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37 posts from January 2008

January 20, 2008

Olli Unhappy, On the Block?

OlliWell we must be getting close to the trading deadline because more rumors about Olli Jokinen's unrest in South Florida have surfaced.

The most recent report comes from CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. According to reports given to me (I didn't watch HNIC because I was covering the Panthers in Washington), it was dropped that Olli and JM don't get along -- Olli apparently hates Jacques -- and a trade is coming.

Surprisingly, the main teams who would be interested in Olli, the report states, are Canadian teams.

Now, I'm not saying Olli isn't unhappy with the current state of the Panthers right now. In fact, I'd be disappointed in him if he wasn't. But I don't think Olli and the Panthers are ready to part ways just yet. I think Olli has too much invested in this franchise and market -- and the team is too close to first place in a sorry division -- for him to bail now.

That said, if Olli goes to JM and asks to be traded, I think JM should and will grant the request. The Panthers could get a lot for their captain on a fairly open market, and I say open because Olli comes with a contract. He's not a rental for some team so Florida theoretically would get more.

I don't think Olli and JM are best of friends, but then, I don't think JM has many 'best' friends inside this business. He has pals, buddies, but nothing serious. JM is a very close-guarded guy, very private. So too, in a way, is Olli. The only guys I know he's really friendly with over the years are Nate Horton and Roberto Luongo -- and I think his friendship with Louie really got going after he was traded away.

Olli is always reportedly going somewhere, yet he never does.

No sport loves its rumors more than hockey, no sport treats pure speculation as gospel more.

Everyone just needs to relax. Olli isn't going anywhere, at least not in the near future. Not unless JM was offered the sun and the moon, and Olli really wants to leave. I just don't think either side is all that desperate to make a move like this.

January 18, 2008

Rolling Down the Tracks

7mile_2 NEWARK -- Making my way back to you babe, and by 'you,' I mean Washington D.C.

And I'm doing so in old-school fashion. I'm taking the choo-choo, the chugga-chug.

Yep, Newark to Washington D.C. by train on a lazy Saturday afternoon. Nothing could be finer. Except being home. But whatever.

Looking for some ideas on things to kill the time. It's like a three hour ride to Capital City, and I'm riding with Brian X so I think the Ipod is out. That would be rude. But, after a while, it could be an option.

As always, feel free to leave your comments below. The obvious idea is to offer a special Amtrak edition of the LIVE BLOG. I could look out the window and commentate on the things I see. If the wireless internet is working, that might just be the ticket.

Planestrains -- And remember, you can't catch the train out of Wichita. Not unless you a hog, or cattle. No, the people train runs out of Stubbville...

-- FYI: Panthers have scored two straight goals here in Copland, lead the Devils by a 2-1 score.

-- The 'In the Air Tonight' remake by Nonpoint is being played over the PA system. Only places I've heard that song: The end of the Miami Vice movie and at Panthers games. Nowhere else. It's a decent version I guess, but why mess with a good thing?

Big City (sort of) Debut

Matthias NEWARK - It appears the future is here.

Shawn Matthias, perhaps Florida's most talented youngster, makes his NHL debut tonight in the shadow of New York City. Sure, we're in Jersey, but you can see the big city from here.

Matthias seems pretty jacked about being called up, and why shouldn't he? He's been playing great lately, from his junior games in Belleville to Team Canada's Gold Medal performance in World Juniors.

Quite a whirlwind for him.

JM says he brought Matthias up mainly to see what he can do under the bright lights. That, and the Panthers really have no one else. The team is so banged up it has to recall a 19-year-old from juniors. But hey, good for the kid.

Here's the deal: Matthias can play 10 games at the NHL level before his NHL contract kicks in. The Panthers can send him back after 10-plus games, but he would burn a full year of his Panthers' contract which means they'd have to sign him again one year sooner.

Anyway, we'll worry about that one when the time comes.

JM says he is looking short term with Matthias right now, so don't expect him to be around long. Unless he plays his way onto the roster. The Panthers have high hopes for him, and are very excited about his future.

"I flew in the morning and I'm pretty excited,'' Mathias said. "It came out of nowhere. I'm looking forward to tonight, getting that first game out of the way.''

Said JM: "He had a real good world junior tournament, was playing well in junior. As you know, we already have quite a few of our players up from Rochester. This is a new face, a kid with some talent. We'll see if he can come in and help us. We'll see how he does this weekend then re-evaluate.''

January 16, 2008

(Not Much) Phun in Philly -- UPDATE

PeterosePHILADELPHIA -- Those who say you can't go back in time have never been to Philadelphia.

Lot of history here, obviously, and in the short time I've been here, I've tried to take a bunch of it in. From Independence Hall to the Liberty Bell to the Mitchell & Ness shop on Chestnut Street, it's been one big 'ol fashioned history lesson for me.

And it gets even better tomorrow: The Panthers are staying in the City of Brotherly Shove tonight after the game so they can practice here.

At the Spectrum.

Rocky3 Yep, one of the last bastions of Philadelphia's sporting past will be the site of a meaningless practice by the Florida Panthers. But I've never been in the Spectrum, so I'm looking forward to it. Expect some photos on tomorrow's editions of On Frozen Pond.

What is the Spectrum known for, you ask? Well, it was home to the Broad Street Bullies, Dr. J and, of course, Rocky Balboa's classic battle with Apollo Creed.

-- For those interested, today's Philly Cheesesteak came compliments (well, Steve Y paid) of Jim's on South Street. Delicious. Best we've had so far. I think the days of us heading to Pats or Genos are over.

-- In hockey news, Cory Murphy and Branislav Mezei both wore yellow (that means they captured the previous day's time trial) and did a lot of post-practice work. No time table for their return.

-- JM says Jozef Stumpel still hasn't started skating, and slipped a post All-Star Game return date at us.

Birthdaycoper -- Happy Birthday shout-out to Justin, the Panthers' favorite birthday boy of the day. Actually, he's the only one, so he wins this contest by default.

