For one reason or another, Stephen Weiss just wasn't himself earlier this season.
Weiss contends he never lost confidence in his game, although it didn't look that way. Not only wasn't Weiss scoring like he had in the past, but he wasn't making plays, either. His passes were weak; he was soft along the boards.
Was Weiss putting too much pressure on himself?
“Perhaps subconsciously,'' he said. “After the way the year went last year and having a new GM and all that stuff, you want to do well and take the team on your shoulder, do it yourself. Sometimes that's not the way to go about it at all. I put more pressure on myself than anyone. I wanted to get off to a good start. I had a great summer. It didn't happen. What do you do? You kick yourself in the butt and you turn it around.''
That's exactly what has seemed to happen.
The old Stephen Weiss, the one the Panthers so desperately need to be on for them to find success, has returned. Coach Pete DeBoer kept Weiss centering the Panthers top line even though at times it didn't look like Weiss deserved to be. But Weiss has rewarded his coach's faith in him, responding with five goals and six assists in the past nine games. Florida has gone 5-3-1 during that span.
“I don't know if you can point to one thing to his start, but we survived it,'' said DeBoer, who coached Weiss a decade ago with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League.
“He's come out of it. It's no secret we have the record we have when he plays like this. He has the pressure here to produce for us to be competitive. It's that simple. That's not an easy thing to hang on someone, but that's the fact around here right now. He's in a good spot physically and mentally right now. He needs to keep that going.''
Weiss' game seems to have turned around a few weeks ago when he scored two goals in Florida's 4-3 win over Colorado. Weiss' second goal was the game-winner, and he's been hot ever since. Weiss has scored at least a point in seven of the past nine games.
“Like I said when things weren't going well, I just couldn't change what I was doing and know that things would come,'' Weiss said. “I just have to keep it going. When things are going wrong, it's tough to stay positive and believe things will come around. You have to convince yourself that what you're doing is the right way. Things are going well right now. I'm trying to ride it out as long as I can.''
Weiss is tied for the team lead with 10 goals – the surprising Mike Santorelli has the same amount – and his overall game looks like it did in the past. When Weiss is playing at his best, he's one of Florida's most valuable players – one they can't afford to play without.
“I always have confidence in myself no matter how things are going,'' Weiss said. “When things aren't going your way, it looks like you have no confidence. You have to relax, not think about it. When things are going your way, you're at the right place at the right time. Your feet are light, your head empty. It's just happening. That's the key. When things aren't going right, you start wondering what's wrong. Everyone does.''
-- According to DeBoer, Michael Frolik didn't practice on Thursday because he needed stitches. David Booth (hip) did return to practice after missing the past two days. Both are expected to play Friday.
-- The Panthers sent out an alert on Thursday that less than 500 tickets remained for Friday's New Year's Eve game with Montreal. The Panthers took down the upper deck tarps at BankAtlantic Center for the first time this season for Monday's game against Boston, getting the first sellout of the year in the process.
Florida is expected to get that second sellout Friday, and even though a good number of the crowd will be rooting on the visitors from Quebec, the Panthers welcome the festive atmosphere a large house brings.
“There was great energy against Boston and that's contagious,'' DeBoer said. “In a perfect world, we would like them all to be wearing Panthers jerseys. But, when the building is full, no matter who they are cheering for, it's great. As long as the building is full, it doesn't matter to me. It's up to us to not give them anything to cheer for.''
-- Byron Bitz has been back on the ice the past few days, working out after his teammates have finished practice. Bitz, who has played in just seven games since being acquired by the Panthers last March, has been out since training camp. Bitz had sports hernia surgery a few weeks into the season.
“This has definitely been a lot longer than anyone thought,'' Bitz said. “I went to the doctor and he worked on it a little bit. Hopefully within a week we'll see how it's helped. Everything wasn't fitting right. Hopefully this works. I was skating, then I had a setback. It was the same process for a couple of weeks. I was actually going backward.''
