Rostislav Olesz climbed into the net to create a new goalie, this one out of ice. Olesz's first snowman-goalie got smashed into bits by Steve Montador; his second one lasted a bit longer and his third -- the one pictured (trust me, that's Olesz in the net and he's making snow-goalie #3) -- was protected by a wall of pucks. Unfortunately, the pucks didn't protect snow-goalie #3 very well either. We think Stephen Weiss got to that one.
Just shows a few wins can really change a team's spirits. The Panthers have won five of seven and two straight, and practice this morning in Coral Springs before boarding their charter for Edmonton, Alberta.
THE NEWS: JM says there is no way Todd Bertuzzi makes the trip west, so there goes one theory floating around Vancouver. Bertuzzi is still out until Feb. at the earliest, and injured players do not go on the road no matter how sentimental the trip might be. JM did say Bert was still rehabbing, but once again questioned the 8-12 week recovery time originally reported after the surgery. JM noted that it's taken players -- like Ed Belfour and Jason Spezza -- longer than that to recover from such surgeries. Bertuzzi has yet to start strength training nor serious skating. The team hopes that step comes soon.
-- Joel Kwiatkowski has been moved back to the blueline as Florida now has 12 healthy forwards (counting rookie David Booth). Kiwi was scratched Friday, but could see time in a rotation with Steve Montador for the sixth spot like earlier in the year.
-- Happy New Year everyone...See you in Canada...
Sure, the NHL has more to do with the Panthers travel plans than the team itself, but I for one can't wait to visit the Canadian tundra. Hear Edmonton is beautiful this time of year (actually the weather isn't going to be that bad. Maybe Buffalo bad, but not terrible.)
Panthers are in the midst of their final game of 2006 (leading Montreal 1-0 right now) and thanks to that quirky schedule will play their next four games against teams from TGWN* (Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary and the Luongos).
THE NEWS: Stephen Weiss was a game-time decision for JM, and the decision was Game On! Weiss was back in the lineup for the first time since getting hurt against the Ducks (tougher than their name implies I guess) on Dec. 12. Weiss centered a line with Gregory Campbell and Juraj Kolnik. Chris Gratton remained at center, anchoring a line with Ville Peltonen and David Booth. Other lines: Olli-Roberts-Horton; Stumpel-Olesz-Gelinas.
-- Ed Belfour back in net despite Alex Auld's shutdown performance against the Habs the last time out. Belfour came into the game 8-8-3; Auld is 6-11-4.
-- Assistant coach Guy Charron voiced over an ad in French plugging future Panther games. Nice touch. I make fun of the ads in this joint as much as anyone, but this was a clever way to push tickets.
And talk about reaching out to your consumers: The upper deck is packed, not an empty seat to be found. And 98 percent of them are rooting for the Habs.
-- Friday's game was the Panthers last at home until Jan. 10.
(*) - Denotes The Great White North.
Juraj Kolnik makes his triumphant return to the ice tonight when the Panthers take on visiting Carolina. The Hurricanes are coming off a nice win last night against the Islanders, while Florida goes for its fourth straight.
Kolnik has missed the past month with a groin injury.
Those who come to the game tonight might be fighting pedestrians again. Now that parking is free at the arena (for games, NOT for concerts), don't be surprised to see people park there and walk to the Sawgrass Mills. There is no parking at the Sawgrass today. None.
THE NEWS: That's it. Koko's back. Oh, and Eddie Belfour starts again. It's slow in Pantherland these days...
News and notes from pregame Rangers:
-- Goalie David Shantz of YOUR Florida Everblades has been named to the ECHL All-Star Game. Pretty good for David. This is his first professional season. Like the Miami Hurricanes, he has to go to Boise for the game. Shantz is 9-2 this year for the 'Blades.
Wonder if the ice in Boise is blue?
