The Panthers held a quick practice on Friday morning in Coral Springs before getting to the important stuff: Packing for Canada.
After yet another long offseason, the Panthers are on the verge of kicking off their 17th season Sunday night in Edmonton.
The team flew to western Canada on Friday afternoon and will practice at Rexall Place on Saturday in preparation for the season opener.
“We're ready to get on the road and get this thing going,'' said center Stephen Weiss.
The Panthers finished at the bottom of the Southeast Division for the first time in franchise history last season, another poor start taking a nice chunk of the blame. Florida has struggled out of the gate the past few years, but this time around, the Panthers didn't travel all over North America – and last year, Europe – playing meaningless preseason game. Before leaving for Edmonton, the Panthers have spent the better part of two weeks in South Florida.
Last year, the Panthers played nine preseason games after starting training camp in Nova Scotia and ending in Finland. This year, the furthest the Panthers traveled to was Montreal.
Florida lost eight of its first 10 games last year. In 2008-09, the team started 8-11-3. Since the 2005-06 season, the Panthers have gone 46-64-17 in the first two months.
“We were focused on getting off to good starts before and it hasn't worked out,'' said goalie Tomas Vokoun. “We have to get a better start because we're not the kind of team than can chase teams down by getting eight game winning streaks going. Everyone realizes that. We have to be consistent throughout the year.
“Last year was extremely tough and we shouldn't use it as an excuse, but this was a good training camp. But that won't do anything for us once the puck drops on Sunday. There are no excuses here. We're paid to do our job and if we don't, they'll find someone who will.''
Marty Reasoner appears to be centering the fourth line after missing a few days with a bruised knee. Reasoner was put on the injured list retroactive to last Saturday's game in Tampa Bay where he got injured. He's practiced the past two days and should be activated before Sunday's game.
“I feel good,'' Reasoner said. “It was good to take a couple of days off after the exhibition games to get some treatment. I wanted to be cautious with it, especially this early in the season.''
With Reasoner activated, the Panthers will have 22 players on the active roster – and can only dress 20 for games. Coach Pete DeBoer says one problem last season was that there wasn't enough internal competition, players pushing others for playing time. Now, if one isn't playing well, DeBoer has options.
“I can count on one hand the opportunities I had last year to healthy scratch someone,'' DeBoer said. “It creates desperation, urgency in people's play. We need that, it's a necessity over 82 games. It's something we had to fix from last year.''
Backup goalie Scott Clemmensen didn't play in Florida's final two preseason games, but says he's ready to go. The Panthers open in Edmonton on Sunday then play in Vancouver on Monday so Clemmensen could see action early on.
“We had such a long break between the games, I don't think it mattered whether I played in one of those games or not,'' he said. “I feel good about my game right now. If I wasn't feeling good, I would have spoke up and asked to play. We'll see how the schedule goes. I know I have to be ready to play at all times.''
Erik Gudbranson, the third overall pick of the 2010 draft, made the Panthers out of training camp and was going to get at least a nine game tryout had he and the team come to terms on a contract. But the Tuesday afternoon deadline came and went without a deal and Gudbranson was returned to his junior team in Canada.
The Panthers retain Gudbranson's rights for the next two years and it's expected that he'll be part of the team next season. Gudbranson, a defenseman, was the only player to participate in all six exhibition games.
“It's frustrating that it came down to a business deal,'' Gudbranson told The Ottawa Citizen. “I was pretty sure [a contract] was going to happen. I had a meeting with Pete DeBoer and the coaches. They were happy I was getting better and better every day. I was there. That's what I was told.''
-- Byron Bitz (groin) will not make the trip to Canada.
-- Want to watch Sunday's game with the Ice Dancers?
From the Panthers:
Marketing partner Duffy’s Sports Grill has teamed up with the Florida Panthers to host a series of watch parties throughout the 2010-11 NHL season.
The watch parties kick-off this Sunday night, October 10, when the Panthers open their season on the road against the Edmonton Oilers. Fans can catch all the action on huge 12ft screens and over 50 plasma TVs at two Duffy’s Sports Grill locations: Plantation (811 S. University Drive) and Palm Beach Gardens (11588 US Highway #1 at PGA Blvd.).
The Florida Panthers Party Patrol, Panthers Party Mobiles and Ice Dancers will be at each location from one hour before game time through the conclusion of the first period, providing fans with giveaways and special ticket offers only available at the Duffy’s watch parties.
Additionally, Duffy’s will provide fans with 2 for 1 Happy Hour all night long, beer specials and the “Hat Trick” feature which includes BBQ baby back ribs, grilled shrimp skewer and boneless wings with one side dish for $9.99.
Future watch party dates include:
o Saturday, Oct. 30 – Fort Lauderdale
o Saturday, Nov. 6 - Plantation
o Wednesday, Nov. 18 – Plantation
o Saturday, Dec. 4 – Boca Raton
o Thursday, Dec. 9 – Deerfield Beach
o Saturday, Jan. 23 – Coconut Creek
o Wednesday, Jan. 26 – PGA
o Wednesday, Feb. 2 – Fort Lauderdale
o Saturday, Feb. 19 – Boca Raton
o Wednesday, March 23 – Delray Beach
o Sunday, March 27 – PGA
o Wednesday, April 6 – Coconut Creek
o Friday, April 8 - Plantation