FRIDAY: CANADIENS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 5 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSNF; WFTL-640
The series: Panthers lead 30-28-6
The game: This is the second meeting of the season between the two, with Florida winning the first game 3-1 in Montreal on Oct. 30 Montreal hasn't had a real strong month, losing seven of nine going into Thursday's game at Tampa Bay. The Canadiens are 4-3 in the second game of a back-to-back set – although one of those three losses came at the hands of the Panthers.
Florida Panthers Stephen Weiss: Turning the Thing Around ... David Booth Returns ... Byron Bitz Working Out
For one reason or another, Stephen Weiss just wasn't himself earlier this season.
Eric Laakso spent seven seasons playing for the Miami Dolphins and was part of two Super Bowl teams during the 1980s.
Yet when he was remembered by family, friends and teammates on Wednesday, it was as a person and not a football player.
“He was a gentle giant,'' his ex-wife Debbie said before breaking down.
Laakso, the starting right tackle for the Dolphins in Super Bowl 17 in Pasadena, was found dead of natural causes by Broward Sheriff's Deputies called to his home in Pompano Beach on Christmas Night. He celebrated his 54th birthday last month.
A service was held at Menorah Gardens in western Broward County on Wednesday afternoon with a capacity crowd spilling into the hallway.
A number of former Miami Dolphins attended the services – some who had never even played with Laakso. The Dolphins picked him in the fourth round of the 1978 draft out of Tulane and he started in 61 of 86 games with Miami from 1978-84. From 1980 until he was injured four games into the 1984 season, Laakso started 60 of 61 games.
“He was a guy you wanted on your side,'' said Jim Jensen, a teammate from 1981-84. “He would battle for you. Fight, scratch. He was a soldier on the field, but off it, he was just a teddy bear. Like was said, he was a gentle giant.''
Laakso was very proud of his time with the Dolphins and usually wore his 1982 AFC championship ring when hanging out with friends in Pompano. He said he liked how it resembled the Dolphins' 1972 Super Bowl ring. Some of those members of Miami's perfect team attended the service including Nat Moore, Dick Anderson, Larry Little and Manny Fernandez.
Kim Bokamper, who sat in the back of the crowded room, says when he and old teammates get together, the memories of football games long ago are usually not the things that get brought up. With Laakso, that was definitely the case. When he would talk about his days with the Dolphins, he would tell ancillary tales about visiting locker rooms or team flights or backyard cookouts after practices at Biscayne College.
The lone picture Laakso had on his Facebook page was a black-and-white shot of his sparring with Joe Klecko of the Jets, a referee trying to break up the fight. Laakso loved talking about the 1982 AFC Championship game victory over the Jets in a rain-soaked Orange Bowl, and had no love for the Jets.
“I tend not to think of Eric as a football player, but as a true friend,'' Bokamper said. “He was just a great friend and always had a smile on his face. He thought about everything he said and never flew off the handle. I never saw him upset with anyone. He was one of those guys when he walked into a room, you felt a warmness. He projected that.''
Laakso, who was inducted into the Tulane sports Hall of Fame in 1991, is survived by his two sons Shane and Brent as well as his father Olavi and sister Irma.
Florida Panthers Notes: David Booth has Minor Hip Injury; Dvorak, Stillman and Olesz Return ... Thomas Clears Waivers
The Panthers will have three of their injured forwards back in the lineup Friday against the Canadiens, but could be without one of their biggest offensive guns.
David Booth suffered what is deemed to be a minor hip injury during Monday's loss to the Bruins. Booth was crunched into the back boards and limped off the ice, only to return for his last shift of the third and two shifts of overtime. Booth, who was not one of Florida's top three choices to compete in the shootout, did not practice the past two days.
“The trainers don't think it's serious and it's better [Wednesday] than it was [Tuesday],'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “It's more maintenance days than anything. I would expect by Friday that if he keeps progressing, he'll be fine.''
The Panthers made another roster move on Wednesday, sending forward Bill Thomas back to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., to help make room for the three returning wingers.
