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SURPRISE IN GOAL: Jacob Markstrom Getting Plenty of Work Despite Tim Thomas Signing

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When the Panthers signed veteran Tim Thomas to a one-year deal last month, few expected Jacob Markstrom to see action in nine of October's 12 games.

Yet because of two injuries, Markstrom has indeed been Florida's go-to goalie in half of its games.

And with Thomas' status for this weekend still in doubt, Markstrom could be back in net Friday against the visiting Blues.

"We have been playing in some tight games, but no one is happy with the results,'' Markstrom said after Wednesday's morning practice in Coral Springs.

"We're going to start winning games here. I always have to be ready because stuff happens. I prepare every day as if I'm going to be playing. Nothing much has changed. I have confidence in this group, in this team. We're looking forward. This is a big weekend coming up.''

Thomas is currently working his way back from an undisclosed lower body injury and took part in half of Wednesday's practice before skating back to the locker room with two of Florida's trainers not far behind.

Coach Kevin Dineen said Thomas is "slowly moving in the right direction" and if the Panthers had to play Wednesday, Thomas wouldn't be ready to go.

Florida plays twice this weekend with Markstrom possibly going at home against the Blues with Scott Clemmensen a possibility for Saturday's game in Washington.

Clemmensen hasn't started an NHL game yet this season -- he has played in two games for Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio -- but he had two wins against the Capitals in 2011-12.

Clemmensen's only action with the Panthers this year has been relegated to practice and a brief stint in relief of Markstrom in a 7-2 loss at Tampa Bay on Oct. 10.

"At some point,'' Dineen said, "he's going to be a piece of the puzzle.''

As far as Markstrom's play goes, well, there has been room for improvement. Markstrom's best game came on Oct. 8 when he took over for Thomas when he injured his groin early in a game at Philadelphia. Markstrom didn't give up a goal as he turned back 25 shots in Florida's 2-1 loss.

In his six starts, Markstrom is giving up an average of 3.5 goals and has stopped 88 percent of shots faced.

"At the end, we need a win against St. Louis and goaltending is a big part of it,'' Dineen said. "I've seen Markstrom go out there and win us a game.''

Markstrom is also 0-2 in shootouts, stopping just two of the six shots offered. Thomas won his only shootout game, turning back both shots against Minnesota.

"It's frustrating,'' Markstrom said. "For me, it's personal because if we go into shootouts, we should win. But I haven't made the kind of saves I need to, the big saves I feel I can make. As a goalie, you have to be confident that if it goes to shootout, you're going to win it.''