After missing a few weeks with a groin pull, Nick Bjugstad wished the team kept playing so he could get his legs under him. Instead, he played his first game back the night before the All-Star break and then got more time off.
While players like Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and others welcome the time to keep rehabbing and heal up, Bjugstad needs the reps to get his power game back.
Bjugstad centered the fourth line against Tampa to get his timing and conditioning on track, and apparently GM/interim head coach Tom Rowe has seen enough to put the biggest Panther player on the top line in between Jaromir Jagr and Jared McCann.
"He's a top six guy so we figured we'd put him up there with Jags and two big wingers that can set him and make plays with them," said Rowe.
The second place Ottawa Senators visit Sunrise tonight in a huge game with the Panthers six points behind. A Florida regulation loss could be very damaging in having any hopes of claiming a top three spot in the division at season's end.
Ottawa has lost two of the last three games coming in and have split the first two games with the Cats this season.
Both teams Florida is chasing, the Senators and Maple Leafs, have played three fewer games to this point. It will all even out over the next week as the Panther play only three games over the next 10 days including tonight.
While Panther Nation has been restless all season due to this team's inconsistency, the fact they are two games over .500 is quite remarkable considering how much time key players have missed.
There are grumblings that Sasha Barkov could be back sooner than later although the team is holding firm to it's "no timeline for return" stance. He sounded optimistic over the last few days that he is feeling good and is close.
This is Barkov's first back injury and the team can't be blamed for being overly cautious with him in fear of him reaggravating it. Huberdeau said he doesn't want to come back 60-70% so the focus is getting all the way back before returning.
Both joined the team in practice yesterday for the first time this season, so things might be looking up for the Panthers very soon in a relatively flatline year so far.