Thomas was placed on waivers on Tuesday and cleared Wednesday. Like Keaton Ellerby, he flew to Cleveland for Wednesday night's game at Quicken Loans Arena.
Radek Dvorak (shoulder) and Cory Stillman (back) found themselves back on a familiar third line alongside center Marty Reasoner on Wednesday; Rostislav Olesz (finger) was on a fourth line with center Shawn Matthias and Steve Bernier.
The Dvorak-Reasoner-Stillman trio had a lot of success earlier in the season before the injuries started to mount.
In the first 18 games – when the three were almost exclusively together during 5-on-5 play – they combined for 11 goals and 15 assists. Dvorak has been out since Dec. 4 after injuring his shoulder against Phoenix. Stillman has been out since Nov. 27.
“They are really experienced players and we all compliment each other,'' Reasoner said. “We have familiarity so it'll be fun to be back. We want to make a difference in games like we did earlier in the season.''
Said DeBoer: “They were our best line and set the tone whether it was after goals or late in the game. We need an identity line like that. We've missed them.''
With Thomas back to Rochester, Florida wouldn't have to make a roster move even if Booth plays Friday.
-- The Panthers are moving around the radio dial this weekend because of conflicts with the University of Miami football and basketball. Friday's game against the Canadiens will start at 5 p.m. on WFTL 640-AM; Sunday's 5 p.m. game against the Rangers will be on WKIS 99.9-FM.
Radio voice Randy Moller said Sunday's game is one of three this season to be broadcast on the country station and it is believed this is the first time the team has ventured over to the FM side of the radio spectrum.
-- The Panthers continued their work in the community on Wednesday as Chris Higgins visited patients at the Chris Evert Children’s Hospital in Fort Lauderdale during the afternoon.
Three others were to host a holiday dinner in Coral Springs for more than 50 underprivileged children.
“Everyone remembers being that age. I have a little brother who is 16, so it wasn't that long ago that he was that age running around,'' said Higgins, who has no children of his own. “These are the events you want to sign up for and look forward to doing. They're enjoyable. Kids are a lot of fun. They're always smiling and you never know what's going to come out of their mouth.''
Jason Garrison, Rostislav Olesz and Stephen Weiss were scheduled to be on hand at the team's training facility for a meal as well as an open skate. The children from SOS Children’s Villages and Family Central of Broward County were to join the Panthers, as well as the team's junior hockey squad, on the ice.
Coach Pete DeBoer joked after Monday's game that one reason he didn't tell the media that backup goalie Scott Clemmensen was going to start against the Bruins so not to be second guessed.
The way Clemmensen has been playing for the Panthers these days, who would have done that?
Clemmensen has been strong for the Panthers this season when given the chance. Monday's start was Clemmensen's first since he beat the Coyotes in Phoenix. In that game, he stopped 40 of 41 shots and stopped the Coyotes in the shootout. Monday, Clemmensen stopped 40 shots – David Krejci scored twice – in Florida's 3-2 shootout loss to the Bruins. Clemmensen did come off the bench last Wednesday in Pittsburgh and gave up one goal on 19 shots.
“I felt good about the way I played in Phoenix and I tried to carry that over,'' said Clemmensen, who is 2-4-1 this season with a goals-against average of 2.51. Clemmensen has stopped 92 percent of shots faced in nine games.
“I didn't know if I was going to start or not over the next few weeks so I wanted to carry the personal momentum in. I felt good in Pittsburgh as well. You just want to stay in your comfort zone and be ready. I didn't know it would be three weeks between starts, but so be it. I'm happy.''
The Panthers are pretty fortunate to have two strong goalies in Tomas Vokoun and Clemmensen. Only a handful of teams have two goalies with a save percentage of 92 percent of better.
When DeBoer and goalie coach Robb Tallas do give Clemmensen a start, the Panthers go on as usual. On some teams, when the backup goes in, there's a hope just for survival.