UPDATE -- UPDATE -- UPDATE -- UPDATE

-- OK, so Rostislav Olesz takes a late hit from Steve Downie, but since the Panthers didn't do much complaining about it -- and didn't do anything about it -- I won't pile on. But, this could be bad. Olesz bounced up off the ice in a lot of pain.

JM says he re-injured his surgically repaired wrist/hand area, although I'm not so sure. That was Rusty's right hand and it looked to me like he came up favoring his left. But we'll see. Either way, doesn't look good.

-- Also found out a little more about the tussle between Horton and Montador on Monday. Word is they jostled a little bit at the end of practice after coaches demanded to see more during a defensive drill in the corners. Tempers flared, and that isn't a bad thing. So they threw a couple punches. Big deal.

-- And JM tossed a wet blanket on our visit to the Spectrum. It's off. Team is going  to practice here at the Watchoveryourmoney Center instead. Sucks. I'm thinking of going over there anyway. Will post photos if I do.



January 13, 2008

Back in Time

QuebecBack at the arena, home sweet home for me. Thanks for all the cards and letters (OK, the emails) wishing me a quick recovery from my flu. Knock on wood, but I think I've kicked it.

And now I'm ready for some hockey.

Panthers have had no luck whatsoever against these Colorado Avalanche, and have never beaten the Avs on home ice. Think about that for a minute. Of course, they have beaten this particular organization at home, beating the Quebec Nordiques in 1995. Months later, the team moved to Denver.

Jacques Martin goes for win No. 500 today, and funny thing is, he may remember that Panthers win in 1995. Remember, Martin was an assistant for the Nordiques back then. He even made the move to Colorado only to leave them midway through the 1995-96 season -- what would be a Stanley Cup championship season -- to take over the Senators.

Who did the Avs beat to win the Cup back in '96? Heck, my memory ain't that good. How am I supposed to remember who their opponent was. Get real. Like who Colorado plays in the Stanley Cup Finals has any relevance to a hockey writer in Florida. Who covers the Panthers. And likes Rats.

-- Oh yeah. Right.

-- Giants up 7-0 on the Cowpokes. Not the Cooper City ones.

-- Thanks to all those who commented on the previous blog post from this morning. Hope to see a more concerted effort out of these guys today, but not holding my breath. Too stuffed up to do something that dangerous.

-- Must be a big sale at Ikea today. Overflow parking lot at some arena-looking place in Sunrise was really full this afternoon.

-- Then there's Nate, fighting less than a minute into the game. That looks promising...

-- And then the Rockies score...so there goes that...

-- OK, Panthers showing much spirit here in the first period. This is what we've been lacking no? Three fights in the first period, lot of energy. Good for them, and good for the fans who are here and seem to be having a blast.

-- Speaking of having a blast, I'll be joining Craigervini at the second intermission on Fox Sports Net. Don't adjust your sets, it's just G....

-- Sorry about messing up your TVs...

 

Time for Some Change

Loonies I've been known to watch movies I really enjoy -- you know, classics like Animal House, Caddyshack, Fletch, and my new fave, Superbad -- over and over. I'm even guilty of giving movies I don't like a second or third chance once they come on HBO.

That said, it isn't much fun to watch the same nonsense with a certain hockey team night after night. If not for the writer's strike, this Florida Panthers show would have been canceled weeks ago.

Seriously, how can this team pull the same stunts night after night? Are they this bad? These are the same questions that have been asked the past three years. No answers come to mind.

This is by no means a Stanley Cup contender, the Panthers not a team of All-Stars.

It is a group with some talent, only little drive. They have a problem with their collective heart. How else does one describe how they come out and give the effort they do night after night. If they only came out flat every once in a while, that would be forgivable. This team just doesn't seem to care. About anything.

The truth is, if this continues, this group is probably going to cost their coach -- and perhaps some of the assistants -- their jobs.

For a good many of them, that doesn't bother them either.

Knowing your lack of heart, lack of effort, lack of professionalism cost hard-working guys their job should hurt a little bit. Should be a just a bit embarrassing. But nothing seems to sting this collective bunch.

And that's why it's time for some changes.

Jacques Martin needs to go on the offensive. Now. It's obvious there are guys on this team that don't care. Two of the perceived problems missed Saturday's game with injuries, so they can't shoulder that much blame.

The Panthers should be embarrassed about Saturday's performance, as they should their five game losing streak at home, their nine losses in 11 games at home. How do you lose nine of 11 at home? We're talking losses to average Boston, Toronto, Washington, Montreal teams, not to mention road dogs like the Lightning.

But are they embarrassed? Some, yes. Most, no.

Olli Jokinen talked this summer about players having to be accountable, but that has not been the case this year. No one on this team seems to take accountability for anything, although Bryan Allen and Stephen Weiss come close, those two being very critical of themselves, sometimes too much so. Tomas Vokoun, too.

Yet nothing ever changes. They win a game, they move on. They lose, they workout, show up the next day and move on.

From what I've surmised, Martin is not on the hot seat just yet, although there is a thought he may be asked to give up one of his two jobs. He shouldn't be surprised. This is a result-based business, and the Panthers have not delivered the goods.

Martin cannot wash his hands and say this is a mess not of his doing, either. The players he didn't like from the Keenan era are gone. This is his team. And it's not one to be proud of right now.

Injuries, obviously, have robbed the Panthers of some offensive play and a little grit. Ville Peltonen should be back soon, and that'll help but his absence is not why Florida's offensive numbers sit lower than a chopped 1976 El Camino. Cory Murphy could be back, but who knows what's up with that. 

I've never been one to advocate panic, but a good little shake up can't be all bad.

Does anyone disagree that something needs to be done? If so, it needs to be done now.

The only thing keeping the Panthers afloat right now is their crummy division, one the Panthers realistically should be not only leading, but running away with. Yes, I said it. The Panthers should have overtaken the very-average Hurricanes weeks ago and begun distancing themselves. 