-- Defenseman Ari Vallin, an offseason signee, is off to Sweden to finish the season. Vallin, one of the final cuts in camp (he had a 2-way contract and found out why he should have fought for a 1-way), had 7 assists in 24 games for Rochester.
Vallin is going to play for Frolunda HC in Sweden.
Wasn't Frolunda the name of Kip's girlfriend from Detroit in the flick Napoleon Dynamite? Oh, that was LaFawnduh. My bad.
The Rangers are in town, a sickly, struggling bunch that has lost three straight. But as bad as the Rangers have been of late, they are still in first place in the Northeast, so things ain't that bad.
The team has been kicked in the head with the flu, with Henrik Lundqvist so sick he had to miss the start against the Islanders on Tuesday. Only the scratched players worked out at the CSA* this morning, the rest of the Rangers taking the morning off. Last team to skip the morning skate at CSA was Buffalo two weeks ago, and we know how that worked out for them.
The Panthers, on the other hand, were a frisky bunch. Winning sure has taken a shine to the Cats, no? Everyone was in a good mood, and it looks like Stephen Weiss and Juraj Kolnik will be back in the lineup soon. That's reminds me...
THE NEWS: Kolnik practiced with his teammates Thursday, and could be back Saturday. If not, Tuesday for sure. Looks like Weiss will be back for the Tuesday game in Carolina or Wednesday against the Phantoms, err, Flyers.
-- Eddie Belfour in net tonight for sure, the first Florida goalie to start four straight games since some guy named Luongo. Eddie has won his past two starts, and played well enough to win all three.
-- Watching tape of those stranded in Denver because of the blizzard make me thankful to be back home. Sure, it took a nameless airline a long time to do it and lost my bag in the process, but being home sure is sweet. Get tomorrow off to Christmas shop (email me your secret shopping spots if you would -- as well as places to avoid) and I'll get you all something nice. Like another goofy picture for the blog. Today's is kinda lame. Just sad is all.
(*) -- Longtime readers of the blog should know CSA stands for CorporateSponsorship Arena. I swear, has it only been a week since we've been in there? Today it looked like there was even more advertisements than before.
Quote of the night came from Toronto coach Paul Maurice (who has done a pretty good job with the Leafs this year, eh): "They were good. We were horse(rhymes with sit, spit, skit, pit and grit), but they were good.''
ORIGINAL POST -- ORIGINAL POST --
OK, so we have 13 minutes left here in Toronto and the Panthers have put up seven? Are you serious?
Gary Roberts has recorded a hat trick, another solid game here since the Leafs put him and Joe Nieuwendyk out after the 2004-05 lockout. Last year, Niewy had a hat trick here; Gary, if you remember, scored a goal less than a minute into his first game back.
So, as it stands, the Panthers have won two straight games, have scored a total of 13 goals in those wins and realistically, dominated Buffalo and should have at least gotten one point out of that 2-1 loss last week.
Pretty good road trip no?
And the crowd at the Air Canada Center is starting to thin out. After winning three straight, the locals were getting kinda giddy about these Leafs (one Florida exec has been joking that the city has been too busy planning its Cup parade to notice anything else). Yeah, when the Leafs are winning, the people here are nutty.
THE NEWS: Not much else to report, really.
As a kid, whenever I thought of Canada or Toronto, I thought of Bob and Doug McKenzie, those Molson-swilling Canadians who taught a bunch of dumb Americans about Canadian culture: Calling someone a hoser, telling them to 'take off', saying 'eh' at the end of sentences. Good stuff still used today, eh.
They also often talked about bitter winters in Canada (Bob always wore a cool Canada toque), although lately, it's looked a lot like spring around here. The Panthers are visiting the GTA (that's Greater Toronto Area to you hosers) which means a lot of homecomings.
A lot of the guys are from the area, so they get to spend quality holiday time with friends and family. Not too shabby. The Panthers have a lot to complain about concerning their sked, but they cannot complain about their Toronto treatment. Both times came during a holiday (Canadian Thanksgiving the first time, Christmas this time) and there was a full off day preceding the actual game.
