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Panthers Jack Skille Hopes to Roll After Big Game in T.O. ... Cats off to Winnipeg for First Game Since 1996 ... Jets Gameday on Thursday

SkilleleafsTORONTO – After another frustrating offensive performance last week, Panthers winger Jack Skille joked that it may just take him 100 shots on goal to finally put one through.

“Maybe,'' he said with a scowl, “it'll be 150.''

Skille finally broke through in Florida's 5-1 win over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday night, giving the Panthers the initial lead in the opening period. And his goal, one in which he undressed Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn, came on shot No. 33 of the season. 

“Sometimes that happens, but for me, it seems to happen more often than not,'' Skille said. “I think I've learned through my career that you can't think about it, just keep pressing along and eventually you'll get that first one. It took me 18 games last season. I don't know why that happens. Hopefully this is a boost to the confidence. Hey, I can score again.''

The Panthers haven't been too concerned with Skille's offensive production as he has been strong along the boards and in the corners. Playing alongside center Marcel Goc and newcomer Marco Sturm, Skille brings a mix of speed and size to that line – something general manager Dale Tallon felt the Panthers needed when he traded Michael Frolik to Chicago for Skille last February. 

Tallon originally drafted Skille while with the Blackhawks and says he's been generally pleased with Skille's play. 

“I think he's been really solid. He's getting better and is off to a good start,'' Tallon said. “I'm real happy with his development. He has a big body, can skate and has a big shot. He just needs to keep things simple. We're looking for what we saw [Tuesday] on a nightly basis, not just once in a while or every other night. It was good to see him score. He's had some great chances. Sometimes those goals come when you least expect them. It's good to get that off the back.''

Skille came to the Panthers under strange circumstances, traded to Florida a few weeks before the trade deadline flurries. At the time, the Panthers were a team in flux; they weren't too far out of the playoff race just yet, although a few weeks later, the salary dump was on and the Panthers faded fast. 

One of only a handful of players left from that 'try out' period, Skille said the black cloud that hovered over the Panthers at the end of last season has moved somewhere else. With new faces and new found success, hockey is fun again. 

“It was a tough environment,'' Skille said. “We were losing consistently at the end and it was tough. There was no buzz. It was hard to be around. Now, obviously, we have a lot of talent and a lot of veterans. There's a lot of chatter, a lot of positivity.''

BACK TO THE PEG

The Panthers will make their first visit to Winnipeg since March 7, 1996; the original Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix following the 1995-96 season but have since returned. The former Atlanta Thrashers have a new arena and strong support in the inaugural season of their second coming. 

“It's unfortunate Atlanta left, but going back to [Winnipeg] has been good,'' said defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who along with Jose Theodore are the only current Panthers to have played an NHL game in Winnipeg. Jovanovski was with the Panthers for that game in 1996 

“I'm sure the atmosphere is going to be great, there will be a lot of buzz. It's great to have the NHL back in Winnipeg, the fans there are great. You could just see the excitement about this team all summer.''

-- The Panthers got plenty of secondary scoring in Tuesday's win, with goals coming from everywhere but the top line.

The trio of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg came into the game accounting for almost 40 percent of Florida's points. On Tuesday, however, that trio was shut out. 

THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT JETS

When, Where: 8:30 p.m.; MTS Center, Winnipeg

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Jets/Thrashers lead 38-26-5

The game: The Jets are coming off a decent showing on the road, going 3-2-2 in a seven-game trip that started in Tampa and ended in Buffalo. Winnipeg battled back to tie the Panthers in the second game of that trip and ended up winning in a shootout on Halloween. The Panthers are off to the third-best start in franchise history with 17 points. Florida is 4-1-3 in its past eight games. Jose Theodore made 38 saves in Tuesday's 5-1 win at Toronto and is expected to make his third straight start. 

 

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