“It's great to have two goalies like that,'' defenseman Mike Weaver said. “With some goalies, you have in the back of your mind that you're going to have to block the shot. With him, you're confident he'll make the save. He's a battler, a guy who is on his game in practice and that carries over. In the NHL, you have to step up when given the chance. Guys who rise to the occasion are the ones who will have a long career.''
Clemmensen was told he was going to start the day before Monday's game. DeBoer explained that not only has Clemmensen been good against the Bruins in the past, but by him going Monday, Vokoun has a chance to really get some rest. Vokoun made 45 saves in Florida's 4-3 win at Buffalo on Dec. 23 and since he didn't play Monday, he'll have been off for a full week when he retakes his spot between the pipes Friday against the Canadiens.
“We have a crazy month of January,'' DeBoer said. “We're going to depend on him a lot. Clemmensen deserved a game, he played real well in Pittsburgh when we put him in. He was exceptional in Phoenix.''
-- The Panthers have had seven defensemen on their roster since Bryan Allen was activated on Dec. 15, but they're back to six again. Keaton Ellerby, a healthy scratch the past five games, was sent back to the Panthers AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Ellerby will meet the Americans in Cleveland for their game against the Lake Erie Monsters.
“He did a good job up here, but this gives him a chance to get in some games,'' DeBoer said.
-- Winger David Booth went hard into the boards late in Monday's game and was noticeably limping as he he left the ice. Booth did come back for his next shift and played two shifts in overtime. He did not skate on Tuesday.
-- All three of Florida's injured wingers (Rostislav Olesz, Cory Stillman and Radek Dvorak) took contact at Tuesday's practice.
-- David Booth and Shawn Matthias will join broadcasters Steve Goldstein and Billy Lindsay for a question-and-answer session Wednesday night at Duffy's Sports Grill at the Fountains in Plantation. The event runs from 6-7 p.m.
Florida Panthers lose first OT Game: Boston Bruins win 3-2 in SO ... First Sellout of Season in Sunrise
BRUINS 3, PANTHERS 2 (SO)
The last time the Bruins came to town was the last time the Panthers had any sort of a real homestand. Florida played three games at BankAtlantic Center during Thanksgiving week and lost all of them.
The Panthers run of home games is much longer this time around, although despite Monday's loss, at least they picked up a point in the standings – something they didn't do in November.
As was the case Boston was here during Thanksgiving, Florida took a lead into the third period but watched the Bruins battle back in the final stanza and leave town with a victory. David Krejci scored in midway through the third to tie the score and Blake Wheeler won it in the shootout as Boston pulled off a 3-2 win in front of an announced sellout of 19,250 at BankAtlantic Center.
Wheeler's goal was looked at by Hockey Central in Toronto as it looked like he shot the puck twice before scoring, but coach Pete DeBoer said afterward he thought it was clean and goalie Scott Clemmensen (who made 40 saves in his first start since Dec. 4) said didn't have much of a problem with it. Boston has won all three meetings against the Panthers this season and 10 of the past 15.
“It's tough from the angle we saw, but I looked at it again and think it's the right call,'' said DeBoer, whose team was the last to lose an overtime (3-1) game this season. “We played this team three times and ended with the same result. Our goalie was just as good as [Tim Thomas]. The story was missed opportunities. We had chances to extend a one-goal lead to two; we missed point-blank shots.''
Florida had won two of its past three away from home but now are pretty much home until the end of January. Monday's game kicked off a stretch in which Florida plays at home in 11 of 13 contests with only quick trips to Carolina (Jan. 3) and Washington (Jan. 8) breaking things up.
The Panthers opened the scoring early in the second when David Booth took a feed from Michael Frolik after he stole the puck from Steven Kampfer. Boston wouldn't be down long as Krejci got his first of the game eight minutes later by following up a rebound from Scott Clemmensen that Florida's defense couldn't clear out.
