Doctors orders for fixing the Panthers’ sickly play over the past four games wouldn’t seem to include a road game, especially one against the team atop the Eastern Conference as of Monday morning.
But the Panthers hope a one-game road trip across the state to face Tampa Bay starts to get them out of the four-game funk that has left them on the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
“I think a chance to go out, sit down, probably go out to dinner with some of your teammates [could help],” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said.
“Probably 85 percent of that conversation is about other things than the actual play. Those little snapshots and discussions that happen on the road trip. Certainly, it takes the focus away from the little things you’re always dealing with at home. Right now, we need our full focus on the game.”
Said goalie Scott Clemmensen said: “How do you get out of a funk is the real question. All things come to an end, good or bad. If things aren’t going your way, personally or a team thing, first thing you do is start working hard.
“The harder you work, the more bounces you’re going to get. Sometimes, a bounce is all it takes to turn things around.”
Helping the Panthers’ cause, certainly at the offensive end, is the return of winger Kris Versteeg from a groin injury.
“As much as I’m excited to get him back, our team as a group needs to come together and play more as a team,” Dineen said.
Aid Versteeg: “I’m excited about the possibility of getting back in. It’s been almost nine months since the last game. It’s definitely been a long wait to get this over.”
Chuckling at his game shape after the longest layoff of his hockey life, he said, “Someone might need to bring an oxygen tank on the bench somewhere along the line.”
The post-lockout quickie training camp left many teams short on conditioning and crispness, the Panthers among them. In contrast to the Panthers, who have managed to scrape out only three goals in the past four games, the Lightning pumped in 4.8 goals per game over its first five games.
“There’s been growing pains,” Versteeg said. “A lot of our players haven’t played yet. Not trying to make excuses, but when you see a lot of other teams that had 10, 13, 14, 15 players that played.
“We’ve only had a couple who played. I saw last game [Saturday’s 7-1 loss to Philadelphia] we were getting our timing down where you start to get the little chemistries down that everyone needs.
“We’ve got a good thing coming along here. Once we get healthy bodies back, we’ll be getting off on the right step.”
Also, the Panthers still are missing the big shot of defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who injured a shoulder while wakeboarding; winger Sean Bergenheim, who sustained a groin injury while playing in Finland during the lockout; and Marcel Goc, who sustained an ankle injury during the lockout.
All are suspended until medically cleared to play. Goc skated Monday, but Versteeg’s usual center, Stephen Weiss, didn’t.
No surprise, but rookie Jonathan Huberdeau has been told he will be staying with the Panthers for the duration.
The Panthers needed to make a decision on Huberdeau as dressing him for his sixth NHL game this season Tuesday would mean this season counts on his contract.