October 20, 2014

'YOUNG GUNS' OFF TO SLOW START: Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov ready to start scoring ... Barkov back with Boyes and Bergenheim ... Cats in Colorado

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
DENVER -- The Panthers were expecting to get considerable scoring from second-year centers Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad this year.
Through the first five games, neither has scored.
Although Bjugstad admits to being frustrated with his scoring drought, Barkov says the first five games are all in the past.
When Florida takes on Colorado at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night, he's coming in with a fresh approach.
"Tomorrow is a new day,'' Barkov said of Tuesday's game. "My season starts tomorrow.''
Barkov was one of Florida's top offensive producers before being hurt last January. During Saturday's game against the Capitals, coach Gerard Gallant mixed up the lines, putting Barkov back with former linemates Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim.
Last year, that line was one of Florida's most successful combos. Barkov hopes to recreate some of that success starting Tuesday.


"I'm just trying to forget those five games and now we've got the 'Killer B' line back and I like that,'' Barkov said.
"I liked playing with Jussi [Jokinen] and Jonathan [Huberdeau] but I thought we played very well together last year. Bergenheim is helping me a lot, so is Boyes. We know each other very well. I think we'll play good.''
Said Gallant: "We're just trying to find some chemistry early in the season and they played well when we made the switch. They looked pretty good.''
Like Barkov, Bjugstad remains centering one of Florida's top two lines as he will be partnered up with Scottie Upshall and Huberdeau.
Although he hasn't scored a goal yet, Gallant says he likes the way Bjugstad has played on both ends of the ice. Bjugstad figures the goals will start going in eventually as he has been creating chances.
Florida only has scored five goals this season with five different players doing the honors. Bjugstad and Barkov would like to join that club soon.
"It's tough when you're not producing point-wise and we know being on the top lines, we need to start doing so,'' Bjugstad said.
"It's definitely something we need to figure out. We're getting chances and working hard, doing the little things. We're both young guys in this league and need to stay positive. The thing about playing in the NHL is you have to be consistent. You just can't stress out about it too much.''
-- Colorado and Florida are two of the lowest scoring teams in the league and are just two of four teams to yet to hit double digits in scoring.
Colorado has been hit with injuries to its goaltenders with AHL goalie Calvin Pickard filling in for backup Reto Berra after he was hurt Thursday in Ottawa. Starter Semyon Varlamov (groin) is on the injured list and won't play against the Panthers although Berra may.
The Avs are coming off a 1-2-1 road trip in which Colorado -- one of the top teams in the Western Conference last year -- was outscored just 12-9.
"They're coming home for the first time in a while and they'll be ready to play,'' Gallant said. "They didn't find a lot of success on the road but they're a good hockey team with a lot of speed.''
-- Dave Bolland (lower body) remained out of practice again Monday with Brandon Pirri expected to remain in the lineup for a second straight game.
Tuesday: Panthers at Avalanche
Where, When: Pepsi Center, Denver; 9 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSNF/WQAM 560
The series: Colorado leads 19-9-3
Noteworthy: The Panthers are ranked 25th in the Hockey News' first installment of its weekly power rankings. The Avs, which ended last season ranked third, is now 26th.

 

October 19, 2014

GETTING AFTER IT: Panthers defense keeping things close despite offensive woes ... Brandon Pirri happy to be back in the lineup

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
WASHINGTON -- The Panthers' offensive problems through the first five games this season are glaring.
Yet a team that's averaging just one goal a game is keeping its head above water so far, getting four of a possible 10 points.
Nothing great, for sure, but if not for Florida's defensive play, things could be so much worse.
The Panthers, now 1-2-2 heading into Tuesday's game at Colorado, have given up just nine goals this season.
Take away an unsightly four-goal first period by New Jersey in the home opener on Oct. 11 and Florida's goals-against average would be downright miniscule.
"They are doing some real good things,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, who credits consistent play on the backend by Florida's forwards as well as the Panthers' defensemen.
"We're getting good breakouts, the guys are really getting it and communicating well out there. Overall we're playing a stronger defensive game. If you can keep the goals down, you give yourself a chance and I think the guys are really buying in.''
The key to a good defense in hockey usually starts with goaltending and the Panthers definitely have that.
Starter Roberto Luongo moved up into a tie for 13th all-time in shutouts when he blanked the host Sabres on Friday night and Al Montoya gave up one goal off 28 shots in Saturday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Capitals.
As was the case Saturday, Florida has done a real good job in shutting out the oppositions star player this year.
Tampa Bay scored three goals against Florida in the season opener yet Steven Stamkos didn't find the scoresheet. On Saturday, all-world forward Alex Ovechkin was shut out -- a rarity for him against the Panthers over the years.
"I think you credit that to a bunch of guys who are working hard,'' Gallant said. "We really think it's a team thing. We hope taking care of our defensive end will lead to offensive chances. We're giving up 10-12 chances a game and our goalies have been making the saves.''
Florida knows it cannot rely on stout defense every night and that its offense is going to have to start carrying some of the load.
"We're trying to stick to the systems and limiting Washington to one goal is pretty good,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "We're not focusing on one guy but having good defense from all four lines. And our goalies have been pretty good. That's good to see. Both goalies have been ready to play.''
The Panthers' five goals ranks them dead last in the NHL -- even below the Sabres. By comparison, Pittsburgh leads the league by averaging four goals a night.
Florida is one of four teams (Colorado, Winnipeg and Buffalo) to remain in single digits in the scoring category.
Five goals have been scored by five separate players and Florida's two-goal night in Tampa Bay was its biggest output of the season.
-- Brandon Pirri was in the lineup for the first time this season on Saturday as he replaced the injured Dave Bolland.
Pirri created some offensive chances on Saturday and hopes that's earned him some more playing time.
"It's fun being out there, it's hockey, it's what you want to do,'' said Pirri, who scored seven goals in 21 games for the Panthers at the end of last season.
"I had some chances and wish I would have buried them. .-.-. You want to be playing but Gerard has to do what he thinks is best for the team. I have to stay ready and make the most of the opportunity.''
-- The Panthers took Sunday off after landing in Denver early in the morning. The team is scheduled to practice at Pepsi Center on Monday.

