that's about it.
That doesn't mean a whole lot of players will be moved between Monday and Wednesday's trade deadline. A few will, for sure. But I would think some of the Panthers big moves – if there are any – would wait until the draft when you can get a much better return for your money since no one is in the middle of a playoff run during June.
“That really has nothing to do with us, but our play on the ice has a lot to do with it,'' said Horton, in the midst of his finest season with the Panthers before getting hurt off a Dennis Seidenberg shot.
“We're not playing together every night. We're not going to win games because we don't look good out there. We have to come together, play together and play hard. We have to show the fans and the organization that we are a team that can make the playoffs.
“Everyone here in South Florida, those involved with the hockey, are sick of not being in the playoffs. It's frustrating to come close. It doesn't matter. You want to be in it. Everyone realizes it's getting old and we need to fix it.''
-- DeBoer says Scott Clemmensen will start Tuesday in Atlanta and then “we'll decide from there” regarding Wednesday's game against the Flyers at The Billboard.
Of course, Vokoun may no longer be with the team come Wednesday, although he didn't offer any hints today whether he thought he would or not. DeBoer says Vokoun “is going to be a big part” of the Panthers final 20-plus games.
Vokoun has made 21 straight starts for the Panthers dating to Dec. 31. He also started all five games for the Czech Republic at the Olympics.
“He's played a lot of hockey, done a lot of traveling,'' DeBoer said of Vokoun. “He's played a lot of emotional hockey, playing for his country in that setting. I don't think it's fair to plop him in that game on Tuesday and Clemm hasn't played in a while and should be rested or ready.''
As far as Vokoun goes, he says the Olympic experience was pretty cool – although he would much rather still be in Vancouver than in Coral Springs. No offense taken.
“It was pretty cool, especially the hockey – playing in Canada it got amazing coverage and Vancouver was packed for the games,'' said Vokoun, who backstopped the Czech team through Wednesday's quarterfinal loss to Finland.
“We stayed in the Olympic Village and it was pretty hectic, playing every other day. I got to see some old faces, guys I played with before. It was a lot of fun. .-.-. There were a lot of fans for all the sports and it was pretty amazing to see.''
As far as Friday's semifinals went, Vokoun said he would find out the scores but wouldn't be watching.
“I've seen plenty of hockey,'' he said, “and I have a lot left in front of me.''
-- Dennis Seidenberg was back at practice today after reporting back to the team on Thursday. Seidenberg's German team went 0-4 at the Games and was knocked out by Canada on Tuesday.
As far as losing to the Canadians, Seidenberg said his team talked about what a great upset it would have been to beat the home team, although reality set in as they ended up losing 8-2.
“We kind of knew we were going to lose so we just enjoyed it,'' said Seidenberg. “We took in as much as we could. We definitely thought about the upset because beating Canada at home would have been the biggest upset in some time. But in the end, it wasn't meant to be. It was a good time. The city was just, downtown, everyone was outside partying. It was a neat experience to be there.''
He says the Panthers have not spoken to him about whether he wants to stick around after this season. I would think Florida would like to have him back for the near future, and if he was open to a new deal, that could keep him here. It sounds like he wants to stay.
“I know I'm on the trade block and could be out of here in a couple of days,'' Seidenberg said. “But I want to stay, I want to be part of the solution. I would like to stay. It's a tough situation knowing I could be gone. It's weird, but that's how it goes in the NHL. You just deal with it. There's been no talks the past few days. I just hope I stay until the end of the year and then we can talk about it.''
-- Will have more on how other players spent their Olympic break in Sunday's Miami Herald as our Sunday NHL Extra section makes its triumphant return.