It was just a few weeks ago when Tyson Strachan found it hard to crack the Panthers lineup.
A healthy scratch during Florida’s five-game losing streak, Strachan was put back into the lineup Jan. 31 against Winnipeg. That night, the Panthers finally won their second game of the season.
Strachan has played every game since. And, with Keaton Ellerby being traded to Los Angeles on Friday, Strachan found himself as one of Florida’s six defensemen going into Saturday’s game at Washington.
The Panthers will continue to carry seven defensemen once Ed Jovanovski’s knee allows him to return to the lineup. For now, however, Strachan is making the most of his opportunity.
“This sums up pro hockey right there. You always have to be ready,” Strachan said. “It’s tough when you don’t play, so I’m happy to be back in the lineup — and I’m especially happy we’ve been able to pick up some points on the road.”
If Strachan found a silver lining in being a healthy scratch, it was that the time out of the lineup allowed him to get in better shape.
Even though Strachan spent the lockout playing for the Panthers’ AHL affiliate in San Antonio, the defenseman missed five weeks leading into the start of the NHL season because of injury.
Like many who hadn’t been playing during the work stoppage, Strachan found himself a touch unprepared for the rigors of training camp and a quick start to the season.
“Our expectations were fairly high for him, especially since he had the opportunity to play all year,” coach Kevin Dineen said.
“Those are the kind of guys who were supposed to be game-ready. I didn’t think that was the case. But he worked hard while being a healthy scratch. His play is improving.”
Strachan fully admits to not having a great training camp but said he feels like he’s now in midseason form. In Saturday’s 5-0 loss to the Capitals, Strachan had three hits and a blocked shot.
“I wasn’t ready for camp,” he said. “I was able to get my feet back under myself. I needed some of those bag skates and the coaches were great to me. They got me going.”
• One of the nice surprises for the Panthers over the past couple of weeks has been the play of rookie Drew Shore. About the only thing Shore hasn’t done is score his first goal — and that will come. Shore was a prolific scorer in the college ranks, notching 45 goals and 99 points over the past two seasons at the University of Denver.
In 41 games with San Antonio, Shore scored 10 goals and assisted on 20 others.
“I’m pretty happy with the way I’ve played the first seven or eight games,” said Shore, who has 12 shots on goal in the past five games.
“At the same time, my goal now is to help contribute and help this team make the playoffs. That means I have to be up here all year. I think I can contribute in many different ways.”
The Panthers have been extremely happy with Shore, and it has become apparent he has earned a spot on the team, at least for now.
After coming up and making his debut on the wing at Montreal in Florida’s third game of the season, Shore is back at his natural position and is centering the Panthers’ second line with fellow rookie — and road roommate — Jonathan Huberdeau and Kris Versteeg.
“I wouldn’t call Drew a surprise,” Dineen said. “What we’re seeing here is what we saw in San Antonio. He’s a hard-working guy who takes pride in the details of the game.”
• Jack Skille, who scored his first goal of the season against Philadelphia on Thursday, was back in the lineup for the second consecutive game Saturday after being a healthy scratch for two games.
“Sometimes you keep moving forward and make decisions that’s best for the team,” Dineen said.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. These are hard decisions, but you make them and move on. [Skille] responded well.”
With Skille in, Dineen scratched Alex Kovalev for the second game in a row. Kovalev could return to the lineup for Tuesday’s home game against the Capitals.