 

October 18, 2014

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENT: Panthers lose again in Washington but grab point with 2-1 shootout loss

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WASHINGTON -- Verizon Center has brought the Panthers nothing but pain in recent years only Saturday night was different.
Yes, the Panthers' 2-1 shootout defeat was their 10th loss in the past 11 games here.
But to get a point in the standings against the Capitals after winning the previous night in Buffalo gives Florida something to build on.
"That was a great road point,'' general manager Dale Tallon said afterward. "We'll take it.''
Florida hasn't won in Washington since 2010 yet had chances Saturday to turn that tide.
Brad Boyes tied the score at 1 early in the third period and Florida stuck around against backup goalie Justin Peters.
Washington's Alex Ovechkin, whose shootout goal ended things in an abbreviated third round, had a tremendous scoring chance snuffed out in the final seconds of regulation as Erik Gudbranson and Derek Olsen converged on the Capitals' star and knocked the puck free.
"Our guys showed character,'' said goalie Al Montoya, making his first start in relief of starter Roberto Luongo.
"It's not always easy. This is a tough building to come and play in and it was a one-goal game throughout. We battled back and got a point. I wanted to be the difference in getting the whole two points but I wasn't. We'll come back at it.''
Washington took its initial lead late in the opening period when Jason Chimera took a slick feed from Eric Fehr and faked out Montoya before popping the puck into the back of the net.
Montoya ended with 27 saves.
"[Chimera] sold me and I slid,'' Montoya said.
The Panthers didn't do much offensively until the third period rolled around and Boyes' picked up his first goal of the season.
Boyes' goal came on Florida's fourth power play of the game.
The Panthers have only scored five goals through their first five games of the season. Two of the goals have come on the power play.
"We've got to find ways to score more,'' Boyes said. "We've got to find more offense, sustain more pressure. They have a good team, but we have to realize that we do as well. We've got to start playing in sync a little but more. But we got one point and that's always important.''
The Panthers had plenty of chances to break the tie in overtime, with Nick Bjugstad getting perhaps Florida's best look.
In the shootout, Washington went first and connected on all three of its shots.
Jonathan Huberdeau scored on Florida's first chance but Jussi Jokinen was stopped on the second and the Panthers never got a third shot down 3-1.
"This was obviously a big point, Washington is a good team who plays well at home,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We picked things up in the third. We would have liked to get that second point in overtime, had some chances, but this was a good effort.''
NEWS, NOTES
Jacob Markstrom looked right at home playing in San Antonio on Friday night as well he should have.
Markstrom, who was Florida's top goalie prospect, made his first appearance in San Antonio since Florida traded him to Vancouver in the Roberto Luongo deal last year.
Markstrom stopped all 28 shots he faced in shutting out his former teammates as his Utica Comets beat the Rampage 3-0.
Dan Ellis, who was making his second start of the season for Florida's AHL affiliate, stopped 21 of 24 shots and took the loss.
-- Brandon Pirri was in the lineup for the first time this season in place of center Dave Bolland (lower body). Gallant also replaced Jimmy Hayes with Shawn Thornton.
"I thought he was good,'' Gallant said of Pirri. "He's a skill player and put two or three shots up and had a chance.''
-- Saturday's game was Florida's first in the shootout this season. The Panthers have picked up at least a point in all three road games this season.
The Panthers are winless in two overtime games, losing at Tampa Bay and Saturday in Washington.


 

October 17, 2014

WINGING IT: Sean Bergenheim's wrister, Roberto Luongo's goaltending lift Panthers to first win of season 1-0 over Buffalo

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
BUFFALO -- It wasn't the prettiest goal Sean Bergenheim ever scored but the Panthers are far from being choosy.
When you score as little as Florida has this season, every goal is beautiful.
Friday night, Bergenheim's odd-angled wrister and Roberto Luongo's big play in net lifted the Panthers to their first win of the young season, a 1-0 victory over the host Sabres.
"Well, it worked,'' said Bergenheim, who quickly pulled the trigger on a pass from Brad Boyes early in the second.
"I think we got better and we're trying to get better every day. But we're not there yet.''
Florida, which has four goals in its four games this season, is 1-2-1.
Buffalo has yet to win at home this year and looks like it could finish last in the NHL again this season.
The Panthers came hard after Buffalo but failed to score in the opening period despite outshooting the Sabres 16-3.
Florida took a lead for just the second time this season on Bergenheim's shot.
Prior to that, Florida had held a lead for just 2:09 after taking a 1-0 advantage in the opener last week in Tampa.
Luongo, who shutout the Sabres twice last year including once here while with the Canucks exactly a year ago, did the rest.
"We played a great game, a solid 60 minutes,'' said Luongo, who stared down a 5-on-3 disadvantage late in the third. "We had a great first period, didn't score, but carried the momentum into the second. We didn't change our game plan and held down the fort in the third. We needed this kind of win, get it out of the way.''
Luongo stopped all 26 shots faced and earned the team's 'hero' jacket which is an old wool Army coat picked up during its trip to West Point.
Last year, Luongo shutout the Sabres with 25 saves in what was his return to the Panthers on March 7.
"I thought we controlled the game in the first half,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, who earned his first win as coach of the Panthers.
"You get worried when you don't get chances and we had plenty in that game. When you only have three goals coming in, you can be a little nervous. But you know if you get chances, they'll go in eventually.''
-- With the shutout, Luongo passed former Montreal and Colorado great Patrick Roy on the all-time list. Roy, now the coach of the Avs, plays host to the Panthers on Tuesday.
Luongo has 67 career shutouts placing him in a tie with Roy Worters for 13th all-time. Lorne Chabot and Harry Lumley (71 each) are next on the list.
"I'm just focused in trying to get some wins here,'' Luongo said. "Those kind of records are the things you look back on when it's said and done. It's nice to have, but there are things more important right now.''
-- Center Dave Bolland appeared to collide with teammate Tomas Kopecky at the end of Friday's game and limped off the ice.
If Bolland misses Saturday's game, Brandon Pirri would likely center Florida's third line. Pirri has been a healthy scratch the past four games.
-- Florida's Aaron Ekblad and Buffalo's Sam Reinhart met for the first time in an NHL game after the duo went 1-2 in the draft last June.
Although Florida and Buffalo hook up a few more times, Reinhart isn't expected to be with the Sabres much longer.
Reinhart, who played just one shift in the third period Friday, could be back with his junior team in the coming weeks.
Saturday: Panthers at Capitals
Where, when: Verizon Center, Washington; 7 p.m.
TV/Radio: FSNF/WQAM 560
The series: Washington leads 58-44-9
Noteworthy: Washington has won 10 of the past 13 games. Florida, playing in its first back-to-back set of the season, hasn't won in D.C. since 2010. Gerard Gallant said Al Montoya would start in net.

