Penguins Notebook: Panthers' Thomas gets shot at former team

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SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida forward Bill Thomas, a Fox Chapel native and one-time Penguin, played in an NHL game for the first time in more than a year Saturday, when the Panthers beat the New York Islanders.

Shortly thereafter, he noticed that his team would be facing the Penguins Monday night at the BankAtlantic Center.

"I saw that on the schedule after the Long Island game," he said. "I was definitely excited about that."

Thomas played the first 18 games of the season with the Panthers' American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., accumulating 17 points and earning a promotion when Florida lost a handful of players to injuries.

What has yet to be determined is how long he'll stay in south Florida.

"He's getting an opportunity here because of some injuries and, like all the young guys, it's a matter of him making it so we can't take him back out of the lineup," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said.

"I liked him in training camp. He's smart, he's versatile. He plays center, he can play the wing. He's got some speed.

"He plays the game the way I like it to be played. That's, fast and competitive."

Thomas, whose most recent NHL appearance had been as a member of the Penguins Feb. 25, 2009, said he is "not at all" frustrated that he hasn't established himself as an NHL regular at age 27, but seems cautiously optimistic about sticking with the parent club for a while.

"As long as you do what they want you to do, I guess I'll be here," he said. "So I'll just take it one game at a time."

Happy to be here

Defenseman Ben Lovejoy, a healthy scratch for the previous five games and eight of the previous nine, was back in the Penguins' lineup Monday night.

And while he acknowledged that "it's tough" to keep the edge on his game when he spends so much time in street clothes, he isn't about to complain about his sporadic playing time.

"At this point in my career, I'm still happy to be here," he said. "I love being in the NHL, and I'm going to do anything, whether it's being the sixth defenseman or the seventh defenseman, as long as I'm here, I'm happy."

More time in the sun

The Penguins can thank their fathers for getting them an extra 14 or 15 hours in the warm weather.

They had been scheduled to practice in Buffalo this afternoon, but because south Florida was the first stop on their annual "Dads Trip," management decided to work out at the BankAtlantic Center this morning, then fly to Buffalo, rather than heading for the Niagara Frontier immediately after Monday night's game.

Power play problems

Does any of the following -- about a power play that isn't producing to expectations -- sound familiar?

Think you might have a pretty good idea who said it, or at least which team he is associated with?

Read on.

"It sounds silly to say that I like some of the things we're doing, when we have the worst power-play percentage in the league, but in reality, I think we are getting zone time, we are getting chances, we're getting pucks to the net. We've hit some hot goaltenders, we've missed some point-blank chances.

"The difference in power-play percentage is three or four goals. [Score them], and all of a sudden you guys are talking about us having a respectable power play. It's that fine of a line. I know that from a media perspective, it's an ugly number, an ugly stat.

"From our perspective, we can't let that dictate how we're playing. We have to recognize what we're doing well and stick with it, and know that those averages are going to even out if we keep getting chances."

That assessment came not from anyone connected to the Penguins, but from DeBoer, whose Panthers owned the lowest-rated power play in the NHL before Monday night's games, with just five goals in 62 tries, a conversion rate of 8.1 percent.

The Penguins began the evening with the league's sixth-worst power play, scoring on 13.5 percent of their opportunities with the extra man.


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