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Florida Panthers on the Hudson: Offense in Big-Time Funk ... Tomas Vokoun, Chris Higgins Back for Rangers ... Dmitry Kulikov Still Out

VokounNYC NEW YORK -- With the Hudson River and the snow-lined banks of New Jersey serving as an unusually scenic backdrop, the Panthers held Monday's practice at the SkyRink at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan.

The workout was intense, although attendance was limited. Just a handful of forwards and defensemen joined goalie Tomas Vokoun and assistant coaches Gord Murphy and Robb Tallas on the ice.

With so few forwards working out, Florida's stagnant offense wasn't addressed although Murphy ran his defensemen through some shooting drills.

Lauderdaletimessq At this point, the Panthers offense could use all the help it can get.

Florida's 126 goals are for 11th fewest in the Eastern Conference and only Edmonton (117) has fewer goals in the west.

Since losing 3-2 Boston on Dec. 27, the Panthers have struggled to score in most games. During those 14 games, the Panthers have been held to two goals or fewer eight times – losing each time. During Florida's current four-game losing streak, it hasn't scored more than twice in a single game.

Dating back to Dec. 1, Florida has been held to two goals or less 12 times, winning just once -- and that was a shootout win in which the team actually only scored one goal. The Panthers have scored three or more in 13 games since Dec. 1, winning 10.

Goldielaurer “We just have to find a way to put the puck in the net. We're getting a ton of chances,'' center Stephen Weiss said. “We're not finishing things off. We'll just keep going at it and hopefully we'll get one and it snowballs and we'll get a bunch on this trip, get some points.''

The offense will get a boost Tuesday when winger Chris Higgins returns after missing eight games with a hamstring injury. Higgins, who practiced Monday, said he's “good to go” and will play against his former teammates. Higgins played for the Rangers last season before being traded to Calgary in the Olli Jokinen deal.

Higgins, who scored five goals with six assists in the seven games before getting hurt, will definitely be welcomed. So, too, would some production out of Florida's other forwards.

Weiss leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and 20 assists, his 33 points ranking him tied for 69th in the league. David Booth was heating up a bit, scoring three goals in a four-game span from Jan. 7-13 but has just one since.

PanthersNYC The Panthers would really like to see more from Michael Frolik as the streaky third-year winger hasn't scored since Dec. 17 – a span of 17 straight games – and hasn't recorded a single point in his past nine. Mike Santorelli, who has been a nice surprise with 12 goals so far, has scored twice in his past 13.

“We have to finish our opportunities,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “We're just not finishing. Guys like Frolik and Santorelli were hot early and have gone cold here. It's hard to explain. There are a lot of streaky scorers in hockey. We sat Frolik when his chances diminished, but as long as he's getting chances, I can live with that because he'll put a few in soon.''

-- Vokoun, who missed Sunday's game after suffering a muscle pull Friday against Tampa Bay, said he would likely dress Tuesday. DeBoer said Scott Clemmensen could play depending on how Vokoun felt Tuesday morning. With Florida playing at Boston on Wednesday, both goalies are expected to play in the coming days anyway.

“I felt pretty good so I think I'll be able to play,'' Vokoun said.

With Vokoun ready to go, rookie Jacob Markstrom was returned to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Markstrom, 20, made his NHL debut Sunday at New Jersey.

-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (rib cage) practiced Monday and said he felt better but probably not good enough to play Tuesday.

-- Defensemen Joe Callahan and Clay Wilson were in the Panthers lineup for the second straight game on Sunday as DeBoer continued to go with seven defensemen because of Jason Garrison's bothersome groin injury.

Callahan was called up for the second time this season on Thursday after playing in two games for the Panthers in November. Wilson, recalled on Friday, made his 2010-11 NHL debut Friday against the Lightning. He played in two games in 2009-10.

Wilson was sent back to Rochester on Monday after DeBoer determined Garrison would be able to play the next two games leading into the All-Star break.

With the recent loss of Bryan McCabe (broken jaw) and Kulikov, the Panthers lost 1,223 games worth of NHL experience on defense -- McCabe owns 1,111 of those games -- and replaced it with the 84 of Callahan, Wilson and Keaton Ellerby.

“We have a young defense to begin with,'' DeBoer said last week. “It's nothing we haven't dealt with all year. The guys we're bringing in can all play. When you're in the middle of a season and have played as many games as we have, it's nice to have a shot of energy.''

Rangersliberty TUESDAY: PANTHERS AT RANGERS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Rangers lead 37-28-6
The game: This is Florida's first visit to the Garden this season but this is the third meeting with the Rangers. The Panthers went 1-1 against New York in Sunrise, winning 3-0 on Jan. 2 and losing 3-0 on Nov. 27. .-.-. The Rangers are a banged up bunch but have held things together and are 6-5-1 this month. The Rangers were missing seven regular forwards on Saturday Torts but still beat the Thrashers 3-2 in a shootout. Notables out include Ryan Callahan (broken hand), Erik Christensen (knee), Brandon Dubinsky (leg), Ruslan Fedotenko (shoulder) and Alex Frolov (knee).


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