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Panthers Wojtek Wolski Warms Up in South Florida ... Sabres Try to Keep Cats from Elusive Fourth Straight Win

Wolski1BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond Facebook: On Frozen Pond

The numbers suggest Wojtek Wolski is a player whose game improves once his scenery changes. He vehemently disagrees with that assessment. For good reason. 

In the three times the talented Panthers winger has been traded, his scoring production has increased.
When Colorado traded him to Phoenix at the deadline in 2010, Wolski ended with 18 points on six goals in the final 18 games of the regular season. Last year, Wolski scored six goals with 19 points in 39 games after being shipped to the Rangers. 

On Thursday, Wolski picked up his third goal and eighth point in 11 games since joining the Panthers last month. Wolski came to the Panthers with no goals and three assists in nine games with the Rangers. 

“I've always been able to put up points. It has nothing to do with a 'change of scenery','' Wolski said, shaking his head.

Wolski2“People keep saying that and I've always put up points. I'm not going to agree with that because I don't think it's true.''

Wolski has had more than just a scenery change in being dealt to the Panthers for a third round pick in next year's draft. With the Rangers, Wolski was relegated to press box duty as he hadn't played in an NHL game in more than a month when the Panthers brought him south. 

Wolski underwent sports hernia surgery in November, and by the time he returned, Rangers coach John Tortorella only gave Wolski a sniff at the lineup. Three games from Jan. 12-15 – mostly playing on the fourth line – was all he got.

In Florida, the Panthers were desperate for some offensive punch and Wolski gave them that at little cost other than a financial hit.

Instead of being benched as he was in New York, Wolski finds himself on Florida's top line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann. Increased playing time, as well as a spot with two talented linemates, may explain Wolski's offensive rise more than just the move itself does. 

“We needed some offensive output and it was timely what with [Kris] Versteeg's injury,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “He found himself as a healthy scratch for a lot of time in New York and now he's on the right side of Stephen Weiss. That's a pretty good change of fortunes. But he's aware that there's a lot of work that goes into keeping a coveted spot like that.''

Born in Zabrze, Poland, Wolski's family escaped the Communist country and fled to West Germany in 1989. The Wolski family eventually landed in Canada and, even though times were tough, Wojtek worked Wolski3hard at playing hockey and became an accomplished player. He eventually became a high draft pick of the Ontario Hockey League's Brampton Battalion where he earned league MVP honors and rewrote that team's record book.

Wolski, who didn't speak English when he moved to Canada, was taken with the 21st overall pick of the 2004 draft by the Avalanche and became a full-time player by the 2006-07 season. The Avs eventually traded him to Phoenix in 2010 and he initially played well for the Coyotes – and scored four goals in seven playoff games to earn a two-year deal worth $7.6 million.

The good times didn't last in the desert, however, as Wolski fell out of favor with coach Dave Tippett – who happens to be Dineen's old teammate from their days with the Whalers – and was shipped to the Rangers. Things ended up not working out there, either.  
Could Wolski have found a home with the Panthers? Time will tell.

“We're winning right now and it's always great to be going in the right direction. I think it's been going well,'' Wolski said. “I like Florida a lot, think the guys here are great. We have a lot of creative, talented players. Everyone has been pitching in and we're winning. That's the most important thing.''

() The Panthers, once again, go after an elusive fourth straight win Saturday when Buffalo completes Florida's four-game homestand. The Panthers haven't won four consecutive games since the end of the 2007-08 season when Jacques Martin's bunch won seven straight in what was a failed run to the playoffs. 

The Panthers have won three straight on five different occasions this season but have yet to pull off the Superfecta. In November, Florida won the first three games of a four-game homestand before losing the finale to Tampa Bay in overtime.

SabresSATURDAY: SABRES AT PANTHERS

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

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Buffalo leads 42-25-4

The game: The Panthers should have two of their regulars back in the lineup as Kris Versteeg (hip) and Dmitry Kulikov (knee) are expected to return. The Sabres, with Ryan Miller in net, are back in the playoff hunt and have won nine of their past 13. Buffalo has won two of three against the Panthers this season. 


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