 

October 15, 2014

LINE SHUFFLE?: Jimmy Hayes works with top line, Brad Boyes with fourth


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


With Dave Bolland (travel) and Shawn Thornton (minor lower body injury) missing practice on Wednesday, Gallant had some juggling to do.
Brandon Pirri again replaced Bolland, but the big move was putting Jimmy Hayes (four shots on seven shifts Monday) up on the top line and sliding Brad Boyes down to the fourth.
Gallant said not to read too much into the changes although Hayes said it was nice to be wearing the red practice jersey for a change.
"I just have to continue to make sure I'm noticed out there, bring a lot of energy,'' said Hayes, who was scratched in Florida's first two games.
"I'm in the role I've been in my whole career, playing hard and bringing energy, creating offense around the net. It's nice to play with [Aleksander] Barkov, but if I bring my game, hopefully it will create some space so they can be as creative as they can be.''
Boyes spent more time on the ice Wednesday than anyone, working a good 15 minutes after all other players came into the locker room.
"I had work to do, I keep losing the puck and dumping it in on breakaways,'' said Boyes, who led the Panthers in goals last year but has yet to score in three games this season.
"I need to work on keeping it on my puck and putting it in. The last few games I've lost the puck in key areas. I just have to bear down and concentrate more.''
-- Bolland skated before the team Wednesday and then left for Toronto. Bolland was being honored by his junior team in London, Ontario, Wednesday night as they retired his number.
Bolland will join the team Friday in Buffalo.


 


WOULDA, COULDA, SHOULDA: Aaron Ekblad thriving with Panthers, knows he could have been a Sabre


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
When Aaron Ekblad jumps on the charter jet Thursday afternoon he will be going from his new home in the Sunshine State to a town that could have been his new place of residence.
The Panthers visit Buffalo on Friday night and it isn't lost on Ekblad that he very well could have been wearing a Sabres jersey in that game.
Although Buffalo finished with the worst record in the NHL last year, Florida won the draft lottery and jumped the Sabres to the top of the list.
Florida selected Ekblad with the top overall pick; Buffalo was expected to have done the same.
"I always think about things that could have happened, but I couldn't be happier than where I am right now,'' Ekblad said.
"This is probably the best place for me to have the opportunity to play and I love it here.''
Ekblad has played well in his first three NHL games with the Panthers.
Paired with veteran defenseman Brian Campbell, Ekblad has definitely not looked out of place as he did at times early in the preseason and has been doing some good things with the puck.
Although the Panthers have the option of sending him back to his junior team after nine games without him burning a year off his contract, it doesn't appear that Ekblad is going anywhere.
Ekblad says he feels confident in his game and is feeling more and more like an NHL player. He says he doesn't even think about going back to play major-junior hockey because he's a part of the Panthers now.
"You're going against pretty good players and have to respect that,'' Ekblad said. "You don't like to make mistakes and want to capitalize on your talents. So confidence is a big thing. If you make mistakes, don't dwell on them. I have such good support here, it makes things a bit easier.''
Coach Gerard Gallant said Wednesday that even thought Ekblad may be the youngest player in the NHL, he hasn't looked it.
Ekblad's time on the ice has increased in each game. In the opener against Tampa Bay, he played 19 minutes off 20 shifts. Monday, he got 24 shifts and almost 24 minutes of ice time."The kid is playing the way we want him to,'' Gallant said. "He's looked good. He's playing the way he did in junior although he's playing against men, against NHL players so he's not getting the scoring chances he did. Still, he's putting the puck to the net, moving the puck and defending real well. He's getting better every game.''

 

October 14, 2014

LIGHTS OUT: Winless Panthers have three goals in three games, worst start in franchise history

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
During his first stint with the Panthers, goalie Roberto Luongo had a small margin of error if he hoped to get a victory.
That's also been the case through the first three games of this season.
Florida is off to its worst three-game start since 2007 and its offense shoulders much of that blame.
The winless Panthers have scored just three goals in their first three games which is the fewest to start a season in franchise history.
"It's a low scoring league and there aren't a lot of teams scoring four, five goals a game,'' said Luongo, who has lost two one-goal games so far.
"A lot of the games are like this, 1-0, 2-1. That's the type of hockey games we're going to be in this year and we have to be comfortable playing in them.''
The 2007-08 team which started 0-3 scored a total of four goals in those games.
"We're not getting any bounces, not getting any shots through and we're missing chances,'' general manager Dale Tallon said after Florida's 1-0 loss to the visiting Senators on Monday night.
"Of the three games, we've played two good ones and have nothing to show for it. It's just the timing of things. Guys not knowing where everyone else is has something to do with it. We need to score more, no doubt. We're not a prolific scoring team by any means, but we need more out of a lot of guys.''
The Panthers have been one of the lowest scoring teams in the league for years, finishing at or near the bottom of the NHL for four straight seasons.
Tallon tried to rectify Florida's scoring problems -- the Panthers' were ranked 29th in goal scoring last year -- in the offseason by strengthening the team's bottom two lines.
Bringing in a few veterans to help along Florida's youngsters hasn't worked so far.
Although Jonathan Huberdeau has one of Florida's three goals, players such as Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov have yet to find the back of the net.
"We have a few new guys but a lot of us have played together before,'' Bjugstad said Monday. "We need to start working together see what we can do. Who know what can happen over the next couple of games. When you're not scoring goals, there isn't much chemistry going on.''
Coach Gerard Gallant could mix up some of his lines before Friday's game at Buffalo with Brandon Pirri perhaps finding his way out of the press box.
Pirri is a player who could give the Panthers a scoring lift as he had seven goals in 21 games at the end of last season after Florida acquired him a deal with Chicago.
“We’re all a part of the same team,'' said Pirri, who has been a healthy scratch the first three games.
"Losses are losses, no one wants to have that. It’s frustrating because I think I can help this team but, at the same time, I’m being the best teammate I can be and just waiting for my turn.”
Gallant made a minor change on Monday, bringing in Jimmy Hayes (11 goals in 53 games last year) and sitting Shawn Thornton.
"He played real well,'' Gallant said. "He played real hard and that's what we need. He was excited to get back in the lineup and wants to stay. That's what we want from our players.''
On Monday, he said he wasn't adverse to looking things over in an attempt to change things up.
"We'll look at the line combinations and see what we're going to do,'' Gallant said.