Florida led 2-1 with 4:09 left in the second period as Frolik knocked down a loose puck with his glove along the boards and floated a soft shot toward the net. Mike Santorelli was camped in the slot and reached out and deflected the puck past Tim Thomas. After the play was reviewed in Toronto, it was determined Santorelli did not use a high stick to knock down the puck.
Santorelli, banished to the minors by Nashville last season and traded to the Panthers in the summer for a low draft pick, is now tied with Stephen Weiss for the team lead in goals. Both have 10.
Krejci tied it with a nifty move and backhanded shot past Clemmensen, but the Panthers had ample opportunity to score the go-ahead goal. Marty Reasoner was rejected by Thomas with 7:45 left as he picked the puck up near center ice and came in on a breakaway. Evgeny Dadonov was also stoned cold by Thomas.
Dennis Wideman, who came to Florida from Boston in the Nathan Horton deal last June, also had a great chance but missed the net with two minutes remaining.
Thomas was spectacular at times as he stopped 12 shots in the third and 32 total. Florida shot first in the shootout, with Santorelli, Weiss and Dadonov being stopped – meaning Boston only had to shoot twice as Wheeler's goal came on the second shot.
“He's a world-class goalie and was great tonight,'' Santorelli said of Thomas. “We played well but need to keep moving forward, getting better.''
The Panthers are well represented at the world junior championships being held in Buffalo through Jan. 5 – and Florida's players had big roles in two wins on Sunday's opening night.
Center Nick Bjugstad led Team USA to a 3-2 win over Finland as he scored in overtime. Defenseman Erik Gudbranson helped lead Canada to an opening round win over Russia. Quinton Howden, Florida's third first-round pick in 2010, had an assist. Bjugstad has a few more years of playing at Minnesota before he starts competing for a job with the Panthers, but Gudbranson is expected to make the 2011-12 team after seemingly making the team out of camp this past September.
“The future is bright. There's a lot of good talent there,'' said DeBoer, who was an assistant on Canada's world junior gold medal team in 2005. “These guys just aren't there; they are big parts of their teams. .-.-. They are still a few years away from being Panthers or good players in the NHL. But it's a start. You can tell they are going to be very good players but we have to be patient with them.''
-- With the upper-deck tarps removed for the first time this season, the Panthers drew their first sellout of the year on Monday. Their second is expected Friday when Montreal makes its annual New Year's Eve visit.
-- The Panthers dimmed the lights and turned off the scoreboard as the team held a moment of silence for Neil Rogers prior to Monday's game. Rogers, a popular South Florida talk show host for three decades, was a Panthers season ticket holder and longtime promoter of the game of hockey. Rogers died from congestive heart failure on Dec. 24.
According to the team, mascot Stanley C. Panther sustained "an undisclosed injury while attempting to hurdle a folding chair" during Florida's win over the Sabres on Dec.17.
The team says the mascot is "currently confined to a wheelchair" but will still attend home games as he recovers.
"However, in support of his recovery, local South Florida mascots Billy the Marlin (Marlins), Sebastian the Ibis (Hurricanes), Burnie (Heat) and T.D. (Dolphins) will be at the BankAtlantic Center tonight, when the Cats take on the Bruins, and at various other home games while Stanley is still on the mend.''
Fans can sign a get-well card for the big cat at the games.
Actually, those guys sound closer to being back on the ice than Stanley does.
-- Word is, the Panthers will hold a moment of silence for talk show host Neil Rogers before tonight's game against the Bruins.
The acerbic Rogers passed away on Thursday. Rogers was perhaps one of the biggest proponents of hockey in South Florida -- years before the Panthers arrived on the scene.
Panthers president Michael Yormark said the team would honor Rogers tonight in response to a fan email.
Florida Panthers Getting Healthy: Olesz, Stillman, Dvorak Practice ... Dadonov Heating Up ... Bruins Escape Snow
It appears the Panthers are close to being healthy again as three of their top injured players practiced Sunday in Coral Springs.
