As the Panthers come out of the Winter Olympics break, the biggest issues produced by the NHL’s participation in the Games loom as the biggest issues facing the Panthers: injuries and the possibility of more injuries from 24 games crammed into 45 days.
The former, of course, refers to rookie center Aleksander Barkov and right wing Tomas Kopecky, both of whom left the Olympics with injuries that will keep them out of the Panthers lineup for what Panthers coach Peter Horachek said would be a few weeks.
“No surgery on either person,” Horachek said. “We’re just going to rehab them, then when we get a better idea, we’ll give a timeline.”
Barkov, playing for Finland, sustained a knee injury. Kopecky, a Slovak, was injured after taking an elbow to the head.
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With Barkov out, the Panthers likely will elevate their other big rookie center, Nick Bjugstad, to the No.1 line. They also recalled center Drew Shore, who was sent down to the American Hockey League to play during the break, and sent down defenseman Mike Mottau.
“A lot of things were going for them down there, the whole team was playing well,” Shore said. “It made it easy to hop down and jump in the swing of things. I had a lot of confidence going down.”
Said Horachek: “He went down there, had five goals in the first six games, played really well. He was a factor for them. He did what you want a player to do.
“He approached it the right way, lead the charge to take the positive mojo he got from playing here and take that back down, not go down with a bad attitude or moping or pouting. Moping or pouting is the worst thing an athlete can do.”
Some NHL front offices likely are moping and pouting over the injuries their players sustained in Sochi. Even if no other injuries had occurred, Islanders superstar center John Tavares sustaining a season-ending knee injury provided the anti-NHL-in-the-Olympics side with an answer to “Why not?”
Sending two healthy and getting back two injured didn’t dim Horachek’s view of the NHL stopping the season to allow players to participate in the Winter Olympics.
“I regret that they got hurt,” he said. “I think it’s a great experience. I encourage anyone who gets a chance to go to an Olympics like that — you never want to see somebody get hurt.
“I’m sure Tavares and the Islanders aren’t happy, either. Established captain, top player. [But] that’s a great experience. To get the opportunity to play with all the other best players in the world against the best players in the world for your country.”
He did, however, admit the condensed schedule was “too many games,” and pointed to the number of Florida and Nashville (where Horachek was) players who went down early in the condensed 2013 lockout season.
“Hopefully, you get through it without injuries and you manage that,” he said. “You take advantage of what practice time you have. You lose that edge, that sharpness. You have to practice shorter, get value out of that. Pregame skates, there’s a routine to it, kind of a warm up to it. Now, you might have to work on something in the morning if you’re going to go out.”