Trust me, it's great to be back home.
If you enjoy reading David's coverage of the Panthers, well, you're in luck. The Herald is forcing me to take some days off this week, so both David and Adam Beasley will be covering the team for me. I will return on Friday.
Now, Monday and Tuesday are furlough days for me -- meaning I don't get paid and am not allowed to do any kind of Miami Herald related work. That's the law man. So, this blog will be dark on Monday and Tuesday because of that.
So you can catch me there all this week. If something pops up on Wednesday or Thursday (those are just regular off days) I may post it here.
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Stephen Weiss and a few others didn't practice because of light injuries. They should all be back Monday morning at Incredible Ice.
-- And here's an early peek at my feature on Rostislav Olesz for Monday's paper. Good to see Olesz playing better, although we've said that before. The biggest thing is he has a tendency to disappear, something his teammates all have noticed.
Tomas Vokoun understands why fans get on Olesz because of the money he makes, but Vokoun says players don't care about that. They don't care if you make the league minumum or Sidney Crosby cash; you better come to work every day. That's all that matters.
Anyway, here's my story.
Because of the furlough, I'm technically not allowed to even open emails or take work related calls. But if you contact me on Facebook or Twitter, well, that's my personal business now isn't it?
-- By the way, if you see me walking around the arena on Tuesday or Thursday, come up and say hello. I'll be strolling around visiting different sections the next few nights. Is there any place special I need to go?
I think I'm watching Thursday's game from the ADT Club. If you've never watched a game from there, check out Stubhub. They have some good deals there and it's the best. It really is a good game-night experience.
-- OK, here's the Olesz story. I promise.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Jacques Martin wanted Rostislav Olesz to shoot the puck more. Pete DeBoer wants Olesz to take aim at the net more often. So does Dale Tallon.
Olesz has heard that refrain many times in his six seasons with the Panthers from coaches and teammates alike. Olesz grew up with a passer's mentality, and even though he has a pretty nice shot, he would rather set a teammate up than go for the gold himself.
He says he wants to change that thought proccess and has been shooting more lately.
And guess what? Olesz has scored a few goals.
“I'm playing on a line with Mike Santorelli and David Booth and they like to shoot, so we have to share the puck,'' said Olesz, whose overtime goal beat the Devils on Friday night. That goal came after he almost won the game in regulation, his shot ringing off the post.
“Some nights I'm not going to have the shots because they're taking them. I know I have to be patient but I'm trying to get the puck at the net. Since my first year here, everyone has told me to shoot the puck more. Everyone. I don't know, I like to pass. I don't think it's a bad habit, but if a guy is open, I'm going to try to get the puck to him. If not, I'm looking to shoot it.''
Olesz, who scored 14 goals last season, has two goals off nine shots in his past five games. DeBoer would like to see Olesz be more aggressive in front of the net, using his wide frame to create some space and thereby open things up for current linemates David Booth and Mike Santorelli.
When Olesz isn't in front of the net, however, he should be taking aim at the goalie.
“Yeah, I want him to shoot more,'' DeBoer said. “A lot more. And take the puck to the net with more authority. Rusty is a guy we need to score and be a regular contributor out there. Hopefully this is the first step in that.''
Olesz has been an enigma for the Panthers the past few seasons. A promising player early in his career, Olesz was a restricted free agent after getting 14 goals and 12 assists in 56 games during the 2007-08 season. Martin, then the Panthers general manager, was worried that another team was going to swoop in and sign Olesz to a big-money offer sheet.
Instead of waiting for that to happen, Martin signed Olesz to a six-year deal worth almost $19 million.
Since signing that big contract, Olesz has struggled on the offensive side of the ice and has been sidelined with numerous injuries. In the first year of Olesz's new deal, he missed all but 37 games with a groin injury that was later discovered to be a sports hernia that needed surgery. This year, he missed six weeks with a broken middle finger. Olesz has three of his five goals this season since returning from that injury on Dec. 31.
Olesz wasn't a very popular teammate last season, with former general manager Randy Sexton complaining about Olesz once the season was finished, saying he wanted to trade him “for anything I can get.''
Tallon, who replaced Sexton last summer, doesn't neccissarily feel the same way and thinks Olesz can still be a key part of the Panthers rebuild. Olesz came into this season with a more aggressive attitude and seemed to work hard at fitting in with his teammates more.
While fans have derided Olesz because of Florida's limited offensive return on a big-money contract, goalie Tomas Vokoun said teammates don't look at it that way. If he's making an effort each and every day, that's cool with them. One of the knocks on Olesz is that's not always the case.
“Rusty needs to play like that every night,'' Vokoun said on Friday. “We really need him to play like that for us to be successful. When he plays hard, he's a very effective player. Everyone has an off night during an 82 game season, we know that. But he needs to play like this in 75 of them. And it's not about numbers of money.
“I don't care how much he makes or if he has one goal or 30. It's about the effort and how he battles. He's a 230-pound guy. We need him to make a mark somewhere, even if it’s just on defense. We don't give him grief if he doesn't score because of how much money he makes. He doesn't control that. He does control his effort.''
DeBoer, one of Olesz's most vocal critics over the past few years, had plenty of good things to say about Olesz following Friday's game.
“You know what? Rusty is coming around and we're seeing glimpses of the player he can be,'' DeBoer said. “Everyone's frustration lies in that the sky is the limit with this guy. We just want him to realize his potential. Some guys get it different, especially power forwards. It took Todd Bertuzzi years to learn how to use his size and that body to be effective at this level. His God-given gifts are his size and power. He's figuring it out.''