Fresh off their vacations that stretched from British Columbia all the way to Key West, the Panthers were back to work on Monday.
Well, most of them were.
Brian Campbell was excused from Monday's workout in Coral Springs as he was traveling back from the All-Star weekend in Ottawa. Kris Versteeg also missed with an undisclosed illness, although he's expected to join Campbell and the rest of the Panthers on Tuesday morning.
Wednesday's game against the Capitals will be Florida's first in eight days.
“I was really impressed with them, we had some real bounce out there,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “They took it upon themselves to skate more at the end. For that long of a break, I'm very happy with the jump we had. We'll come back [Tuesday] and be fully charged.''
Dineen put the team through a quick but intense practice with a big portion dedicated to Florida's 4-on-4 play. The Panthers have a league-most 11 overtime/shootout losses.
Washington defenseman Dennis Wideman, traded away from the Panthers last February, said the first game back from a long break is usually tough. The Capitals get to wear off a little rust before coming to South Florida as their post-break game is Tuesday in Tampa.
Dineen says he's not worried about his team's motivation going into Wednesday. The Panthers and Capitals are both tied atop the Southeast Division with 55 points.
“They'll be ready for it and so will we,'' Dineen said. “We both know what's on the line. It's an important game.''
Marco Sturm was back on the ice and could be ready to play soon. He's been out since December after being struck in the face by a puck and suffering a concussion. Sturm was sitting on the Panthers bench when he was hit.
Jack Skille was held out of the practice session as Dineen wants him to continue strengthening the shoulder he injured on Dec. 20. Skille played in back-to-back games against Chicago and Winnipeg but was held out of the final pre-break game against the Flyers. Dineen denied that the Panthers may shut Skille down because of the injury.
“I wouldn't call it a big concern,'' Dineen said. “It's another situation where maybe an extra day or two could give him a chance to get comfortable again. We want him feeling good for the long stretch drive.''
For the ninth straight All-Star Game, Florida has had one – or fewer – players making the trip. Last season, only rookie Evgenii Dadonov (since traded to Carolina) was selected, and that was just to take part in the skills competition. Ed Jovanovski is Florida's active leader with five All-Star appearances although none have come while with the Panthers. Campbell played in his fourth on Sunday.
Coach Kevin Dineen played in two All-Star games while with the Hartford Whalers. He said his favorite 'All-Star' memory comes from being selected for the 'Rendez-vous '87' – a two-game series pitting stars from the NHL against counterparts from the Soviet Union.
“Instead of an All-Star Game, we played two games against the Russians in Quebec City,'' Dineen said. “To be picked for that was a special moment for me. To be able to represent the NHL before the Iron Curtain came down and play against the Russian bear was a great feeling.''