Coach Pete DeBoer said none of those players would go Monday against the Bruins, but all three could return Friday evening against Montreal. After playing Monday, the Panthers will have three full practice sessions.
“They almost get another full week of rest if we keep them out Monday,'' DeBoer said. “We'll see how the week goes. .-.-. I'm hoping to get some healthy bodies around here and then have to make some decisions. It's a perfect situation for a coach: Having young guys push the veterans for playing time.''
Rostislav Olesz (broken middle finger) is still wearing a sleeve on his finger so it's possible he would not be ready for the Canadiens game. Both Radek Dvorak (shoulder) and Cory Stillman (back) will need a few practices with contact before they would be cleared.
None of the injured players took contact Sunday as they all skated on the same line and did drills together.
“Like every player, you want to be back out there,'' said Dvorak, who has been out since Dec. 5. “The most painful thing is having to watch the games and not be able to help. I'm doing everything I can to be back, but it's day-to-day. I feel great and it was great to be back out there with the boys. They've been on the road too long.''
Stillman's injury was initially thought to be back spasms, but it was later diagnosed as a fractured disk. Aside from taking physical contact, Stillman would likely need to be checked out by the team's medical staff before he returns.
“This was the first day skating with the team and it was fun,'' said Stillman, who has been out since Nov. 28. “You need to battle in practice, make some contract. But we're aiming for Friday. That would be great. The back is getting better. It's been four weeks now and it's been a slow recovery because there are things you can't do. But we're starting to push it. We'll see how I react to the level we're used to playing at.''
-- Evgeny Dadonov said he was a little perplexed on why he continually got passed over as he watched his teammates at Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., get promoted to the big club. Dadonov was Florida's last call-up of the 2009-10 season, getting in the final four games of the season. This year, Dadonov waited until Florida gave him the call on Dec. 6.
Looks like the Panthers have been impressed with the Russian winger's play.
Dadonov, who has both of his two-point NHL games in Florida's past four, has been strong of late. Dadonov has two goals and five assists in his past five games. On Sunday, found himself playing on Florida's top line alongside Chris Higgins (two goals Thursday at Buffalo) and center Stephen Weiss (five goals and six assists in his past eight games).
“He's given us everything we've asked for,'' DeBoer said. “When I see the player out here with us, I'm surprised that hasn't translated to bigger numbers in Rochester. That's the reason he hasn't been up; he hasn't brought the production down there based on what we've seen with his talent up here.
"Maybe he's one of those guys who is a better NHL player than a minor league one. The way he's playing, it's hard to take him out of our lineup.''
-- The Panthers will play their 14th home game of the season on Monday as Florida comes into the game tied with Tampa Bay for fewest home games in the league.
Florida, which has won six of its past nine, now play 11 of the next 13 games in Sunrise. The Panthers are 7-6 on home ice this season.
-- The Bruins escaped the snow of Boston and were expected to land in Fort Lauderdale sometime around 5 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.
MONDAY: BRUINS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Panthers lead 30-29-6
The game: This is the third meeting between the teams since Nov. 18, with Boston winning both previous matchups. In the first game, Milan Lucic had a hat trick with former Panthers forward Nathan Horton assisting on all three goals in a 4-0 win. In the second, Florida led 1-0 going into the third before Boston came back to win 3-1. Boston has won nine of the past 14 against the Panthers.
Hope everyone had a great Christmas. Now onto Mike Tyson's favorite holiday -- Boxing Day!
Will have more tomorrow as the Panthers return to practice. Here's tomorrow's story on Florida's young guys at the world juniors...
-- The Panthers may not have a game until Monday, but some of the organization's top young talent will be on display starting Sunday as one of the top international junior hockey tournaments kicks off in Buffalo.
Five members of the Panthers organization will be taking part in the International Ice Hockey Federation's Under-20 Championships – a tournament better known as the world juniors.
Of those five players, three were recent first round picks by the Panthers – and the team's front office is excited about watching these players perform in a high-pressure situation such as this.