But they didn't. Instead, you see more of the same. Win two, lose four. Win three, lose two. It's a maddening cycle that has to be driving the few people who care mad. This team seems afraid to be successful. They were a lousy two points out of first place not long ago, then deflated like an old Mylar balloon trapped in the rafters of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

I think Martin can afford to gamble and make a few moves to shake things up right now if only because the Southeast Division isn't getting any better.

The five teams within the division stink. The winner gets the third seed in the playoffs, and a fate very much like the Thrashers last year. Only the Panthers need the playoff money, so two home losses -- and the gates they'll bring -- is better than none.

Martin shouldn't mortgage the future of the franchise by making crazy deals a la Atlanta last season. The Thrashers gave up way too much for too little of a return. Shawn Matthias, Michael Frolik, Michal Repik, etc., are off limits. Ownership should make sure Martin knows this. Even if the Panthers make a run and make the playoffs, does anyone think they're going to do anything in them? Don't give away future stars for a few playoff dates.

No, I just think Martin needs to make a few deals to turn things around. Wake this bunch up. You like playing in Florida, wearing shorts and sandals to practice every day? Your wife enjoys the South Florida lifestyle? Oh, I'm sorry. You've just been traded to Edmonton. Bundle up, Chico.

Martin also needs to make nice with old friend Mike Keenan. See what players -- aside from Jokinen -- the Flames want. See if a deal could be made. Heck, put a player or two on waivers. See what happens. What's the worst thing that can happen? Someone actually pick the player up? That might be a good thing.

This ship is sinking and there aren't enough guys bailing water. The ones that are doing the heavy lifting are getting ticked watching others not do anything. It's time to make some changes before Washington and Tampa overtakes this bunch. I know the fans understand, but do the players here understand the opportunity these Panthers are squandering?

They are the only game in town right now, the only pro team worth watching.

Yet last night, if given the choice, I would have watched the Miami Heat.

It's one thing to lose. It's another to be so nonchalant about it.

January 12, 2008

Taking a Day Off

FerrisWell, I'm back off of my deathbed and feel much better than I did yesterday, but that ain't saying much. I could barely function yesterday, although today seems much, much brighter.

Have Sarah filling in for me today in Pantherland, and I am very appreciative.

It's nice to just be able to chill, veg, chillax, whatever. A nice, lazy Saturday for me here in Sunrise.

Am currently watching UM hoops, football next, then onto hockey. May come back here for a blog during the game, although I'm contemplating shutting 'er down for the night. We'll see.

Soup -- Seriously though: How good is chicken noodle soup?

-- Also, shameless plug for the new diet Gatorade. Called G2. It's really good, at least the orange flavor is. Bought an assortment at Publix today. They were like 50 cents a bottle with the coupon. Couldn't pass up that dealeo.

-- Some hockey news for you thanks to Sarah: Jozef Stumpel out the next seven to 10 days with the injured shoulder suffered Thursday night in Atlanta. Tanner Glass gets the callup.

-- It may be great to be able to sit here and watch the Canes basketball game, it sure is hard listening to these guys on the call. Have no idea who these commentators are, but they aren't good. Seem to be mailing it in. Every time someone hits a 3-pointer, the PxP guy shouts: BANG! The commentator then follows with "watch out!" Every single time.

Annoying and funny at the same time. Like counting the times Brent Mushberger says "folks" during a broadcast, or how Sunday guy on ESPN Radio (I think it's Freddie Coleman but not sure) has to say "football" four, five times a sentence.

Example: "That was a really good football game, mainly because those football players know how to play the game of football. They came to play the football game. And that's how you win football games in the National Football League.  If I'm their football coach, I congratulate them on playing such a great football game. But then you move on. You have to. You can't sit back and reflect on past football games if you want to win football games in the National Football League.''

Of course, I'm exaggerating. But really, I'm not.

January 11, 2008

Vokoun = All-Star

VokounATLANTA -- Still in Georgia, trying to fight off the worst cold I think I've ever had while also trying to get home.

Oh Fort Lauderdale, how I miss thee!

Anyway, just got word that Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun was named a reserve for the upcoming All-Star Game here in the 'ATL.' This is the second time Vokoun has been named to an All-Star team. Will update when I talk to him about it.

-- The Panthers don't want their fans to miss any of the football games this weekend, so they're saying the TVs around the arena -- and at times the scoreboard -- will be tuned to NFL playoffs. Sounds good to me.

-- Achoo! Bless you. Thanks. Honnnnnk...

January 10, 2008

Georgia on my Mind

MiamiATLANTA -- Greetings from one of many Peachtree Streets here in the heart of Dixie (I had sweet tea with my lunch today. Mmmm, tasty!)

Folks around here are getting geared up for the NHL All-Star Game here at the end of the month. The Westin has already begun putting up its large ASG mural, and the local t-shirt shoppes are stuffed with cool ASG gear for kids of all ages.

While I'll be here with the other members of the South Florida 3, one of our old buddies will not be joining us. No, Roberto Luongo is going to skip the ASG, but he's got a good reason. Wife Gina is pregnant, and has been back in Broward County most of this season.

So, Louie is going to spend a week at home with Gina. The team is letting him miss the game back (Jan. 29) against Dallas because it doesn't make sense for Louie to fly back to Vancouver only to come back to Florida. He'll join his teammates in Tampa for their game against the Bolts on Jan. 31. Then, back to Broward for the game against the Panthers on Feb. 1.

So, best of wishes to Gina and the rest of the family and I'm sure we'll be seeing Louie at Incredible Ice during his stay.

-- One guy racing to the 'ATL' today is newest Panther Magnus Johansson. If you just said "Magnus Joh-Who-sson?" you ain't alone. Magnus 'P.I.' Johansson has played in 18 games this season for the Chicago Blackhawks, also a team in the NHL.