Toronto is fun, eh. Now, take off. It's time for ....
THE NEWS: Eddie Belfour gets to play in Toronto for the first time since the Leafs told him they didn't need his services anymore and cut him loose by cutting him a check for $1.5 million. The Herald could do the same to me and I would only ask for half of that amount. I'm not greedy.
(Belfour didn't have a comment for the preceding paragraph, but wished me luck in getting some sort of buyout.)
-- Stephen Weiss and Juraj Kolnik out today, tomorrow and Thursday too. Weiss is getting frustrated.
-- Panthers practiced today at the old Coliseum, current home of the AHL's Toronto Marlies. Nice little arena. Would go a see a game there anytime.
-- Gas stations up here have Tim Horton's in them. And coffee at a gas station Timmies was just as good as getting it at a stand-alone Timmies. The Dutchie didn't taste as fresh, but the line was much shorter than usual. Things you learn...
Hard to believe, but Florida has won two straight here.
The Panthers are trying to win their fourth road game of the season, and a win tonight would be their first weekend win of the season. Florida is winless in nine Saturday night games and 0-1 on Sunday as well.
THE NEWS: Alex Auld, oops, Ed Belfour in net tonight. Eddie's second straight start.
-- JM said he wants to keep Florida's group of defensemen together for a long time. Said while Bryan Allen is struggling, he is one of the guys who is going to turn the team around. Sure Bryan appreciated such words. For the most part, Florida's d-men are signed for a few years, although signing Bo to a long-term deal will be of utmost importance in a few years. He's locked in contractually through next season, then is a restricted FA in 2008-09. If not signed, Bo can walk in the summer of 2009. Yeah, that's a long ways away, but....
-- No update on Weiss or Kolnik just yet.
-- Had the Bobby Orr Steak Sandwich at the Fours today. The sandwich might just be better than the player it's named after. Orr might just agree with me. Wow.
-- Will speak to Boston's Phil Kessel tonight as he addresses the press for the first time since he underwent cancer surgery earlier this week. Glad to see he is feeling up to going out in public.
Did you know:
-- Coming into Thursday, the Panthers have been outscored in the first, second and third periods as well as overtime. Most glaring? The first: 35-23. Others: 2nd (33-30), 3rd (37-31), OT (1-0 -- at Buffalo).
-- The Panthers are averaging 2.5 goals a game, Buffalo 3.9; yet Florida is outshooting the Sabres by a large margin. Florida has 1,027 shots in 34 games (31.1 per) and Buffalo has thrown up 872 (29.1). In fact, the Sabres are being outshot this season 940-872.
-- I'll be joining Randy and Steve in the WQAM booth during the first intermission tonight.
Just got done listening to acclaimed Irish opera star Ronan Tynan sing "God Bless America,'' with the bonus lyrics. Tynan is known to sports fans as the dude who sings during the seventh inning stretch at Yankee Stadium. A favorite of George Steinbrenner's, Tynan was sporting his Yankees World Series ring too. Sweet.
(Speaking of Irish dudes, had wings at a place called Gabriel's Gate today. It's down the street from the Anchor Bar -- yes Dave, I got you a bottle of sauce -- and is just fantastic. Those coming to town for the Dolphins game this weekend should definitely check it out.)
-- Drew Larman made his hometown debut Thursday. The Florida rook was born here, but moved to the Detroit area when he was 11. He said he had about 16 family and friends at the game, although this was his first visit to HSBC Arena.
"I’ve actually never set foot in this arena, so this is a first for me,'' he said. "I used to have season tickets in the blue section of the old [Buffalo Auditorium]. This is going to be fun. I see where [the Aud] is still standing. It doesn’t look as nice as it used to, but it brought back some good memories.''
-- Drew is the focus of Sunday's Panthers Conversation in the Miami Herald. Just letting everyone know is all.
