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Who Are these Cats?: Florida Panthers Injuries Pile Up as Leafs Come Calling on Tuesday ... Erik Gudbranson: Mr. Versatile

StanleywheelchairThe Toronto Maple Leafs may want to download the Panthers roster before Tuesday's game at BankAtlantic Center.

The Leafs should also forget watching film of the previous meeting between the two back in November.

Because of all the injuries, the Panthers hardly resemble the team they were just last week much less right after Halloween.

Center Stephen Weiss became the seventh Florida forward to go on the injured list. Weiss, who missed Friday's game at Boston, practiced on his own Monday and is questionable for Tuesday's game against his hometown Leafs.

“He's a maybe,'' coach Kevin Dineen said of Weiss. “He got a good skate in and his heart is pretty big. We'll make the final decision for him, but he wants to get out there.''

If Weiss returns, he'll likely be reunited with Weisslinemates Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg. If not, Dineen could split the remaining wingers as he did at Monday's evening practice in Coral Springs.

On Monday, Florida's top line was Fleischmann with center Shawn Matthias and winger Matt Bradley (57 goals in 654 career games). Versteeg was on a second line pairing with center Mike Santorelli and Tomas Kopecky. 

With center Mark Cullen on re-entry waivers and missing practice, defenseman Erik Gudbranson was put back on the fourth forward line working with Evgenii Dadonov and Bill Thomas. Cullen will likely be in Tuesday's lineup thereby replacing Dadonov at center and moving Gudbranson back to the blue line.

“We need guys to step up, and that means everyone including myself or Michal Repik or Dadonov,'' said Versteeg, who went into the Christmas break leading the Panthers in goals (16) and points (37).

“We should always pride ourselves enough to win no matter who is out there. We haven't had a full lineup all year, so we're not going to make excuses now.''

Dineen has yet to use the Panthers mounting injuries as an excuse either through the media nor in meetings with his team. Six years as a coach in the AHL seasoned Dineen to expect injuries, to deal with being shorthanded. The Panthers, Dineen knows, don't get a pass from other teams because of their injury problems.

As former coach Pete DeBoer used to say, “other teams aren't going to take it easy on us.''

In Florida's 5-1 win in Toronto on Nov. 8, three of the injured forwards (Jack Skille, Sean Bergenheim and Marco Sturm) scored for the Panthers. 

“We are a long way from where we were a month ago and that's fine,'' Dineen said. “You have transitions during a season. We were stable with the lines and now we shook them up. We may shake them up again [Monday] night.''

One thing working in the Panthers favor in the coming weeks is their schedule. After running through the first three months like a whirling dervish, the Panthers get to slow things down. Florida plays three games before New Years and five in the next 11 days. After that stretch, the Panthers play just three games in 10 days.

The easier schedule is definitely welcomed by a team that can use it.

Ottawaallstar“I'd rather get the injuries out of the way so we're healthy down the stretch,'' defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. “We only have 12 or 13 games before the All-Star break. Getting through this, you'll see guys filter back into the lineup. We just have to take care of our home ice.''


With Cullen unable to make it to Boston on Friday, the Panthers used 19-year-old Gudbranson on the fourth forward line after working him out there during Thursday's morning skate in Ottawa.

Gudbranson said he enjoyed the change although it took some getting used to. With Cullen on his way to South Florida for Tuesday's game, Gudbranson's position change should be short lived.

“I played there a little as a kid and I enjoyed it. I've always considered myself an offensive guy,'' Gudbranson said. “It was fun getting in front of the net, getting into the corners.''

Said Dineen: “It adds to his resume. It's not a long-term spot but in a short-term situation, he was enthusiastic and excited. I was happy with him.''

-- The Panthers definitely noticed prospect Jonathan Huberdeau's game in Canada's 8-1 win over Finland in the opener of the World Junior Hockey Championships.

Huberdeau, who led the Panthers with three goals Huberdeauduring the preseason, had a goal and four assists in the win.

“Yeah, they played real well,'' said Gudbranson, who would have been playing for Team Canada if he wasn't with the Panthers. “Huberdeau really ripped it up.''

-- Florida's lines during Monday's practice. Remember, Mark Cullen should center the fourth line on Tuesday.






When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, StanleypriceSunrise

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Leafs lead 29-21-7

The game: Florida beat the Leafs 5-1 in Toronto on Nov. 8 as Jose Theodore made 38 saves. Toronto  just gave coach Ron Wilson a contract extension as entering Monday's games, the Leafs were sixth in the Eastern Conference and have won two straight. Florida has lost three straight and are 2-3-3 since beating the Bruins on Dec. 8.