Johansson is a 34-year-old rookie, spending his entire career in Europe. Johansson looks to be the team's new power play quarterback, and may play tonight against the Falcons.  He's expected to touch down at  Atlanta's Jackson Hartfield Herschel Walker Ted Turner Scarlett O'Hare Jimmy Carter Sonny Purdue Chicken Man International Airport sometime soon.

If Magnum's story sounds familiar, it should. The Panthers signed Cory Murphy to be their power play quarterback late last season. Murph 'The Surf,' made his NHL debut this season as well, only he's 29. He had been playing in Europe his whole career, too. And Murph has been out with a shoulder injury for quite some time now.

And no, I don't know what's going on with that.

Drew2 The Panthers gave up a seventh round pick in 2009 to get Magnum. So the price was right. Come on down!

-- Nothing else going on around the Panthers. Today was an optional skate and a number of the veterans did other things -- like talk to us. It was pretty light, pretty relaxed. We'll see if that translates into a good start and perhaps an effort worthy of putting this losing stretch to bed.

-- Also, reserves for the Eastern Conference for the ASG will be announced tomorrow. Olli says he might skip if picked, but I don't believe that. If he's picked, I think he goes. Olli doesn't get a lot of recognition nationally, and I think this would be a real honor for him. Tomas Vokoun and Jay Bouwmeester will also get a look for the team. I would be a little surprised if no Florida player was selected, but it would not shock me by any stretch of the imagination.

And for those emailing me wondering why the Panthers didn't have ballot boxes set up, the ASG voting was done completely electronically this year. But the organization did a terrible job selling their players for the ASG. Just terrible. I remember when the ballot first came out, a team employee was asking me for ideas on how to sell the vote. I don't recall seeing anything come of that. You can't blame your fans for a lack of voting when you don't really tell them about it.

January 08, 2008

Penguins in the Sun

Penguin_2 Saw the Penguins today in Sunrise, waddling like they do out there on the ice.

Like the way Pittsburgh attacks its practice; not a lot of fooling around, almost no noise. Very businesslike.

And Sidney Crosby looked downright human out there when it don't count. Sid the Kid was throwing pucks everywhere but in the net. Sure he's saving the good stuff for when it counts.

Unlike me. I love hitting the cover off the ball on the range, then shanking everything from my driver to my 9 iron once I tee it up for real.

Caddyshack Going to be interesting if Ty "Bet you have a lot of nice ties, Ty" Conklin comes back to earth or continues his impersonation of an All-Star caliber goalie. Seriously, Ty is 7-0 since coming back from the minors and has led the Penguins to six straight wins.

And how does Ty Conklin measure himself to other goalies? By height.

-- Speaking of caddies, the Carolina 49ers grabbed Sergei Samsonov off waivers from Chicago. The Caroliners have to be hoping the Samsonov deal works out as well as Atlanta snaring Mark Recchi off the wire just a few weeks ago. Unwanted by these Penguins, Recchi has been tearing it up for the Thrash.

Rokford Samsonov was similarly unwanted by the Blackhawks, or anyone else until the FakeCanes picked him up today. Sammy had four assists in 23 games with the Hawks, then went through waivers and ended up playing for the Rockford Peaches of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

OK, that last Rockford mention is obviously a goof. Samsonov isn't playing for the team from A League of Their Own.

Rockford No, Samsonov, upon clearing waivers, was sent to the Rockford Files of the American Hockey League.

Here's more on Sammy from our friends in Raleigh, N.C., at the News and Observer. I wonder if they have Cheerwine vending machines at the N&O. If they don't, they should. G Loves Cheerwine...

-- Some Panthers news out of practice today. D Branislav Mezei didn't practice and will be replaced by Jim Rockford and his gold Firebird. Or Martin Lojek. Figure out which one yourself.

-- New lines for tonight! Yep, JM switching things around. You can read about it in my daily Panther report brought to you by the Letter D and The Miami Herald right here reading is good for you

-- A pretty large media contingent met the Panthers today, which means the South Florida public is really hungry for hockey news, or the Dolphins season has come to a close. Thinking it's a little of both, but a lot of the latter.

Anyway, we got Tomas Vokoun going and he gave us some more gold. While he didn't back off his statement that players need to be accountable, and if they aren't, the Panthers will find players who are. Vokoun added changes should be made to the attitudes of players here and not necessarily to the roster. Will have more once I go through the tape.

-- Also, don't know if you've heard, but the Penguins have a pretty good player in their stead. Youngster named Crosby. I know he hasn't done anything, but I think he's going to be a star in this league someday. Anywho, wrote about this unknown from Moosejaw, Nova Scotia today in your Miami Herald. If you'd like to peruse it, you can do so here Sid is still just a Kid. Who happens to be an OK hockey player

Chelios -- Speaking of youngsters, congrats to Detroit's Chris Chelios, who becomes the second oldest player in NHL hisory tonight. Cheli is 45 years old, but it's the 348 days that puts him past Moe Roberts. According to a press release the NHL sent me, Big Bad Moe was "a former NHL goaltender serving on the Chicago Blackhawks' training staff who came out of retirement to play one period in relief of Blackhawks starter Harry Lumley in a game against the Red Wings on Nov. 25, 1951.''

The NHL also tells us that Chelios is three years and four days older than the NHL's next-oldest player, teammate Dominik Hasek, who turns 43 on Jan. 29. AND, Cheli is one year and 94 days older than his 44-year-old coach, Mike Babcock.

Chelios has a ways to go to become the oldest player in NHL history. That honor goes to Mr. Hockey, Wayne Gretzky. Just kidding. Gordie Howe, the great Red Wing, was 52 when he last suited up for the Hartford Whalers back in 1980.

-- Speaking of the Wings, three Detroiters voted onto starting lineup for the upcoming All-Star Game. The trio: Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Also, congrats to old pal Roberto Luongo for also being voted onto that team.

Here are the starting All-Star lineups. See you in the 'ATL':

EAST: Martin Brodeur, New Jersey; Andrei Markov, Montreal; Zdeno Chara, Boston; Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh; Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay; Daniel Alfredsson, Ottawa.