-- The Panthers arena is getting a face lift. After securing a loan from the county, the team plans to install a new scoreboard, a second video ring, a couple new suites/entertainment places and video boards behind the nets to cram in even more ads. All this stuff is expected to be done by early 2008.
-- The Sabres kicked off Thursday's game by showing a scene from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, you know, the one where Clark W. Griswold fried the cat by plugging in the lights of his Christmas Tree. Coincidentally, the Sabers were playing the Panthers. Oh, I get it now....
-- Stephen Weiss and Ric Jackman were scratches Thursday.
-- JM on Florida's secret to beating the Sabres last week: "We scored three and they scored one. (Cue laughter) That was a game we were really up for, we played well, and they were obviously off their game. We've had some good games over the past two years against this club. It's a good matchup; they're quick and move the puck well, do a lot of good things. We're going to have our hands full, but if you play well away from the puck that's the key. You can't turn pucks over because they've got so many guys who can capitalize.
Never been to Saskatoon, nor anywhere in Saskatchewan. Looking forward to going to Moose Jaw. Went to Red Deer last year, going to Moose Jaw this year. Yeah baby!
THE NEWS: Stephen Weiss will miss tonight's game with a bum shoulder. No roster moves as of yet, although Nathan Horton will play center tonight. We'll see how that goes. He didn't seem thrilled with the move, may be thinking it's a demotion. I don't think so, I think the Panthers want to see him play the position is all.
-- Ed Belfour gets the start.
-- Joel Kwiatkowski moves up to play forward tonight.
Apparently I can.
Won't be at the skate today, although my partner in crime -- Sr. Kevin Baxter -- will be in the house making sure everything goes smoothly. Will post an update on who plays in goal tomorrow and any other pertinent info when I get into the Sunshine City. PS: Buffalo's new motto is "Hey, it's only 49 degrees today!"
-- Was good to see Denis back at work yesterday. Would like to send out my best wishes to Valerie Potvin and hope for a speedy and full recovery. Scary times for the Potvins. Glad it looks like everything is going to be OK. Denis says he'll be flying on his own to Beefalo tomorrow, so he'll be in the booth for the Sabres game. CLICK HERE IF U WANNA
-- Is is Buffalo Say-bers or Sab-rez? Soda or pop? And how come the Chili's in the airport never has jalapenos? It's in their LOGO for goodness sake. You'd think they'd keep some around.
-- My friend Jeff sent me these shots of his kid at the BAC. Cute kid, no? I have a few more that I may post in the coming days.
-- Word on the street is On Frozen Pond might be making a special stopover in Coyote Country for some football game there on Jan. 8. Not sure, but we're working on it. Gators or Buckeyes folks, let me know. If you like Miami and won't root for either, that's a cop-out. We know who the Noles are rooting for. Pick one: Florida or Ohio State. Give me a good reason why you are rooting for said team. Best answer gets a game program and whatever other trinkets I steal, err, find (provided I make the stopover from Vancouver in the first place).
Spoke to Todd today after practice, and will have more in tomorrow's edition of the Herald. But, I have quite a bit left over, you know, stuff I don't plan on using. Thought you all might enjoy it. Consider it a yard sale of sorts.
Just don't steal anything off the $1 table, OK?
What are you working on in rehab right now?
"Just very boring, boring stuff. I'm just trying to fire everything up. It's still in the stage where you don't want to irritate it.
"I never did that to begin with. I'm biking a little bit more now, and been on the ice now a couple of times, just for five minutes, just to keep my stride."
Are you able to do normal stuff (I asked if he could swing a golf club yet and he gave me a dirty look. In retrospect, I would have too. That was a dumb question. I'm a dumb person. And if you're still reading this, cool!)
"I found it was just tough seeing him have to go out that way. Just a class act. Especially me coming to the city, a new team and all that, he was one of the first guys to come up and kind of . . . He was good and I was really excited to play with him on a line -- we had a little bit of chemistry going there early, but he went out and then I went out.