“This definitely shows that we're building depth within the organization,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. “We're trying to bring in young guys and give them an opportunity.''
One of Dale Tallon's first orders of business when he took over the franchise last May was upgrading the talent within the organization.
Florida's first three picks of the 2010 Draft are playing here: Defenseman Erik Gudbranson (third overall) and winger Quinton Howden (25th) will play for Team Canada; center Nick Bjugstad (19th) is representing the defending tournament champion United States. Drew Shore (USA) was a second round pick in 2009 and Joonas Donskoi (Finland) was a fourth-rounder in 2010.
The Panthers held the third overall pick last June based on their poor record. The team acquired the other two first round picks through trades with Boston and Vancouver.
“We have some talented players, but Dale is going to put them in the lineup only when they earn it and are ready for it,'' said Scott Luce, the Panthers amateur scouting director. “They have to match our need and have to earn it. There are no more freebies as far as young guys getting spots in the lineup. Dale has set the bar high. He's told them this is just the start.''
Many in the United States don't know much about the world juniors based on the lack of coverage over the years. That has been changing recently, and the NHL Network will show 15 games starting Sunday. The tournament's big games are being played at the Sabres' arena near downtown Buffalo.
Twelve current Panthers have played in this tournament, with Bryan McCabe (Canada), David Booth (USA) and Shawn Matthias (Canada) winning gold.
In Canada, coverage of the tournament borders on that on the Stanley Cup Final and most Canadian hockey fans – well, those who aren't coming across the border to attend games in Buffalo -- are glued to their television sets for the duration of the tournament.
Last year's championship game between Canada and the United States was watched by over 5 million in Canada – making it the highest-rated event ever on sports channel TSN. Team USA won 6-5 in an overtime thriller. Canada had won the tournament five straight years before last year's loss in Saskatoon.
“Being from Canada, you're expected to win,'' Matthias said. “If you don't come home with the gold medal, it's a failure. Everyone from Canada expects Canada to win a gold medal and they should be the favorites.''
The Panthers will be looking at Erik Gudbranson to have a big tournament after he seemingly made the team out of training camp. The team and Gudbranson's agent couldn't come to a deal and Gudbranson was sent back to his junior team.
“A lot of people talked about Gudbranson being with us this year, but that wasn't the best thing for his development,'' Santos said. “The right thing for him is to play as an 18-year-old boy with the top players at his level and play at the world juniors. When his time is right, he'll be an NHL player for us.''
Florida is also very interested in seeing how center Nick Bjugstad will handle this type of environment. Bjugstad, 18, is a freshman at the University of Minnesota who should be a senior in high school. He accelerated his studies so he could graduate early and play for the Gophers. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound center was Minnesota's Mr. high school Hockey last season.
Bjugstad's season got off to a slow start after he came down with mono, but he's been playing better as he has been able to put a little weight back on. Bjugstad's play during Team USA selection camp has been praised by coach Keith Allain.
“I’m learning fast, I think, and I’m enjoying it as much as I can,'' Bjugstad said last week. “The coaches thought I was ready at the University of Minnesota, and I thought I was pretty well prepared. Obviously, my big frame helps a little bit on the ice. This has been awesome. I love the competition. There are a lot of bigger guys, a lot of faster guys. You’ve got to play to that level. Obviously, the mono slowed me down a little, but I’m regaining confidence here.''
IIHF UNDER-20 HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS
--When, Where: Sunday-Jan. 5; HSBC Arena, Buffalo
--Televised Games (On NHL Network) – Sunday: Russia vs. Canada, 4; USA vs. Finland, 8. Tuesday: Canada vs. Czech Republic, 4; USA vs. Slovakia, 8. Dec. 29: Norway vs. Canada, 7:30. Dec. 30: Sweden vs. Czech Republic, 3; USA vs. Germany, 7. Dec. 31: Canada vs. Sweden, 4; USA vs. Switzerland, 8. Jan. 2: Quarterfinals, 3:30/7:30. Jan. 3: Semifinals, 3:30/7:30. Jan. 5: Bronze Medal, 3:30; Gold Medal game, 7:30.