WEST: Roberto Luongo, Vancouver; Lidstrom, Detroit; Dion Phaneuf, Calgary; Zetterberg, Detroit; Pavel Datsyuk, Detroit; Jarome Iginla, Calgary.

-- The Panthers didn't fare very well in the voting, and that's not surprising. The Panthers didn't really push any of their three players on the ballots like other teams do, and it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway.

Recount_2 Vokoun finished dead last in goalie voting, getting 28,000 votes (4,000 less than Washington's Olaf Kolzig), with captain Olli Jokinen finishing fourth from last (under two write-in candidates) in forward voting with 26K votes. Jay Bouwmeester fared the best of the three, getting 140,058 votes to finish seventh among d-men.

Sorry folks, no recount needed.

-- And those emailing me telling me I screwed up (which I do a lot) regarding Sidney Crosby not winning the Calder Trophy as a rookie in 2005-06. It really did go to Alexander Ovechkin (who is pretty good too I must add).

January 05, 2008

Saturday in Pittsburgh, Part II

HeinzPITTSBURGH -- Greetings from Heinz Field, where I just caused a scene by asking for Hunts ketchup for my hot dog.

Just kidding about that, since everyone knows you don't put ketchup on a hot dog. If you did here, though, you ain't using Hunts.

Was in the Panthers locker room about 90 minutes ago, and the attitude was like one might expect. Some players didn't say anything, with Jozef Stumpel and Richard Zednik noticeably silent as they stared into space. Just as well.

Tomas Vokoun ripped the effort as we expected he would, saying losing "feels like crap" and adding he doesn't know what to say about the early sleepwalk anymore. JM said a bunch of guys didn't come to play, and he wasn't happy. At all.

And that's enough about hockey for now.

Why? It's football time!

Got a few minutes here before we get going, with 10:50 left in the Seattle/Skins game. Looking good for the Skins right now, and I'm happy for them. I've been rooting for them ever since Sean was killed. They've handled this tragedy with class and integrity. You can tell they're hurting, so it's good to see them enjoy some wins. Long way to go before they beat the Hawks though.

-- Back to hockey: Thanks to Sidney Crosby for sticking around after the game until the South Florida 3 could finish our work in the Florida locker room. Sid was gracious with his time and was the last player left. The kid's a class act, and I know the three of us appreciate it.

-- Ran into a guy wearing a Dolphins jacket with a Jags cap down on the concourse. It takes all kinds. Also saw someone wearing a Panthers jersey, obviously deciding to pull the double dip as well. At least I have fresh hot chocolate up here.

-- Will be back around kickoff...

-- Sorry about the jinx, Redskins. Now I think I'd like to see the Seahawks...

GAME ON...

-- Sorry about the delay there, had to write my gamer on the hockey game. But that's done (got some great stuff from Vokoun to share) and now it's football time. And I mean that sincerely.

-- PITT just drove down the field in impressive fashion. It looked like they were going 3-and-out, but Rothlisberger connects with Hines Ward for a big gain on third down. Stillers march down field, our old friend Najeh Davenport banging in from the 1. So, with 10:03 left in the first, its the homestanding Steelers leading the Jacksonville, Ga., Jaguars 7-0.

-- Funny how a 96 yard kickoff return can get a team back into a game...One play after the big KOR, Fred Taylor in from the 1...so we wait for the PAT, but consider this a tie game...Plenty of time left eh...

-- Some quick hits from Tomas Vokoun:

“We took 25 shots from the wing today, basically no chance of scoring, I don't care who we play. We did get some chances a little bit in the second and third period.’’

“This is certainly not the way you're going to win the game, not against a team like that. We gave up so many odd-man rushes, 2-on-1s, it's impossible to win hockey games that way. Time after time, we talk about it, everybody says the right things but nothing's going on.

“We have 22 great guys in this room, but great or not you still have to do your job and if you don't do it they have to find somebody else who will do it.’’

“When you play like crap, you feel like crap. You can say all you want, but this is not winning hockey.’’

“Every night there are some guys not pulling their weight.’’

“We give freebies. And it's so hard to score as it is for us. If you give freebies, then how do you expect to win?''

BACK TO FOOSBALL....

-- Steelers move to midfield, gots to punt. Going to see the Jax offense for more than one play here I do surmise...

-- Bunch of fans, many of whom are wearing Steelers jerseys, hanging in the press box tonight. Good thing they announced this was a working press box, no cheering allowed....

-- I just cheered. They refilled the hot chocolate machine. I am now being shunned by the Steeler fans who didn't think that was very professional.

-- I don't care.

-- Some stats for you: Najeh Davenport, he of Central HS and UM, has 20 yards on six carries. And a TD.

-- Since I'm at Heinz Field, I got to thinking about mustard. Don't have any problem with Heinz's yellow stuff, but I am partial to the cheap stuff you get in the barrel bottle. Plotchmans or something. Like 75 cents at Publix, lasts forever. Also love the Cleveland brown mustard. Stadium or Ballpark Mustard, you can't go wrong.

END OF THE FIRST HERE IN PITTSNOGLE: STEELERS/JAGS TIED AT 7

-- Hines Ward with the big catch...nice job...and, of course, Madden goes nuts on the Immaculate Reception...

-- Bad pass Mr. Miami of Ohio...

-- Looks like the Jaguars are going to run with this one all the way back to Georgia....but you never know. Stranger things have happened, although these Steelers don't look all that good right now.

HALFTIME: JAGS 21, STEELERS 7

-- How bout that? Steelers get an early interception, move the ball a bit and get a quickie field goal. It's now 21-10...

-- Whoa...now we've got some life here at Heinz...Steelers have cut deficit to 28-17, and force Jags into three-and-out...some real energy in this joint right now...it's hopping...

-- Well, that's that. The Jags get a desperation fourth down scramble that leads to a field goal that ends a great Pittsburgh comeback.