 

 

October 13, 2014

SHUT OUT, SHUT DOWN: Panthers offense continues to sputter in 1-0 loss to Senators ... All-time low home attendance for Panthers


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The energy put forth between the Senators and Panthers on Monday mirrored the apathy in the stands for much of Monday night.
Playing in front of the smallest announced home crowd in franchise history, the Panthers failed to get much going and fell 1-0 to Ottawa at BB&T Center.
Both teams seemed to sleepwalk through a game with little buzz and even less action.
Ottawa broke the scoreless tie 35 minutes into the game when Clarke MacArthur scored on a power play. That was enough for former Panthers goalie Craig Anderson as he shut out Florida for the third time in his career.
"The goalie won that game for them,'' general manager Dale Tallon said.
The announced crowd of 7,311 was lowest in franchise history, beating the 10,063 from a Halloween game against Carolina in 2007.
Capacity at the building, which opened in 1998, is 19,250.
"I don't pay attention to that stuff when I'm playing, I just focus on my job,'' goalie Roberto Luongo, who made 22 saves, said afterward.
"If we want to get some people in the stands we need to start winning some games.''
The Panthers haven't exactly given their fans much of a reason to rush to the arena. The team has been to the playoffs just once since 2000 and finished at the bottom of the league the past two seasons.
Now winless in three games, the Panthers are off to their worst start in seven seasons as the team has just three goals.
"It's not the end of the world right now,'' Scottie Upshall said. "We have a few days to work before we go on our road trip and have some games against good teams who are also hungry for wins. We need to put this behind us, just focus on putting the puck in the back of the net.''
Florida looked to take the initial lead on Anderson in the opening period but Jonathan Huberdeau shot high on one big chance. Brad Boyes misfired on another in the final minutes of the period.
In the second, Nick Bjugstad -- who rang a shot off the post midway through the period -- went to the box for hooking.
MacArthur made Florida pay as he walked in on Luongo and scored on a nice deke move as he closed in.
"We need quality chances,'' Bjugstad said. "If we got a goal there, we would have a chance.''
The Panthers only challenged Anderson (30 saves, 27 career shutouts) a few times as Florida went 0-for-3 on the power play and now has just one goal in 13 chances with the man advantage.
Both teams went 0-for-4 during 6:03 of four-on-four hockey.
"We played a good, hard game and had plenty of scoring opportunities,'' first-year coach Gerard Gallant said. "A 1-0 game is a tough game to lose, but I thought we played real well.''
McLENNAN RETURNS
Jamie McLennan was only with the Panthers for one season in 2005-06, but he and Luongo became such friends that one of Luongo's demands to the team before signing a new contract was that McLennan return as his backup.
Luongo, of course, was traded by then-GM Mike Keenan to Vancouver and McLennan left town as well.
On Monday, McLennan was back in Sunrise as a television analyst -- the first time he had been back in the arena since his playing days.
McLennan and Luongo have remained friends over the years and said it was good for Luongo to leave the Panthers for a bit.
"I was relieved when he came back because I don't think he should have left in the first place,'' McLennan said.
"But it was good for him because it was a little like LeBron leaving Cleveland. He got his accolades, became a better goalie and got the recognition in the hockey world he didn't get here.''
-- Former Panthers coach Doug MacLean (1995-97) and captain Scott Mellanby were both at Monday's game as was Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray who spent time as coach and GM of the Panthers.
NEW LOW
Florida Panthers lowest announced home game crowds
1. 7,311; Oct. 13, 2014 (Ottawa)
2. 10,063; Oct. 31, 2007 (Carolina)
3. 10,069; Oct. 15, 2003 (Phoenix)
4. 10,074; Dec. 3, 2013 (Ottawa)
5. 10,081; Oct. 31, 2006 (San Jose)

 

 


October 11, 2014

OPEN AND SHUT: Panthers lose home opener in front of record-low crowd as Devils roll 5-1

TWITTER: GeorgeRichards
The Panthers home opener could have gone worse although it's hard to imagine how.
Not only did New Jersey start its scoring less than three minutes in, but the Devils completely dominated the play in a 5-1 victory in front of a small contingent at BB&T Center.
"The margin of error is so thin in this league that if you don’t come out to play in the first 10 [minutes], you get your you-know-what handed to you,'' captain Willie Mitchell said.
The announced attendance of 11,419 was the smallest for a home opener in franchise history. The previous low was 12,087 at Miami Arena for the 1995-96 debut famously remembered as the 'Rat Trick' game.
Saturday's four-goal defeat was also Florida's most lopsided home opening loss besting three-goal losses to the Devils (2007) and Islanders (2001).
Goalie Roberto Luongo, who was pulled early in the second period, said Florida's play wasn't a result of the small crowd.
"The people here were loud and as players, that's all we ask for,'' Luongo said. "People are coming to encourage our team. We need to reward them with a better start.''
Although the Panthers put up quite a fight in Thursday's season opener at Tampa Bay before losing in overtime, Saturday's game was over quick.
Florida fell behind 3-0 at the 13:13 mark of the opening period. With 28 seconds left in the first, Damon Severson made it 4-0.
"We had a bad start to the game and it's tough to battle back against a team like New Jersey,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, who yanked Luongo three minutes into the second after the Devils jumped to a 5-0 lead on Ryan Clowe's slap shot.
"We didn't compete hard enough to win.''
The Devils fired from all parts of the ice Saturday and Luongo couldn't find the puck.
Three of the five goals he surrendered came from 50-feet out or further; one was a redirection off another long slap shot and the fifth and final one came off a shot from the slot.
Gallant said he thought about pulling Luongo after Severson's goal but decided against it.
"Louie is a battler,'' Gallant said. "We were down 4-0 in our opener, but wanted to give him another chance to get out there and battle. When they got that fifth goal, I wanted to make a change for the team. .-.-. I don't put it on Louie. It was just a bad hockey game for us.''
Luongo said he's had bad games before and is going to put Saturday's performance behind him. New Jersey led 2-0 before the 10 minute mark on goals from Eric Gelinas and Martin Havlat. Mike Cammalleri made it 3-0 with 6:47 left.
"It was a tough start but no excuses,'' said Luongo, who gave up five goals on 14 shots. "I have to keep the team in the game by making a couple of saves and I didn't do that. It's a disappointing performance.''
Florida's offense never really got anything going against Cory Schneider -- who was Luongo's teammate in Vancouver until he was traded away prior to last season.
Schneider, who lost to Luongo in their meeting last year in Sunrise, stopped 28 shots and got lucky late in the first when Brian Campbell's long shot rang off the post. A few minutes later, Severson scored and the Devils were all but golden.
"It could have gotten us going and from the corner, I have to find a way to get it in there,'' Campbell said. "New Jersey is known for holding down leads pretty good. You can't win games on a consistent basis like that.''
Down 5-0, Gallant brought in backup Al Montoya. The crowd wildly cheered when Montoya (10 saves) made a glove save on a shot moments after coming into the game.
Florida finally got on the board with 3:29 left in the second period when newcomer Derek MacKenzie (Columbus) got in front of Schneider and whacked at a loose puck to earn the team's first power play goal of the young season.
The Panthers didn't get any closer.
"We didn't compete and no one is fooling anyone,'' Mitchell said. "It was there in Tampa. You always want to play well, every game is a big game in this league. But the home opener, you want to play well. It takes the wind out of your sails a little bit.''

