Despite losing over 170 man games to injury this season, the one area that has yet to suffer from those losses was the defensive corps of the Florida Panthers. That is until Monday night when veteran defenceman Ed Jovanovski dropped the gloves to take on gritty Boston forward Dan Paille, in his first fight as a Florida Panther since 1998. Jovo will be consulting with a specialist today in South Florida, while his teammates begin a three game road trip starting with a game this evening against the Colorado Avalanche. Rumor has it that Jovo may have broken his hand, but nothing has been confirmed yet, and won’t be until the examination today has been completed.
The good thing is that we have a young defenceman waiting in the wings who has NHL experience, and can hopefully step right in and contribute until Jovanovski returns. It’s been a long wait for Keaton Ellerby who has been used sparingly this season as he’s been the odd man out in the rotation of seven defencemen. Ellerby has appeared in 15 of the 44 games so far this season, and last played on December 23rd when the Panthers were annihilated by the Boston Bruins 8-0. Because of seven forwards being injured at the time, Ellerby dressed as a defenceman that night, while rookie defender Erik Gudbranson played right wing on the fourth line.
Ellerby has been patient as he waited his turn, and has handled the adversity with true professionalism. He’s worked hard in practice, and has done everything that coach Kevin Dineen has asked of him. Getting a chance to play as a result of a teammate getting hurt can be an awkward situation, but Ed Jovanovski had a brief chat with his replacement after Monday’s game:
“He just said it’s a big opportunity. Obviously, he’s upset about [the injury]. He wants to be in the lineup. He’s one of the most competitive guys I know,” Ellerby said. “But he’s supportive of me and he’s been a big help to me this year so far. I’ve just got to go and try and fill those shoes and try to do this for him.
“It’s a big piece of the puzzle that went missing last night.”
Ellerby appeared in 52 games last season earning himself a one year contract extension at the end of the season. He had 2 goals, 10 assists for 12 points, however was a minus 15, albeit on a very bad team. Drafted 10th overall by Florida in 2007, Ellerby like Gudbranson is a big boy at 6′-5″, 217 lbs, the Panthers would like to see Ellerby use his size to his advantage. Coach Kevin Dineen had this to say in the Sun-Sentinel:
“I’ll give him credit that he’s put in the work, and now the opportunity has presented itself,” Dineen said. “He’s had days where you could see he had some real jump and he was trying to go out there and improve. And then there were days that he maybe was not as sharp as he should have been.”
“I like his size and his skating and his willingness to be a physical player, and to engage and be a guy that is hard to play against,” Dineen said.
It will be up to Ellerby to seize this opportunity and help the struggling Panthers get out of their funk. A strong performance by the young defender will play a key role not only in the future of his career, but in the future of this team as they continue their playoff push.
In other good news, Jose Theodore who has missed (only) five games will be returning to play, most likely tonight. Theodore who injured his knee in the New Years Eve game against the Montreal Canadiens will be a welcome sight between the pipes for the Florida Panthers as it is hoped that he’ll be able to recapture the performance he displayed earlier this season, and guide the Panthers to a playoff birth for the first time since 2000. As mentioned while Theodore has missed only five games, it certainly seems that he’s been out of action much longer than that, which is most likely due to the teams inconsistent play as of late.
The good news is that the team is getting healthier at the right time. Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and Jack Skille are getting closer to being game ready, and are on the road trip with the team. It’s unknown whether or not any of the three play over the next three games, but the fact that they are on the road is a positive sign.
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