Been fun blogercizing today, hope I don't have to pull a workday like this for a while. Nah, just kidding. It was a good time.

Be good everyone, see you sometime soon.

Maybe even tomorrow....

 

Saturday in Pittsburgh, Part I

IglooPITTSBURGH -- Well Hannah Montana may have left town, but there's still a lot of energy here in Pittsburgh despite the chilly temperatures and dark, rainy skies.

The good news is it's supposed to warm up to 40 degrees today. The better news is that I have a press box seat at Heinz Field for tonight's playoff tilt between the Steelers and Jaguars.

Lot of people have been asking me about the Jags, assuming since I am a Florida-based sports writer, I should know a little bit about Jacksonville's pro football team. Jacksonville's in Florida? Says who?

-- You know you're in Pittsburgh when the media meal includes stuffed peppers and meatloaf. Yep, hitting the concession stand today.

-- Word on the street is we're going to speak to Gary Roberts today. Will send him your best...

Penguin -- Doobee, doobee do....Beware the Penguins...

-- Don't tell Michael Yormark, but the Igloo has ads plastered to the roof. Don't need to give him any more ideas. Just kidding Mike...

-- Game 42 today against the Penguins. It's the second half of the year. Here's some stuff I wrote that made the print edition of The Miami Herald, but didn't make it online. Here's the main story here. Check it out, if you would be so kind....seriously, what's the deal with hannah montana?

Here's my notebook from today...more fun stuff for ya

And here's my first half analysis on what went right, what went wrong and what's needed in the second half. Thanks for visiting...

WHAT WENT RIGHT

(*) Trading for goalie Tomas Vokoun during the summer has paid off handsomely. The franchise mistakenly traded Roberto Luongo, but bring a good one back a year later. Vokoun has been Florida’s MVP so far.

(*) Captain Olli Jokinen is in on that MVP talk, however, the team’s top line center it’s most counted on offensive weapon. Usually the Panthers go as Jokinen goes. Jokinen has registered at least a point in 14 of Florida’s past 16 games.

(*) The Florida power play was lights out early on, ranked at the top of the league for a time. But injuries and poor puck movement have pulled those numbers back to reality.

(*) The Panthers won just 12 road games in each of the past two seasons. Road wins this season: 10.

WHAT WENT WRONG

(*) Discovering defenseman Cory Murphy in Europe and bringing him to Florida to run the power play should have been something praised. But Murphy’s been out of the lineup for close to two months with a “shoulder bruise.’’ His presence, and skill at distributing the puck, has been missed.

(*) Just when the Panthers learn how to win on the road with regularity, they forget how to win at home. Maybe they need to stay in a local hotel before games at BankAtlantic Center. Oh yeah, that’s been tried before.

(*) Word of disenchantment among players reached a head in November, but winning and increased communication from coach/GM Jacques Martin seems to have smoothed things over. For now. There are a growing number of players who disappear in games, and that has drawn the ire of Martin. He is frustrated many a night.

(*) Injuries have hurt the Panthers, with Mike Van Ryn (wrist), Noah Welch (shoulder), Murphy and Garth Murray (shoulder) missing a big chunk of the season.

WHAT THEY NEED

(*) More consistent scoring from the defensemen, and an increased scoring load from Jay Bouwmeester.

(*) A killer instinct is something that has been missing for a long time. The Panthers rarely put teams away when they get the opportunity, and teams do not fear Florida late in games – regardless of the situation.

(*) Florida needs to get more scoring from different places. Richard Zednik, Jozef Stumpel, Rostislav Olesz and Nathan Horton, in particular. Horton, it should be noted, has been on a tear lately.

(*) A more dedicated effort early in games. It seems like the Panthers leave their game in the locker room at the beginning of games, only hopping to life when down a couple.

If you have any thoughts on would like to give me your ideas on what went wrong or right and what's needed, leave comments below.

-- Nice start by the Cats today, no?

January 04, 2008

A Good Old-Fashioned Double Dip

Costanza PITTSBURGH -- Greetings from the City of Brotherly Love!

Been in town a few hours, and believe it or not, seems to be more hype surrounding the Pens then there is the beloved Eagles. I mean Steelers. Sure, Heinz Field is going to be filled to the brim with towel waving lunatics tomorrow, but there doesn't seem to be much of a vibe for the game.

I'm thinking it's because the Steelers haven't played real well of late, and, got beatdown by these same Jags here just a few weeks ago. Reminds me of the times the Dolphins used to sneak into the playoffs (remember those days?) They would swoon in December, then limp into a wild card game at Joe Robbie.

And guess what? A lot of those games (save for the stinker against the Ravens) turned out to be entertaining games. Just like tomorrow's tilt. Don't know who I like in this one yet, but probably leaning for the home team. Although I like this Jacksonville team, love the way they play.

Remember to check in tomorrow night as I give my take on the festivities. Will blog in the afternoon from the Penguins/Panthers game at the Igloo, then take a break to talk to JM and the players and get myself over to Heinz Field for Steelers/Jags. Then back to bloggin!

Going to be a busy day for your favorite Miami Herald hockey writer not named David J., but I think it'll be fun. I love covering playoff football, especially on the grand stage like this. Seriously, a playoff game in Pittsburgh on a cold Saturday night in front of a national TV audience? That's gold Jerry, gold.

-- The big news around town right now is the Hannah Montana concert. The Marriott City Center across the street from the Igloo has been overrun by little kids. Can't even get near the restaraunt/bar area because they've turned it into a kiddie buffet of hot dogs, mac and cheese and the like. And for $10, it was a pretty good deal! I love me some mac and cheese...

-- The Pens have won five straight and are playing very well right now, just a point away from taking the lead in their division. Think they'll come out fired up tomorrow? Panthers better be ready.

Remember, game has been moved up to 3 p.m. tip. FSN Florida and 790 The Ticket are broadcasting.