 

October 09, 2014

PENALTY PARADE: Tampa Bay Lightning score three power play goals, top Florida Panthers 3-2 in OT ... Scottie Upshall takes cheap shot, returns to game

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- The Lightning are a very dangerous offensive team, especially when they have more players on the ice than its opponent.
And it's not like the Panthers didn't know this, either.
On Thursday night, Tampa Bay took advantage of the Panthers parade to the penalty box as it won the season-opener 3-2 in overtime at Amalie Arena.
All three of Tampa Bay's goals came on the power play -- two of which were when Florida had just three defenders on the ice -- including the game winner 49 seconds into overtime.
Tampa Bay ended up with seven power play chances; Florida had just two.
"We took too many penalties but for the most part, I thought we played hard,'' said Scottie Upshall, who was in the box for overtime after colliding with goalie Ben Bishop at the end of the third period.
"It was 6-to-1 in penalties. We felt we were working hard, but the calls just weren't coming to us. You can't leave [Roberto Luongo] out to dry in a situation like that.''
With Luongo in goal, Florida had a puncher's chance against the more skilled Tampa Bay team.
Florida took the initial lead in the second period only to find itself trailing 2-1 in the third.
A goal by Jonathan Huberdeau tied things with Luongo (29 saves) giving the Panthers hope for more than just thee one point in the standings they headed home with.
But in overtime, Florida was caught on a quick line change as Bishop corralled the puck near the corner and sent a slick pass to Victor Hedman at center ice. Hedman walked in on Luongo and beat him with the shot ending Florida's opening night win streak at three.
The Panthers lost all four meetings to the Lightning last season and don't play Tampa Bay again until March 1.
"I thought we played well, but you can't be in the penalty box seven times against those guys,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "They have a great power play and move the puck well. But I really liked our game. We wanted two points but got one. You know what, I'll take it.''
The Panthers were held to three shots in the opening period but definitely showed the Lightning they weren't going to be pushed around.
Despite their early offensive problems, Florida took the first lead of the night when defenseman Erik Gudbranson unleashed a 45-foot bomb that zipped over the glove of goalie Ben Bishop.
Florida didn't get to enjoy its good tidings for long, however, as Sean Bergenheim was flagged for interference 31 seconds later.
The Panthers couldn't stop the Lightning power play with Tyler Johnson charging in and popping the puck over Luongo's glove to tie the score.
Florida fell behind 2-1 early in the third when Ryan Callahan -- on a 5-on-3 chance -- backhanded a loose puck past Luongo.
But two minutes later, Jonathan Huberdeau got his first goal of the season when he fought down low and jammed a puck past Bishop.
Florida then kept things close and hoped to pull out the win in overtime. The final power play chance, this one a 4-on-3 advantage for the Lightning, was too much.
"I thought we battled hard but they had a lot of power plays,'' Luongo said. "They have a lot of talent and they're going to make you pay. It's a tough way to lose. I wanted to come up with a few more saves to give the boys a chance. We'll keep working on our game.''
-- Upshall was briefly knocked out of the game after he took a elbow to the jaw from Radko Gudas in the second period.
Upshall said he never saw Gudas coming as he was working the puck out of the Florida zone when Gudas came in, lifted his shoulder and collided with Upshall.
Upshall returned to the game after being down on the ice for sometime.
There was no penalty for Gudas -- who was squirted with Gatorade by Upshall in a game last year and was ejected after going after the Florida bench -- although Gudbranson did take an unsportsmanlike penalty for sticking up for Upshall.
"I just have a sore jaw and that's typical for a head shot,'' Upshall said. "The ref obviously said he didn't see it and that was the explanation.''
Gallant wouldn't comment on whether or not he thought Gudas would end up being suspended for the incident.
"He got hit in the head and no one saw it,'' Gallant said. "What can you do?"

 

BANNER NIGHT: Willie Mitchell watches old mates raise banner, ready to lead Florida Panthers to new heights ... Jason Garrison back in the Sunshine State

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- Like many around the country, Willie Mitchell watched the Los Angeles Kings banner-raising ceremony on television.
Mitchell, however, had a little something to do with the Kings winning the Stanley Cup last season.
Now with the Panthers, Mitchell said he enjoyed watching his former teammates on the ice at Staples Center and has fond memories of the Kings' incredible run -- Los Angeles won three Game 7s in the Western Conference playoffs -- to the title.
"You kind of wish you were there because it was so cool to see,'' Mitchell said.
"It was the culmination of all of the events; the journey, winning, the parties afterward. The banner is the last thing left, the nail in the coffin.''
But was watching the ceremony from a hotel in downtown Tampa a little bittersweet? Mitchell said it wasn't as he's already moved on and that he's ready for the challenges of helping his new team into the postseason -- and beyond.
"It's motivation. Winning the Cup is the best feeling in the world and we want to win it here,'' said Mitchell, who was named the eighth captain in Florida history on Monday.
"Obviously we have to climb some hills before we climb that mountain. Everyone has a clean slate, no one has the Stanley Cup right now. It's up for grabs and everyone wants to take it away from them.''
It's that sort of attitude, coach Gerard Gallant said, that makes Mitchell such a leader within the Panthers locker room and why he was a natural choice as the new team captain.
"He was happy to sign here and was excited to come here,'' Gallant said. "Willie has been excited to be a Florida Panther since Day 1. He didn't come here to retire. He signed a two-year deal and wants to be a good player and a good leader.''
In three years with the Kings, Mitchell won the Cup twice.
This summer, he had a few days with the Cup and took it back home to British Columbia where he surprised his grandfather, 88-year-old Lester Mitchell, with it.
"He had a tryout with the Rangers in the Original Six days so it was only fitting that I took it over to him and chucked it onto his lap,'' Willie Mitchell said. "That was pretty special.''
Mitchell said he texted a few of his old teammates in Los Angeles as well as members of the Kings' front office on Wednesday before turning in for the night.
The Kings haven't given Mitchell his 2014 Stanley Cup ring yet but he's expecting it to arrive in South Florida sometime soon.
When asked if he would rather wait until the Panthers visit Los Angeles next month, Mitchell said he preferred to just get the ring in the mail instead.
"I'm sure they'll send it before then,'' Mitchell said. "I don't need anything special. It's great, it's a life-long memory, but it's over now. On to the next journey, the next chapter.''
-- Jason Garrison left the Panthers following their 2012 playoff season to play closer to his hometown when he signed with Vancouver as a free agent.
This summer, the Canucks traded him back to the Sunshine State although he didn't come back to the Panthers.
On Thursday night, Garrison took on his old teammates as a member of the Lightning.
"It's different here although the weather is kind of the same,'' Garrison said.
"This is a different team, different organization. Honestly, if it wasn't for the weather, I wouldn't feel like I'm back in Florida. It's been great here and I look forward to getting this season going. There is a lot of skill on this team, a lot of talent.''
-- Although the Lightning are considered one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this year, that sure wasn't the case when Gallant played here.
Gallant joined the Lightning in its second season -- which was Florida's first in the league -- and played 51 games in 1993-94.
The Lightning finished 12 points behind the expansion Panthers that season.
"We played a lot of golf, I remember that,'' Gallant said.
-- Florida's three scratches Thursday: defenseman Colby Robak as well as forwards Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Hayes.

