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 a healthy Upshall would do, with Upshall missing so many games to injuries during his first two seasons.
Now everyone is. Early 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 he had just one assist through his first six games. In the seventh game, 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, with 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 to ’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.’’Jesse Winchester
Winchester, who has tied a career high with four goals, said he was injured 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 feel pretty good right now and don’t think I’ll be out too much longer,” he said.