-- FSNF is putting a live microphone on Craig Anderson. That, I want to hear. Andy has a great sense of humor and I'm glad he got his win last night. Really deserved it. Sure his comments tomorrow are going to be pretty funny.

-- Just saw a report on TSN.ca saying the NHL received, measured and approved Rick DiPietro's pads. Remember he wore those pads in the first period of last night's game before the league saw them on TV, called the arena and told him to take them off. Apparently all is well. Carry on.

-- The Carolina Blue Devils waived John Grahame and today assigned him to their AHL affiliate in Albany. Grahame has really been struggling, and the Canes haven't been able to find any takers for him. Grahame has been decent against the Panthers lately but really brought the desired result.

Grahame was 1-1 against Florida this season and 5-1 last year. I'm sure if he gets his game back in the AHL he'll be called back, but then another team can snag him off re-entry waivers. If he's playing well enough that Carolina would bring him back, that's not far fetched.

Here's some stuff from Luke in the Raleigh News-Observer:

Michael Leighton, 26, is called up and meeting the team in Atlanta; Leighton's 2.14 GAA is fourth in the AHL, his .928 save percentage is second and he leads the AHL with five shutouts with a 13-14-2 record for the River Rats.

"I'm definitely surprised," Leighton said Thursday night. "I didn't expect it, but I'm excited to get the chance to play. That's what I wanted -- to do well in the [AHL] and get my shot in the NHL. Now I have to focus on doing well there."

Read Luke's stuff here: Carolina struggling like the real Hurricanes...

In the Pitts

PittQUEENS, N.Y. -- Yeah, go ahead and say it. I'm the King of Queens, at least for another hour or so.

Killing some time here at LaGuardia, where the security lines were short and the Dunkin Donuts coffee was good and appreciated.

On our way to Pittsburgh, which is not, as some of you have surmised, in Ohio. It is close though. Pittsburgh is known for a few things, most noteable Pops Stargell, the Steelers, a very overrated sandwich featuring french fries and slaw, and Mr. Rogers. It's also home of the famed Three Rivers: The Monongahela, the Rio Grande and, of course, the Mississippi.

-- Got some news for ya this fine Friday afternoon. Looks like Anthony Stewart is going to get a chance with the Panthers for at least a little while. The team sent Tanner Glass back to Rochester. The Roch folks will be very happy; Tanner was a popular guy there.

-- Talk on the island is that Ricky D gets an automatic two game suspension for wearing those big white pads last night. I don't think it's as cut and dry. Word is a New York equipment manager got clearance from someone in the NHL. That may save RDP from getting benched. He may still have to pay a fine though. We'll see.

Leonardpitts -- This, obviously, is my favorite Pitts:


January 03, 2008

Island Freeze

ColisieumUNIONDALE, N.Y. -- It's a glorious day out here on Long Island, seemingly perfect for a day at the beach or even out on the golf course.

There isn't a cloud in the sky.

Too bad it's just 15 degrees out there.

But it's not too bad. I have a nice patio with a nice view of Denis Potvin's former home. The big news in South Florida, obviously, is the firing of Cam Cameron. Saw a story where it said the Dolphins hadn't fired a coach in 30-plus years (George Wilson, the Phins first coach, was let go so Joe Robbie could hire some guy named Shula).

Wannstedt So what happened with Dave Wannstedt? Oh that's right. He resigned. Right.

-- Hard to believe, but tonight is Florida's 41st game. The midway point. The 50 yard line. We're making the turn, heading to the 10th tee..

It seems like the Panthers are ahead of the curve, but really, are they? They're five points out of first in the SE, sitting in third place. They have 39 points right now. Through 41 games last year, guess how many Florida had? 37 points. So, they are better off, but not by much.

Wondering your thoughts on the first half of the season and the expectations for the second half. Is this a playoff team right now? I don't really know. They need to pick up the pace, win more consistently. Can they? I'm not so sure. This team gets to the verge of something big, then can't finish, get over the hump. This team should be on Carolina's heels right now, if not overtaken them by now.

Maybe it turns around tonight against the Islanders, a hodgepodge of a team that finds a way to win. Call them scrappy, call them passionate, but the Islanders are winning. Would like to see some more moxie like that out of the Panthers. Someday, maybe.

-- Got some New York stuff for ya...Isaiah Thomas says the Knicks are going to be a championship caliber team, and he's going to build them. Also took credit for everything the Pistons have ever done -- including the move from Fort Wayne to Detroit.

Also, according to old friend Anthony McCarron of the Daily News, the Yankees have no interest in bringing Roger Clemens back next year. That one shocked me. I thought for sure Rocket was coming back to New York.

And, the Bucs are trying to keep Giants fans from buying tickets by making them available only to folks with Florida addresses. Think anyone from the Tampa Bay organization has ever been to South Florida?

Tip of the Day: Avoid Alligator Alley/75 North early Sunday morning. Going to be a whole lot of "Floridians" heading to Tampa for the football game. Hey, it's not the Giants fault Tampa Bay can't sell out a playoff game. Whatever happened to that billboard on Dale Mabry claiming there were 70,000 or so people on a season ticket waiting list?

-- And, finally, some more hockey news (not from The Hockey News): Anthony Stewart is back. Might be on the verge of a Florida record for most call-ups in a season. This is stint No. 6 for Tony (who should change his number to 20 IMHO).

This means someone is hurt -- or about to find the bench. Meeting with JM in a little bit to find out.

-- UPDATE: Zednik apparently got hurt last night, but is fine and in the lineup. So, too, is Stewart. Tanner Glass is on the bench.

-- Rick DiPietro was told to take his new prototype pads off during the first intermission. And the Panthers have score twice in the second..

Grimley -- Pat Sajak is here, but no sign of Vanna. I don't want to buy a vowel, but I do need a new W key for my laptop. I wonder if Pat Sajak is a cool guy?

-- Sajak got a nice round of applause when he went onto the big screen, but nothing like the warm welcome given to Florida TV voice -- and four-time Cup captain of the Islanders -- Denis Potvin in the first period.