Photo of Willie and Lester Mitchell with the Stanley Cup/Jeff Vinnick, Vancouver Sun

 

October 08, 2014

THUNDERSTRUCK: Panthers have tough opening draw against Lightning ... Colby Robak thrilled to make opening night roster ... Aaron Ekblad to make NHL debut

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Thursday: Panthers at Lightning

General manager Dale Tallon said he likes the way the schedule works out for his Panthers this season.

He can't be happy with the who Florida opens up against, however.

When the Panthers open their 21st season Thursday night, they'll do so against an opponent that has owned them lately.

Tampa Bay, which some have predicted as a Stanley Cup contender this year, not only swept the preseason series against Florida but won all four games last year as well.

"They have great team speed and are one of the fastest team in the league. They really attack you,'' said defenseman Brian Campbell, who starts his fourth season with the Panthers on Thursday.

"You give them a few chances and it seems like the puck ends up in our net. We just need to slow them down and hold them in check.''

The Panthers haven't won in Tampa since 2013 and haven't beaten the Lightning at home since 2011. After Thursday's opener, facing the Lightning won't be a concern for some time. The two cross-state rivals don't play each other again until March 1.

Although the Panthers have won 57 of the 113 meetings between the two, Tampa Bay has won 11 of the past 15.

"I don't think we've given them our best,'' defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. "We go into those games and have left that building knowing we could have done something better. That's not what you want. But give them credit; they're big, fast and play a good system. They're a tough team to play against.''

Even though the Panthers have gotten off to bad starts the past two seasons, they have been good in their openers.

Florida has won three straight opening night games -- including two on the road.

In 2011, the Panthers opened with Jose Theodore pitching a shutout against the host Islanders; last year, Florida won in Dallas.

On Thursday, there will be plenty of new players on the Florida roster as six free agents were signed in the summer and rookie Aaron Ekblad makes his debut.

Florida also has 14 players on the roster who didn't play in last year's opener including the then-injured Sean Bergenheim and Nick Bjugstad.

The Panthers also have a new coaching staff led by head coach Gerard Gallant.

Gallant may have a little something special for the Lightning as he was an assistant coach for the Canadiens last year. Montreal swept the Lightning out of the first round of the playoffs last April.

"For me, Montreal beating Tampa in four straight was [basically] Montreal being on top at the time,'' Gallant said. "We got a great start to the series and had a mental edge on them. They played well, played hard, but when they lost goalie [Ben] Bishop to injury, that was tough to overcome. It's not that they did anything wrong; Montreal was just unbelievable.''

-- Defenseman Colby Robak has played in 35 games with the Panthers over the past three seasons but is on the opening night roster for the first time.

Robak isn't expected to play against the Lightning as he is Florida's seventh defenseman although that hasn't tempered his enthusiasm for making the team out of training camp.

Veteran Shane O'Brien, signed to a one-year deal on Monday, was sent to AHL San Antonio on Tuesday.

"I can't explain this, it's something I've always dreamed of and worked for,'' Robak said. "But this is just one small step. You have to keep working, trying to get better. But I'm ecstatic.''

-- Ekblad, the top pick in the 2014 draft, is expected to make his NHL debut Thursday alongside Campbell. The two were paired together in last weekend's preseason finale at Tampa.

"He's a good player, first off,'' Campbell said. "We know he's going to make some mistakes, but I like him. He sees the ice really well and makes plays that impress me. You just have to remember he's 18. But I'm excited.''


Where, When: Amalie Arena, Tampa; 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: FSN Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Florida leads 57-46-10

Noteworthy: Goalie Roberto Luongo starts a Florida opener for the first time since beating the Atlanta Thrashers 2-0 on Oct. 5, 2005. The Panthers play host to New Jersey for the home opener on Saturday.

 

 

 

October 06, 2014

LOCAL TRADE: Panthers send Joey Crabb to Rangers, grab Coral Springs' Andrew Yogan in return; Shane O'Brien to San Antonio


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers made a trade to bolster their depth Monday, trading forward Joey Crabb to the Rangers in exchange for defenseman Stephen Kampfer and Broward-born winger Andrew Yogan.
Crabb was on a one-way deal with the Panthers but had already been reassigned to their AHL team in San Antonio. Kampfer and Yogan are expected to report to the Rampage in the coming days.
Florida also signed free agent defenseman Shane O'Brien to a one-year, two-way deal meaning he will start the season in San Antonio. Colby Robak makes the Panthers as the roster is now set at 23.
Kampfer, 26, has played in 61 NHL games but has spent the past two seasons in the AHL.
Yogan, who played youth hockey in Lighthouse Point and was a member of the Junior Panthers in Coral Springs, has spent the past two seasons bouncing between the Rangers' AHL and ECHL affiliates.
Florida had a chance to draft Yogan, who left South Florida at age 15 to play Canadian junior hockey, in 2010 but did not.
Yogan was picked by the Rangers with the 100th overall selection that year -- one spot after Florida took Joonas Donskoi (who is no longer in the organization) instead.


http://miamiherald.typepad.com/flapanthers/2010/06/from-the-sawgrass-expressway-to-broadway-andrew-yogan-makes-florida-hockey-history.html

 


NEW CAPTAIN: Willie Mitchell named new captain of the Florida Panthers

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When Ed Jovanovski was announced as the seventh captain in Panthers history, then-coach Kevin Dineen did it following a practice.
On Monday, Willie Mitchell got the news atop a mountain in New York.
Mitchell was presented with a red game jersey with the 'C' on the front Monday on Mount Tourne at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point where the team is spending a few days of training before its season opener.
Mitchell is one of eight new players on the roster of a team that has a new head coach in Gerard Gallant as well as two new assistant coaches.
Florida veterans Brian Campbell and Scottie Upshall were named assistant captains as were newcomers Derek MacKenzie and Dave Bolland.
"It's flattering in one sense but it's also a big responsibility,'' Mitchell told reporters. "I haven't chatted with a lot of people about it so it kind of caught me off guard. I heard grumblings, but I was a bit surprised at the top of the hill. .-.-. It's not something I'm going to take lightly. When you wear that, it's an honor. A lot of great people in the league represent their team that way.''
The 37-year-old defenseman, who has won two of the past three Stanley Cup championships with Los Angeles, has already been hailed as a leader inside the Florida locker room. Mitchell also served as a rotating captain with Minnesota in 2006.
"It was really important for us to go after guys like Willie who are not only great hockey players, but great guys in the room as well,'' said goalie Roberto Luongo, who played with Mitchell in Vancouver.
"Willie has been there, knows what it takes, knows what a winning locker room looks and feels like. There are some things people may not see off the ice. Helping these young kids see what they need to do is important.''
Photo courtesy Vancouver Province

 

October 03, 2014

PANTHERS MAKE CUTS: Shore, Trocheck, Petrovic among six headed to San Antonio ... Tallon wants to sign O'Brien

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

 

When the Panthers take the ice Saturday night in Tampa, they'll do so with much of the team that will open the night, coincidentally, in Tampa next Thursday.

