BY BILL VAN SMITH
A lot of puzzles come in pieces, and as Florida Panther Keaton Ellerby said Tuesday, “We know it’s a big piece of the puzzle that went missing Monday night.”
Ellerby, speaking after Tuesday’s practice in Coral Springs following Monday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins, was referring to veteran defender Ed Jovanovski. And Ellerby knows all too well that he is the replacement puzzle piece.
“It’s tough to see one of our biggest leaders go down like that,” Ellerby said. “He went down fighting. He went down supporting the team. Now I have to step in and do what I can and do everything the coach has asked.”
When he said Jovanovski went down fighting, Ellerby was talking literally. Jovanovski injured his hand – probably broke it – during a first-period fight with Daniel Paille, and he could miss substantial time. The fight was Jovanovski’s first of the season and it will keep him from going on the Panthers’ upcoming three-game road trip.
So, in the overall picture, Jovanovski’s counter-punching against the Bruins turned out to be counter-productive.
“He’s going to see a specialist Wednesday morning and won’t be going on the road trip with us,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “He’ll be getting an evaluation and a diagnosis and a length of treatment, so we’ll wait until Wednesday to make any statement on that.”
Is Dineen confident with Ellerby?
“Absolutely,” Dineen said. “He can go out there and fill right in but you don’t replace a guy like Ed Jovanovski.
''But with Ellerby, when preparation meets opportunity, that’s basically where he’s at. I like his size [6-5, 217] and his skating and his willingness to be a physical player and engage a defenseman.
“I give him credit. He has put in the work and now the opportunity has presented itself. He needs to be in the thick of things.”
Ellerby, 23, readily admitted the season has been frustrating. “It’s never fun to sit out and watch,” he said of minimal playing time. “It’s been a long year so far personally."
Nevertheless, he said he has been learning -- particularly from Jovanovski. He said it's hard not to from Jovanovski.
"He's the hardest worker out there, in the rink and off the rink," Ellerby said. "Look at him, he's played in the Olympics, All-Star games, the playoffs."
Ellerby will be putting some of that learning to use soon.
“Now it’s time to step up,” he said.
THEODORE TO TRAVEL
Goalie Jose Theodore skated Tuesday and Dineen said he would make the upcoming road trip, which begins Wednesday at the Avalanche.
The Panthers sent goalie Brian Foster back to San Antonio, and Dineen said, “That’s a fairly telling statement. I wouldn’t send him back unless Theo was close. But it’s really day to day and I haven’t got today’s report.”
Asked if he expected Theodore to play on the road trip, Dineen said, “I do.”
The Panthers have won only one of their past five games and are trying to put that behind them and finish with a flourish in their four games before the All-Star break.
“We want to finish up strong,” Dineen said. “We look at the next four games as extremely important to us. That really has been our focus since our Christmas break, but it hasn’t gone great in the standings or on the scoreboard so far. “
The Panthers have gotten suddenly healthy at the forward position. Marco Sturm (concussion), Jack Skille (shoulder), Scottie Upshall (hip) and Sean Bergenheim (groin) have all been practicing.
Sturm is the only one who will not make the road trip.
Dineen said “there are no guarantees” on who will get playing time. “No matter what language you speak, we can all count. If there are 14 healthy forwards, that means there will be two out,” Dineen said.