Brinkley_2 -- Where, I wonder, is Islanders super fan Christie Brinkley? I'm sure an appearance by her would bring many a cheer.

At least from the press box.

January 02, 2008

Smell what the Rock's cooking? It's just Newark

Rock2 NEWARK, N.J. -- Greetings and salutations from the heart of northern New Jersey. Yep, we're live from Newark!

Tell you what, I couldn't be more excited.

Coming to you from -- literally -- the top of the brand spankin' new Prudential Center (AKA The Rock) in downtown Newark.

How is it? Nothing special. It's a nice arena, much nicer than the old joint at the Meadowlands. Seems they brought over their bright, cheery and friendly employees who made attending an event at the old arena so great. So there's that.

Newark And the media now get to pay for all those years of having premium seating at the old joint. We are so high up, they make us wear hats with blinking red lights on them so flights coming into Newark Liberty Freedom Fries International Airport don't decapitate us. Seriously!

I just called Steve Y Rudolph because he took the light off and stuck it on his nose.

Good thing the Devils supplied the press area with some pretty sweet HD flatscreens. That may be the only way I see the game. See that big glob of light in the far right corner of the pic? That's the scoreboard. The smaller blue blobs are the TVs -- which are attached to the rafters.  The little sliver of white is the ice.

The pic was taken from my seat. I think there's a Zamboni on the ice right now, but that hasn't been confirmed. Will let you know.

This would be a good place to try bungee jumping or even sky diving. I'm going to see if they offer any of those services.

-- Nothing new coming out of practice this afternoon. JM says Cory Murphy is now skating, but only doing light stick work and no shooting of the puck. Still doesn't know when he'll be back in the lineup.

-- Was Hawaii that bad or Georgia that good?

-- Anyone excited about this West Virginia/Oklahoma game?

-- Bobby Petrino had to like what he saw out of Arkansas yesterday in the Cotton Bowl. Looked like they quit. A common theme for old Bobby.

Howard -- Have been informed that FIU does indeed have a mascot. Couldn't find a picture online, but did find this (pssst: look to the left!)

Figured it was close enough.

-- According to the NHL, yesterday's Ice Bowl game got the league's best ratings for a regular season game since a glowing puck game on Fox in 1996.

Predictably, the ratings were highest in Buffalo (over 50 percent of TVs tuned into the game) and Pitt (only 30 percent. The 'Best of Steelers, 1996 Parts I-V' video must have been showing on another channel).

Surprisingly, the Miami/Fort Lauderdale/Margate and Palm Beach/Port St. Lucie/Fort Drum markets didn't rate in the top 10. Richmond, Va., somehow did, as did Las Vegas (nooooo, betting on hockey is non-existent!), Sacramento and Hartford, home of the Whalers.

I'm sure our markets were ranked 11th and 12th.

-- It appears there is some activity on that big white slate below..looks like a bunch of ants running around in circles. Being told the two teams are warming up. That's good. Those of you at home watching the game on TV can feel free to keep me updated on what's going on...

-- This is a first: For the national anthem, we will be looking DOWN on the American flag. And, no, that was not some whack-job political statement by me. Our seats are above the Canadian flag too...

-- Goldie's all excited about his Giants' playoff game. Mitch is excited about his team's win in a bowl game. I have no idea what they are feeling...

-- Hope everyone is bundled up and warm back in chilly South Florida. I hear it's really, really cold. But is it 15 degrees? That's what it's going to be tonight as I trudge through downtown Newark to find the rental car. Don't even get me started on the wind chill readings....

-- Hear there could be snow in Vero Beach. Yeah, right. Next thing you're going to tell me is the Dodgers are leaving Dodgertown only to be replaced by the Orioles.

-- Panthers trail 2-0 after the first period, so I'm told. My ears just popped from the elevator ride up here.

January 01, 2008

Never in Doubt

ZippyNEWARK -- Sitting here in my hotel with a view of Jersey that can only be explained as "a typical view of Jersey,'' got word that America's Favorite Kangaroo not named Captain won a major award.

As far as I know, it's not a lamp shaped as a leg.

Yes, Zippy, the bouncy mascot of your University of Akron, won the Capital One Mascot of the Year award. And in case you missed it, Capital One sponsored the Capital One bowl.

If you watched the game, there is no way you missed this, not with the credit card logo plastered everywhere -- including four different places on the game field. Orlando sellouts.

Goldie Anyway,  Zippy trounced Florida's own Goldie, whom the credit card folks seem to think is 'Golden,' a gopher and from Minnesota. Idiots.

Other mascots who didn't keep up with Zippy: Syracuse's Otto (again, another loss for Goldie), VT's HokieBird and one of my faves, Cocky. He's from the other USC (which is also known as the other Carolina).

What, no Goldie the FIU Panther? Actually, I don't even know if FIU has a mascot. Assuming they do, but you never know.

-- Nothing new to report out of practice today, other than JM saying Mezei was benched basically because he's a better player than he's been showing of late. Talked to Mez after Sunday's game, he was ticked but admitted as much. We'll see what comes of this.

-- Saturday's game in Pittsburgh is being moved up to 3 p.m. because of some football game. Seems the local pro team -- we'll call them the 'Steelers' -- needs to play without any competition later that night. Sweet deal for them. Actually makes for a pretty cool Steel City doubleheader, especially for this guy. LIVE BLOG from Heinz.

-- And finally, JM says expect to see Craig Anderson play Thursday against the Islanders, unless he splits his head open wrestling with Tomas Vokoun in the lobby of the team hotel.

Belfour2 Tip to Tomas: Don't tell the local media you were watching baseball at 3 a.m. Not only are most games over by that point (unless your watching in, I don't know, Sweden) but baseball season ended a few months ago. Maybe there will be a late hockey game on.

-- Anyone check out the outdoor game in Buffalo? Definitely entertaining. And you just knew Sid the Kid was going to play a key role, didn't you?