Florida trimmed its roster significantly on Friday, sending six prospects -- including center Vinny Trocheck and defenseman Alex Petrovic -- to its minor league affiliate in San Antonio.

The Panthers play the host Lightning at Amalie Arena Saturday at 7 in the preseason finale for both teams.

"They were tough decisions because they are six good, young players who are going to play on our team,'' general manager Dale Tallon said of the moves.

"They're going to play some games this year and if guys here don't pick it up, they'll be here sooner than later. I'm real confident in them. They had good camps, made it tough cuts.''

The Panthers now have 24 players remaining with the only likely roster battle waging between free agent defenseman Shane O'Brien and Colby Robak.

O'Brien has played in 528 NHL games over eight seasons and is on the comeback after being banished in the minors by Calgary for the second half of last season. Robak finished his third season with the Panthers but has played in just 35 NHL games.

Tallon said he was planning on speaking to O'Brien's agent on Friday about a contract.

"We'll see where we go from there,'' Tallon said. "He's had a good camp, been aggressive and gives us depth on the blueline. We'll see where that takes us.''

Since Florida could lose Robak via the waiver process in trying to assign him to San Antonio, O'Brien will be offered a two-way contract and possibly sent to the minors for a time.

Whether O'Brien would accept such an arraignment is the question. He didn't sound too excited about it on Friday.

"I feel like I'm part of the team already so it would be disappointing if I'm not here,'' O'Brien said.

"If it's a two-way, I don't know. I would have to talk to my family, to my agent. I still feel like I'm an NHL player, I'm only 31-years-old. I feel like I've had a good enough camp to be here. I take pride in playing hard every night. I'll let my agent take care of the contract stuff.''

There really weren't many surprises with Florida's cuts on Friday. Grimaldi, although a dynamic player, is fresh off three years at the University of North Dakota and the thought is Florida wants him to log big minutes in the AHL.

Drew Shore returns to the AHL despite showing signs he can play at this level. Shore can only play in two NHL games before becoming waiver eligible so when he returns, he likely stays.

Quinton Howden and MacKenzie Weegar were also sent to San Antonio.

-- The Panthers go into Tampa winless in five preseason games.

Goalie Roberto Luongo, who will not play Saturday as Al Montoya gets the call, said it sometimes takes time for a new team to come together and the exhibition record means little.

"We need to get on the same page,'' Luongo said. "Obviously we would like a good preseason record, but it's important we don't get frustrated. This next week has us down to our main guys and gives us a chance to iron things out.''

Florida lost 3-0 to the Lightning on Thursday night and will play Tampa Bay twice more in the following week.

After Thursday's season opener in Tampa, Florida and the Lightning don't meet again until March 1.

"They have a real good team and it will be fun to play them in Tampa,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.

-- Rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad played his biggest minutes of the preseason Thusday. He said the game was "tenfold" different from his preseason opener last weekend in Nashville.

"I was much more confident, very excited to play,'' said Ekblad, the top pick of the 2014 draft. "I was more calm, more patient. I made some plays I wanted to make.''

Tallon said Ekblad would remain with the Panthers for "a while'' and will get at least his nine-game NHL tryout.

-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was back at practice Friday after taking a shot off his foot. Kulikov only played three shifts on Thursday as he was lifted from the game for precautionary reasons.

 

Saturday: Panthers at Lightning

Where, When: Amalie Arena, Tampa; 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: None.

 

 

October 01, 2014

AARON EKBLAD: Ready to play for Florida Panthers ... But will he stay?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

In years past, the Panthers have given their highest draft picks plenty of playing time throughout their first preseason.

Last year, Aleksander Barkov played in four of seven preseason games after being the second-overall pick that previous June.

Jonathan Huberdeau played in three of Florida's six preseason games in 2011; Erik Gudbranson got in all six games the season before.

Through the first four exhibition games this year, Aaron Ekblad -- the NHL's top draft selection in June -- has only played in one.

He will play in his second Thursday night when the Panthers play host to the Lightning at BB&T Center.

Coach Gerard Gallant said Ekblad had a "minor tweak" after Saturday's game against the Predators hence why he was held out Monday in Dallas.

"We want him 100 percent when he's out there,'' Gallant said of Ekblad, who suffered a concussion in August but played in all three games of Florida's rookie tournament in Nashville.

"We want to play him in the home game and we don't want to play him too much. We'll decide on the next one. We have to see a lot of guys and know what he's going to be. He has some time and has already played a lot of hockey.''

Ekblad, 18, didn't feel like he played his best in his preseason debut Saturday. Ekblad said he wasn't satisfied with the way he played but is looking forward to playing in his first home game Wednesday.

"I'm just happy to get the opportunity to play in any games for this team,'' Ekblad said. "I'm still trying to work my way into it. .-.-. I think I've picked up my play in the past few days.''

Veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, who has been partnered with Ekblad, says he sees plenty of potential and will continue to help guide the way.

"He's a good young player who needs to see more action,'' Mithcell said.

"He wasn't happy with his first game and I don't think anyone is. You feel like crap, don't have your legs underneath you yet. I'm excited to get in a few more games with him. My thought is a young player like that should be playing non-stop.''

While the Panthers are expected to make at least eight roster moves in the coming days before the season begins, Ekblad likely will not be one of them.

Florida can play Ekblad in up to nine regular season games before deciding whether to keep him with the big squad or send him back to his junior team in Canada.

If Ekblad plays in a tenth game, he could still be sent back, but he would have burned a year off his contract.

"He's an 18-year-old kid and we know he's going to be a great hockey player,'' Gallant said. "But this is a big step. A lot of people can attest that playing defense at 18 in the NHL means you have to be a special player. We're going to go game-by-game and see how he gets along. We're not going to rush anyone.''

