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THANKFUL FOR FRESH START: Scottie Upshall Going Strong Under Horachek

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

On the day Peter Horachek took over as coach of the Panthers, he said everyone on the team was getting a clean slate.

No one has benefited from the fresh start more than Scottie Upshall.

A player who spent most of the past 2 1/2 seasons in Kevin Dineen's doghouse, Upshall seems not only energized but happy to be playing under Horachek.

"Things didn't go great for me and I didn't enjoy playing the first few seasons,'' said Upshall, who got the Panthers going in Wednesday's night's eventual 5-2 loss to the Rangers by scoring with 7:32 left.

"For some reasons, injuries were used against me. I felt like my passion was questioned, my effort was questioned. If anyone in the room was asked, the way I approached the game wasn't questioned. I wanted to play and be good. Sometimes things just don't work out. This game is tough both mentally and physically.''

In his first two injury plagued seasons in Florida, Upshall scored six goals in 53 games; in the 10 games under Horachek, Upshall has three goals and eight points.

Dineen often said he wanted to see what the healthy Upshall would do, what with Upshall missing so many games to injured during his first two seasons.

Now everyone is.

Early on in Wednesday's game, Upshall had a scoring chance snuffed out by Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist then drew a penalty on Justin Falk. When Upshall scored Wednesday, Florida trailed 3-1.

"It was tough to get out of that hole, but right now, I'm in a good place,'' said Upshall, who signed a four-year deal worth $14 million in 2011.

"I think my teammates look up to me and I've been acknowledged by the coaches as a leader. I think there's a great opportunity for a lot of players. We have some great young players. It's just a better atmosphere here.''

Upshall came into training camp healthy and looked good yet had just one assist through his first six games. In Game 7, at Nashville, Upshall was benched. Dineen would make Upshall a healthy scratch two more times.

Coincidentally, Upshall got his first goals of the season in Florida's shootout loss to Edmonton. The decision to fire Dineen and his coaching staff was made following that game.

Horachek is a coach Upshall knows well, the two hitting it off when Upshall was first breaking in with Nashville a decade ago. Horachek was an assistant for the Predators when Upshall played there from 2003-07.

In Wednesday's game, as has been the case the past few games, Upshall came out wearing an 'A' on his jersey to signify his new leadership role on the team as an alternate captain.

Suffice to say, Upshall was unlikely to ever wear a letter on his jersey under the old regime.

"I don't know what the situation was with Scott and Kevin so I can't speak to that,'' Horachek said.

"Since I've been here, Scott's shown a work ethic, has been a leader. He's been outspoken in the room, he's in our leadership group. I take from what he's doing. He's deserved the playing time.''

WINCHESTER WORKING

Forward Jesse Winchester is trying to come back after suffering an undisclosed lower body injury - believed to be a bruised hip - during Florida's previous road trip.

Winchester says he was hurt when he made a hit on Edmonton's Corey Potter in the first period of that 4-1 loss on Nov. 21. Winchester tried to come back in the second period but the pain was too much.

"I gave it a try but it was pretty painful,'' said Winchester, who has tied a career-high with four goals.

"The good thing is it's not too serious. I'm just trying to play soon. It's not a very serious injury right now. I feel pretty good right now and don't think I'll be out too much longer. I'm working hard with our training staff.''

-- Horachek was a little upset with some of the sloppy defensive play that led to goals in Wednesday's loss.

Florida went down 2-0 when Tom Gilbert coughed up the puck deep in the Panthers zone allowing Rick Nash to swoop in and tee off on Tim Thomas.

With the Panthers down 3-2, Mats Zuccarello slid into the slot on a power play unopposed to score with 1:32 left.

"They scored two power play goals which were preventable and had a turnover goal in the third which was really ridiculous,'' Horachek said. "Those things can't happen against a team like that, with Nash on the ice.''

-- The Panthers will hold an open practice Friday at the Coral Springs Iceplex starting at 10:30 a.m.

PHOTO BY JOE RIMKUS/Miami Herald Staff

 

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