You know, I woke up this morning and said to myself 'gee, I think I should get back to work.' And if you think it's weird (and a bit geeky) how I talk to myself, well, you just don't know me that well.
I was back at the morning skate today with the rest of the regular folks, and got some good info for you, the loyal reader. Can't wait to share it with you. Really. No, I mean that.
THE NEWS: As has been reported, David Booth has been recalled from Rochester and Rob Globke is back with the Americans. Booth made it to the arena this afternoon and is expected to be in the lineup tonight.
-- Alex Auld back in net after taking Sunday night off.
-- Spoke with Todd Bertuzzi this morning; says he is still frustrated by the lack of healing on his surgically repaired back, although he says he sees a light at the end of the tunnel. When asked about JM's 4-8 weeks timetable, Todd was a bit standoffish.
-- Juraj Kolnik is out at least another week after apparently reinjuring his groin in a practice last week. That means a possible extended stay for Booth.
The Chicken Wings are in town, ready to take on your Florida Panthers and halt the home team's impressive one-game winning streak. Seriously, though, the Panthers really needed a win and got one in Pittsburgh. JM told the guys today basically that it was only one win, but it was a start, perhaps something to build on.
I agree. You can't win two straight or three straight or -- gasp! -- four straight without getting that first one in. So we'll see.
And as good as Buffalo has been the past two years, the Panthers have played them well. Florida won three of four last year, and took the homestanding Sabres to overtime last month. That was a pretty exciting game I must say (and the wings were good too!)
Wanted to talk to Lindy and some of the Buffalo guys this morning, but they skipped the morning skate. Will get them next week in the Wingtown hopefully.
THE NEWS: Joe Nieuwendyk speaks to the national media today at 3 for the first time since announcing his retirement yesterday in Coral Springs. JM spoke a bit about what Joe meant to the team and to the franchise and that he expects Stephen Weiss to kind of fill Joe's role a little more.
JM didn't say who would get the fourth A now that Joe is gone, although Ruslan Salei has worn it in Joe's absence a few times already. JM would not rule out giving it to a younger player like Bo or Weiss, either. Joe will be in the building tonight, and there will be a one-minute video presentation for him on the scoreboard. For those away, he will be visiting the boys in the broadcast booth as well.
-- Alex Auld gets the start tonight. Auld, Alex.
-- Greg Campbell was back at practice today and will play tonight.
-- On Frozen Pond would like to welcome NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and league PR man Frank Brown to South Florida. Mr. Bettman will be at the game tonight and will be speaking to the local media before tonight's big game. I apologize ahead of time for not being there; my sister is getting married tomorrow and I have a rehersal dinner to attend tonight.
Don't snitch, but I plan on having the game on at the bar. It will look funny, me sneaking off the bathroom all the time, but I'll tell them I'm taking some sort of pill or something. Either that or I can tell them I started smoking again. OK, the pill thing is better.
Sad day for the Panthers, what with Joe Nieuwendyk hanging 'em up. Feel for the guy, although 90 percent of the league would trade with him right now. Why? Dude got 20 years in the league, won three Cups, won a Gold medal at the Olympics, made some mad cash AND is walking away from the game before it's too late. Now, Joe may need back surgery sometime in the future. That isn't cool. But he may not, and all is well.
Like all of his teammates, I know I speak for the rest of the local hacks when I say I'm going to miss Joe. I hope he does stick around the 954 and comes by practices and games with some regularity. Not sure if he does though. Not really his thing.
Here's an example of Joe's class: He could have had a huge retirement presser, complete with TV cameras and plug-ins from Canada. He decided he wanted nothing of the sort. Instead, he told his teammates personally in a meeting before Wednesday's practice, then called up the three local beat guys. And that was that.
