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Florida Panthers Stephen Weiss: Turning the Thing Around ... David Booth Returns ... Byron Bitz Working Out

Weiss For one reason or another, Stephen Weiss just wasn't himself earlier this season.

Weiss contends he never lost confidence in his game, although it didn't look that way. Not only wasn't Weiss scoring like he had in the past, but he wasn't making plays, either. His passes were weak; he was soft along the boards.

Was Weiss putting too much pressure on himself?

“Perhaps subconsciously,'' he said. “After the way the year went last year and having a new GM and all that stuff, you want to do well and take the team on your shoulder, do it yourself. Sometimes that's not the way to go about it at all. I put more pressure on myself than anyone. I wanted to get off to a good start. I had a great summer. It didn't happen. What do you do? You kick yourself in the butt and you turn it around.''

That's exactly what has seemed to happen.

The old Stephen Weiss, the one the Panthers so desperately need to be on for them to find success, has returned. Coach Pete DeBoer kept Weiss centering the Panthers top line even though at times it didn't look like Weiss deserved to be. But Weiss has rewarded his coach's faith in him, responding with five goals and six assists in the past nine games. Florida has gone 5-3-1 during that span.

“I don't know if you can point to one thing to his start, but we survived it,'' said DeBoer, who coached Weiss a decade ago with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.

“He's come out of it. It's no secret we have the record we have when he plays like this. He has the pressure here to produce for us to be competitive. It's that simple. That's not an easy thing to hang on someone, but that's the fact around here right now. He's in a good spot physically and mentally right now. He needs to keep that going.''

Weiss' game seems to have turned around a few weeks ago when he scored two goals in Florida's 4-3 win over Colorado. Weiss' second goal was the game-winner, and he's been hot ever since. Weiss has scored at least a point in seven of the past nine games.

“Like I said when things weren't going well, I just couldn't change what I was doing and know that things would come,'' Weiss said. “I just have to keep it going. When things are going wrong, it's tough to stay positive and believe things will come around. You have to convince yourself that what you're doing is the right way. Things are going well right now. I'm trying to ride it out as long as I can.''

Weiss is tied for the team lead with 10 goals – the surprising Mike Santorelli has the same amount – and his overall game looks like it did in the past. When Weiss is playing at his best, he's one of Florida's most valuable players – one they can't afford to play without.

“I always have confidence in myself no matter how things are going,'' Weiss said. “When things aren't going your way, it looks like you have no confidence. You have to relax, not think about it. When things are going your way, you're at the right place at the right time. Your feet are light, your head empty. It's just happening. That's the key. When things aren't going right, you start wondering what's wrong. Everyone does.''

-- According to DeBoer, Michael Frolik didn't practice on Thursday because he needed stitches. David Booth (hip) did return to practice after missing the past two days. Both are expected to play Friday.

-- The Panthers sent out an alert on Thursday that less than 500 tickets remained for Friday's New Year's Eve game with Montreal. The Panthers took down the upper deck tarps at BankAtlantic Center for the first time this season for Monday's game against Boston, getting the first sellout of the year in the process.

Florida is expected to get that second sellout Friday, and even though a good number of the crowd will be rooting on the visitors from Quebec, the Panthers welcome the festive atmosphere a large house brings.

“There was great energy against Boston and that's contagious,'' DeBoer said. “In a perfect world, we would like them all to be wearing Panthers jerseys. But, when the building is full, no matter who they are cheering for, it's great. As long as the building is full, it doesn't matter to me. It's up to us to not give them anything to cheer for.''

-- Byron Bitz has been back on the ice the past few days, working out after his teammates have finished practice. Bitz, who has played in just seven games since being acquired by the Panthers last March, has been out since training camp. Bitz had sports hernia surgery a few weeks into the season.

“This has definitely been a lot longer than anyone thought,'' Bitz said. “I went to the doctor and he worked on it a little bit. Hopefully within a week we'll see how it's helped. Everything wasn't fitting right. Hopefully this works. I was skating, then I had a setback. It was the same process for a couple of weeks. I was actually going backward.''

When, Where: 5 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSNF; WFTL-640
The series: Panthers lead 30-28-6
The game: This is the second meeting of the season between the two, with Florida winning the first game 3-1 in Montreal on Oct. 30 Montreal hasn't had a real strong month, losing seven of nine going into Thursday's game at Tampa Bay. The Canadiens are 4-3 in the second game of a back-to-back set – although one of those three losses came at the hands of the Panthers.