THURSDAY: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS

Where, When: BB&T Center, Sunrise; 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: None

September 30, 2014

ELLIS SENT DOWN: Panthers send veteran goalie to San Antonio

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

 

The Panthers sent veteran goalie Dan Ellis to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio on Tuesday leaving their training camp roster at 31 players.

Florida is expected to make eight more moves in the coming days and open the season with 23 players.

Ellis, 34, came to the Panthers from Dallas on trade deadline day in March in exchange for Tim Thomas. Ellis went 0-5 and stopped 84 percent of his shots faced to finish the 2013-14 season with Florida.

In July, the Panthers signed Al Montoya to backup Roberto Luongo although Ellis said he planned on doing the job.

Ellis stopped 14 of 17 shots this preseason. He cleared waivers on Monday but remained with the team in Dallas.

COMING UP

Wednesday: Practice at Coral Springs IceDen, 11 a.m.

Thursday: Preseason game vs. Tampa Bay, BB&T Center, 7:30 p.m.

Friday: Practice at Coral Springs IceDen, 11 a.m.

 

September 28, 2014

FLORIDA PANTHERS MAKE MOVES: G Dan Ellis placed on waivers, 13 others sent to San Antonio

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards


The Panthers' training camp has moved west to Texas -- and the team is leaving quite a few players behind.

Florida trimmed its preseason roster on Sunday morning, sending 14 of its 49 players to its AHL affiliate in San Antonio. A few more could be cut in the coming days.

The Panthers also placed veteran goalie Dan Ellis and defenseman Greg Zanon on waivers so they could be assigned to San Antonio. The Rampage opens camp on Monday.

"He's played fine,'' coach Gerard Gallant said of Ellis. "It's just a situation that we have with three goalies. We're securing the net position. He'll go down and play some games down there. None of our goalies have played poorly. We feel we're strong in net. It's a numbers deal right now.''

There weren't many surprises on players cut Sunday as the Panthers have just one or two roster spots to fill before the season opener on Oct. 9.

The players sent outright to San Antonio were: Forwards Connor Brickley, Steven Hodges, John McFarland, Brett Olson and Logan Shaw; defensemen Josh McFadden, Jonathan Racine and Shayne Taker; goalies Sam Brittain and Michael Houser.

Forward Joe Basaraba and defenseman Joshua Brown were also released from their tryout but invited to Rampage camp.

Four more players -- Joey Crabb, Ryan Martindale, Garrett Wilson and Bobby Butler -- were also put on waivers and could stay behind in Texas once they clear on Monday.

"We have plenty of guys who are getting better in their career,'' Gallant said. "We feel good about our depth. If something happens with our roster, we feel confident we have guys who can come up and step in.''

-- The Panthers try for their first preseason win of the year Monday when they take on the host Stars in Dallas.

Florida lost to the Stars 4-3 in a shootout last Wednesday.

After Monday's game, Florida has a home-and-home exhibition schedule with Tampa Bay before the season begins.

"We're getting close to having our team right now,'' said Gallant, whose team was swept by Nashville in Saturday's exhibition doubleheader.

"I thought we played well on Saturday. We have three games played and a lot of guys have played in two of them. It's a process. Overall we're real happy with the way we're playing. We're getting ready for the regular season.''

MONDAY'S PRESEASON GAME: FLORIDA AT DALLAS

Where, When: AmericanAirlines Center, Dallas; 8:30 p.m.

TV, Radio: None.


September 24, 2014

PRESEASON GAME NO. 1: Dallas Stars 4, Florida Panthers 3 (SO)

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

WEDNESDAY -- Dallas 4, Panthers 3 (shootout): Ales Hemsky beat Michael Houser in the fourth round to lead the Stars to a shootout win.

Defenseman Shane O'Brien, in camp on a tryout, got the Panthers on the board in the second with a nice shot from the slot before center Dave Bolland made it 2-2 with 49.2 seconds left in the period.

The Panthers got a goal from Brandon Pirri early in the third before Alex Goligoski tied it off a pass from Tyler Seguin midway through the period.

PANTHERS TRAINING CAMP

Thursday: Off

Friday: Practice at Coral Springs IceDen, 10 a.m.

Saturday: Preseason doubleheader at Nashville, 4/8 p.m.

ELLIS LOOKS FOR CHANCE IN FLORIDA: Dan Ellis wants to stay with Panthers but so does Al Montoya

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

 

Dan Ellis' place with the Panthers was compromised the day Dale Tallon signed Al Montoya.

Ellis says he has no plans to go anywhere. Montoya does as well.

With Roberto Luongo firmly entrenched as Florida's starting goalie, Ellis and Montoya are in camp vying to be the Panthers' backup although Tallon made it clear on July 1 that Montoya was signed to do the job.

"It's not a concern of mine,'' Ellis said before starting Wednesday's preseason opener against Dallas at BB&T Center. "It was a decision made by Dale and you have to respect that. But if I can lose my job in 20 days, I don't see why I can't win it back in 20 days. That's my focus and I don't worry about anything else.''

With Montoya and Luongo taking the night off, Ellis played the first two periods of Florida's eventual 4-3 shootout loss.

Things didn't start well for Ellis against his former teammates -- Ellis came to the Panthers from Dallas at the March trade deadline -- as the Stars scored twice in the first period.

Ellis stopped all five shots faced in the second and left with the score tied at 2.

Ellis' play at the end of last season all but forced Tallon to go out and get another goalie off the free agency market.

When he played in place of Luongo last spring, Ellis struggled to stop the puck.

Ellis ended the year going 0-5-1 with Florida, stopping just 84 percent of shots faced.

On Wednesday, Ellis said he wasn't surprised Florida went after Montoya -- who had two pretty good years in Winnipeg -- and suggested the competition is going to be good for him.

"Them signing Montoya has been the best thing for me,'' Ellis said. "I've really dove into myself, critiqued myself and things I need to improve on.''

If all three of Florida's top goalies make it through training camp unscathed, Ellis is expected to be sent to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Coach Gerard Gallant said it's too early to begin speculating what the team will do in the coming weeks.

Both Montoya and Ellis would be paid their NHL salary if sent to the minors.

"This is what competition is all about,'' Gallant said. "We have three goaltenders with NHL experience and no one has said Montoya was brought in to backup anyone. It's about who wins the spot. You have to be fair to all your players.''

Ellis says he's been through goalie battles in the past and he's ready for this one.

So, too, is Montoya.

Right now, he most definitely has the edge.

"Nothing has changed for me,'' Montoya said. "This is where I want to be, this is the team I want to play for. I take it as my job. I'm here to push [Luongo], here to push myself and here to help this team out.''