Shawn Matthias might be only 25, but it seems like he’s been around the Panthers forever.
Matthias made his debut with the Panthers in 2008 and on Friday was the only Florida player on the ice to have played alongside Winnipeg’s Olli Jokinen during his time as the Panthers’ captain.
“I’m really trying to show my stuff this year, run with the ball,” said Matthias, who was an emergency call-up from his junior team in 2008 and scored his first NHL goal after Jokinen redirected Matthias’ shot toward the goal with his backside.
With Stephen Weiss out for the season with a wrist injury that will require surgery Tuesday, coach Kevin Dineen said he has asked more of Matthias.
No longer playing wing on Florida’s third or fourth line, Matthias is back to his natural position of center. On Friday, he scored his second goal since Weiss went on the injured list and third in the past five games.
Dineen said it has been good seeing Matthias playing with the speed and strength he sometimes hasn’t displayed during his time with the Panthers.
“He looks better in the middle,” Dineen said. “He’s had a couple strong games at center. He’s getting confidence in the amount of ice time he’s getting. It’s increased. The loss of Stephen Weiss has increased his responsibility. He’s playing quality minutes and he’s proving that he’s deserving to be relied upon.”
Said Matthias: “There’s obviously a door open for someone to come in. I’m trying to make the most of it. I worked extremely hard during the summer and lockout to have a great season. I’ve worked too hard not to play well.”
In Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Jets, Matthias had about as pretty a goal as one will find as he powered his way up the ice and went right around defenseman Mark Stuart before firing a wrister past Ondrej Pavelec.
“I’ve seen that play out of Shawn before,” Dineen said. “I know he has that in his bag of tricks.”
Matthias said afterward, “I hope my buddies see that on SportsCenter.” They did. Matthias joked Saturday that his phone exploded with text messages after ESPN made it a top 10 highlight. And although he said he’s not thinking about the future, Matthias knows he is in the final year of a two-year contract. Matthias is a restricted free agent come July 1.
“I have to make the most of this, not look back and say, ‘I wish I did this or that,’ ” said Matthias, who is four goals shy of tying last year’s career-high of 10. “I’m playing as hard as I can. I’m trying to open some eyes.”
Florida captain Ed Jovanovski took part in practice for the first time since leaving the Panthers’ game at Tampa Bay on Jan. 29 with what was originally believed to be a knee injury.
Jovanovski was vague about his “lower-body” injury, saying it’s something that has been bothering him for some time. “It’s given me a lot of headaches,” he said, “a lot of grief.” Jovanovski, 36, has missed games in the past with hip problems.
Although Jovanovski said he has skated with the Panthers’ training staff “six or seven times” since being injured, he added he continues to feel pain and hasn’t been able to skate more than three consecutive days. Therefore, there is no timetable for his return.
“It’s difficult sitting back and watching,” Jovanovski said. “You want to be out there contributing. And you can’t do that when you’re not playing. It’s been a tough year, a grind. … At the end of the day, it’s my decision on how I feel. I don’t want to be coming in and coming out.”
• Although Alex Kovalev remains on the Panthers’ active roster and is technically listed as a scratch each night, he’s no longer with the team and continues to look at other options.
If Kovalev were to find a team that wanted him, the Panthers would accommodate him. Florida expects the situation to be cleared up this week, with Kovalev — who spent parts of five seasons with the Canadiens — possibly announcing his retirement.
Kovalev is the eighth active 40-year-old player in the NHL — although he hasn’t played in a game since turning 40 on Feb. 24. He also is the last remaining active player from the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup championship team.