I've interviewed plenty of guys after a teammate was traded or retired; always get the same answers. Today, the boys had a lot to say about Joe retiring, and you felt their sadness. They are going to miss having him around all the time. I'm sure he'll say the same thing.
Here's hoping the team does something for Joe Thursday before taking on the Sabres. I'll miss it because I'll be at a wedding rehearsal. Will post after tomorrow's skate.
THE NEWS: JM says he doesn't expect to go after a new player to take Joe's spot, although there will be some money to spend. JM just doesn't think there is anything out there the Panthers would want. He might be right. He also wants to give the youngsters a little more time, and there's nothing wrong with that.
-- All you Lakeland folks bugging on my boy Joe Goodman should settle down! It's not his fault your school's running back has a big mouth and told the Miami Herald he was getting paid by some of the locals (if he was taking free food from Brother's BBQ in Lakeland, I can understand. Damn, that is some good grub. And the sauce is to die for. Right Roman?)
-- Condolences go out to the Campbell family; Greg missed Wednesday's practice to be at the funeral for his grandmother (Colin's mother). Hate to hear stuff like that. He'll be back on Thursday.
-- Juraj Kolnik skated for a bit but came off the ice looking a bit ticked off. JM says he still can't keep up with the game speed. It looks like he'll be out a few more games at least.
The Panthers will be in the beautiful city of Pittsburgh tonight, getting ready for tomorrow's game against the Penguins. The team seemed to be in a pretty good mood, Monday's practice very active as the team seemed to get some stuff done.
They really focused on short, crisp passes, and work around the net. This team needs goals any way they can get them. JM liked what he saw in practice and was in a very jovial mood. He was very complimentary to the Pens, a team the Panthers have dominated of late. Florida has won 12 of the past 13 games against Pittsburgh, although the Pens won the last meeting after the Panthers played like a team that had just been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs.
"They have two of the top three young players in the game,'' JM said, referring -- I think! -- to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Pens are fun to watch but have lost two straight.
THE NEWS: Joe Nieuwendyk still hasn't skated since re-tweaking his back last week and won't make the trip to Pitt. JM doesn't know when Nieuwy will return. Juraj Kolnik will also miss the short trip, but he could return Thursday against the Sabres.
--Ed Belfour is the latest player to go down to the flu bug, although he was on the plane. Alex Auld, who missed Sunday because he was sick, will play in net against the Pens.
-- Yes, today's picture is of the Pride of Pittsburgh, Mr. Rogers. He led the Steelers to a couple of Super Bowls I think.
Olli spoke last night after the 25 minute players-only team meeting. Chris Graton and Gary Roberts both spoke as well, and they didn't have a whole lot of new things to say. Gratts made a great point about this team needing some sort of a change, some sort of a spark. The team is playing afraid and scared. There is no life out there whatsoever, and something needs to be done quick.
So, what would you propose? We know the management isn't going anywhere, so forget the "Fire JM!'' blather. Are we talking a trade or two (I know I would be); is it as simple as just kicking someone in the backside (a benching)? Give me your thoughts on what you would do if you were coach/gm for a day. Personally, if I were coach/gm, I would refuse to speak to the local media. Let 'em find their stories somewhere else dangnabit!
-- Sat in the stands for last night game. Scarfed down some nachos and enjoyed the view. There really isn't a bad seat in the joint. Also enjoyed all the in-house entertainment in between the action. Who knew it was Toyotathon time? I do now. And good thing there was a lot of icing or we'd never know it was sponsored by some jewler in Coral Springs.
If the Florida Panthers wrote a book, they could call it : Pimp my Team. If the NHL were to allow ads on jerseys, you have to believe this team would be the first to do it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they were already working on something.
That said, I may just post general musings from what I see away from things for a bit. I think it'll be good. Maybe they'll actually, you know, score a goal or something. Who knows.
THE NEWS: Eddie back in net tonight and it looks like Stephen and Mike will play tonight. Will try to update before kickoff.