It has been a long time since Jonathan Huberdeau was benched. It’s a feeling he doesn’t like.
For now, being sat for much of the third period on Tuesday could be the end of it for the NHL’s reigning rookie of the year.
Florida Panthers coach Peter Horachek says Huberdeau will be allowed the chance to play through his slump and he’ll be back in the lineup Thursday against the visiting San Jose Sharks.
“I don’t like to use the word benched, but that’s the analogy of what it was,’’ said Horachek, who pulled Huberdeau off the ice 2:38 into the third period Tuesday and didn’t put him back in.
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“His time is earned and he’s going through a tough time right now. We’re asking him to work harder. He’s feeling the pressure of not scoring.’’
Said Huberdeau: “For sure, you want to be out there helping the team. I understood why [Horachek] didn’t want me on the ice. It’s a learning process. I have support from the coach, he knows what I can do better. I want to do better. It’s hard personally but the team is winning. I’ll get over it.’’
Huberdeau has been struggling this season, one in which he was eased into training camp after having hip surgery over the summer. Huberdeau played with the injury all of last season yet still won the Calder Trophy after scoring 14 goals and picking up 17 assists in playing all 48 games of a lockout-shortened season.
Huberdeau not only played all of those games for the Panthers last season, but also played 30 games in the Quebec junior league and represented Team Canada at the World Juniors.
“There are no excuses, I’m not physically tired,’’ Huberdeau said. “The surgery, I couldn’t skate all summer. But now I feel pretty good on the ice. There’s no hip problem or anything. It’s on me. I have to get better.’’
This year, Huberdeau has yet to find his rhythm. Over the past few weeks, Horachek has sought to kickstart his game and put him with Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky.
Huberdeau hasn’t scored a goal in his past 14 games and has three points since Dec. 13.
He hopes to find some fun in the game and stop pressing so much.
“I’ve been digging a hole, being negative all the time,’’ Huberdeau said. “I just need to stay positive. It’s good that the team is winning. That helps. Right now this is all about me. I’m going through a slump and I could be scratched or sent down. But they’re giving me a chance. I know I can have success here. I have to keep telling myself that. I wish I could snap my fingers and things go back like last year. But it’s a different year. I need to produce.’’
On Tuesday, Huberdeau gave up the puck without much complaint to Kyle Okposo which led to Thomas Vanek’s goal making it a 4-2 game. He also took two penalties earlier in the game, leading Horachek to pull him off the ice.
Earlier in the game, Huberdeau was stopped on a breakaway. That, he said, “could have been a game changer.’’ Horachek agrees.
“This isn’t a long-term thing he just needs to push himself a little harder,’’ Horachek said.
“He’s never had adversity like this. He’s never had it in junior, he wins rookie of the year his first year pro. Adversity is hard for people who haven’t had to deal with it before. That’s part of maturing, growing up. He’s a good young man and is very talented. We just have to work through it.’’
Even though the Panthers haven’t scored a power goal in their past seven games but Horachek liked what he saw from the unit Tuesday.
Florida had numerous chances and put the pressure on the Islanders only goalie Kevin Poulin made some spectacular stops.
“We know the pucks have to start going in,’’ Horachek said. “But when you see the number of chances we have, we have to look at it as an encouragement. If you have no chances, no times up the ice, it’s a negative. We’re getting into the zone and getting multiple scoring chances. Hopefully that starts to become a factor and start winning games for us.’’