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Florida Panthers Take Off for All-Star Break ... Lots of Work to Do. Next Week.

Ottawallstar2Just a reminder that I'm off to Ottawa tomorrow for the All-Star Weekend.

Going to have updates throughout the weekend here on this site, although if you want up-to-the-minute stuff, you're best bet is following me on Twitter. 

I'm going to be linking to some of the biggest media names at the All-Star Game so you'll have the best coverage around.

Again, it's free and easy to do. 

Just follow me here @OnFrozenPond

Here's my story on the Panthers and their All-Star Break plans and what's up next for them:

BY GEORGE RICHARDS

The Panthers have had few days off since training camp started back in September.

Now they get a real break.

Allstar3The All-Star Weekend, which takes place in Ottawa this year, gives the Panthers almost a week away from the game. Aside from defenseman Brian Campbell, the Panthers won't be lacing up the skates until Monday's afternoon practice in Coral Springs. 

“We have a five day break and that's a really good time to just step away,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “This gives you a chance to relax mentally. It's like anything else; when you recharge the batteries both mentally and physically, it's a good place to be.''

Campbell left town for Ottawa on Wednesday night although he is one of the rare few headed north.

Rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson is heading to his hometown of Ottawa as well. Most other teammates plan on going as far north as Disney World.

A big portion of the Panthers will remain in South Florida, either in Fort Lauderdale or driving to the Keys. 

One of the benefits of playing in Florida is not having to travel during hockey's version of spring break. 

“The options here in Fort Lauderdale, South Florida, are quality ones for things you want to do. One good one is just stay home,'' Dineen said. “We want them to get away from the game, be well rested.''

And Dineen's plan?

“I am going to see the Intracoastal waterway for the first time since I've been here,” he said with a grin. “I have some great friends coming down from Maine and Ohio. We're getting a boat and go for a little Intracruise from Boca to Fort Lauderdale then sneak down to the Keys. It's a rough life. You have to take advantage of being in South Florida.''

When the Panthers come back, however, it's time to get down to serious business.

Florida goes into the break tied with the Capitals with 55 points after losing 11 of its past 15 games. Since the Capitals have more wins, they win the tiebreaker putting the Panthers in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. 

“We're in good shape right now,'' goalie Scott Clemmensen said. “We earned our keep and are in the driver's seat instead of past years where we were so far behind the 8-ball that we dug ourselves into a hole we couldn't get out of. We've earned the right to be where we are, in a position to make a big playoff push. And we completely expect to make the playoffs. Without a doubt.''

The Panthers will hold two practices before Washington comes to town, the first of four divisional opponents the Panthers face coming out of the break. With the points so close, the games are becoming more important by the day. 

“We know we're going to have a really tough schedule as we move forward,'' Dineen said. “When we hit the ice on Monday, we're going to have two crisp practices and we're going to jump right into the heat of it. We're playing a lot of divisional opponents. This is going to be a key part of the schedule for us.''

() The Panthers got a little experience on their blue line after recalling Tyson Strachan to replace the injured Dmitry Kulikov. Strachan has spent parts of the past three seasons with the Blues but didn't see much playing time in Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Flyers. 

Strachan played a total of 18 shifts and only three in the third period. Strachan didn't see the ice in the overtime session. 

“I'm excited that the day is here and I'm excited to be in the lineup,'' Strachan said before the game. “I look back to those first few days of being called up and the nerves that come with it. Now I have been there. I've spent some time up here so there's a little bit of a comfort level.''

Said Dineen: “He's played NHL games before and what's nice about giving Tyson the call is it wasn't an easy call. We have many options at San Antonio and we haven't had to use them at all. A large chunk of the forwards we have but we haven't had to reach out for a defenseman. We think he's the right fit for us right now.''

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