--The games: Commonly known as the 'world juniors,' this tournament showcases some of the top junior hockey players in the world. Defending champion Team USA is again considered a top challenger with eight players back from last year's team. Canada is also loaded, but has a tough draw and will have to compete with the likes of Russia, Czech Republic and Sweden to move to the medal round. Canada had won five straight world junior titles before Team USA won last year. The two could meet up in the finals again this year.
Florida Panthers to get Well-Deserved Home Cooking ... Tomas Vokoun Strong ... Evgeny Dadonov Impressive
Things are going to be slow here in the coming days, but if you have a few seconds this weekend, come on back for a visit. May have some good stuff up. You never know.
Also, if you get an iPad or iPhone from Santa, feel free to pick up our extra-very special unofficial Florida Panthers app. It goes great in a stocking or under a tree. Actually it doesn't. But it is cool.
Anyway, have a great Christmas and I'll see you back here perodically.
The Panthers are scheduled to be back on the Coral Springs ice Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is free. Come on by.
Here's today's early notebook. Later!
In the moments following his team's exhilarating win over Buffalo on Thursday night, Pete DeBoer leaned up against the wall and said he didn't even want to think about what was next.
Understandably, DeBoer just wanted to enjoy the moment.
“I just want enjoy Christmas here,'' DeBoer said. “Then we'll start thinking about the next ones.''
The Panthers grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first period of Thursday's game only to watch the host Sabres run roughshod over them in a second period about as lopsided as it was cold outside. Buffalo outshot the Panthers 20-2 and scored three unanswered goals, but the Panthers got a third period goal from defenseman Jason Garrison to pull out a 4-3 win.
Afterward, the team split up. Some boarded a charter plane bound for Fort Lauderdale; others went to hometowns in Canada, New York and Michigan to spend Christmas with friends and family. The team plans to reconvene Sunday afternoon in Coral Springs.
DeBoer was not one of those who skipped the flight back to Florida. Despite being near to his home province of Ontario, DeBoer will celebrate his third Christmas in South Florida.
“I guess I'm getting used to it,'' DeBoer said of his green Christmas. “When I come up here, I get the flu. I'm looking forward to getting back to the south.''
It's a short Christmas break for the Panthers, but with the hectic schedule they've had of late, any time off is welcomed. Thursday's game was Florida's 20th road game of the season and 13th since Nov. 13. The Panthers have played 13 of the past 19 games on the road, winning seven of those games.
“It's been a long, grueling trip. Probably one of the longest of my career,'' said defenseman Mike Weaver. “It's tough to do that at the start of a season, but we've become a pretty good road team. We've surprised some people.''
Once the Panthers are all back together in South Florida, they can settle in and get comfortable.
The flip side of playing a lot of road games is what you get in return: A lot of home games. The Panthers haven't been great on home ice, but if they hope to sneak into the playoffs this season, they better be. Florida plays 11 of its next 13 games at BankAtlantic Center.
Florida goes into this key stretch a true one-game under the .500 mark. The Panthers are 16-17 with no overtime losses.
“We've played a lot of road games but we're in a good situation now,'' Garrison said. “We would like to be better, but we're looking forward to the future and those games after Christmas. We have a real good chance to get up above .500 and win some games.''
Goalie Tomas Vokoun had another bounce-back game as he was pulled during the first period of Florida's 5-2 loss at Pittsburgh on Wednesday. On Thursday, Vokoun was peppered in the second period but he could have given up a few more goals. Instead, the Sabres got three through – not enough to win.
Vokoun stopped all 19 shots he faced in the third period and 45 overall to get the win.
“Obviously, we had a great start,'' Vokoun said. “Playing at home, we knew they were coming. We played [Wednesday] and I think we ran out of gas. They just took over the game. Everybody was diving trying to block the shots. … It’s a great win for us.’’
-- It's obvious rookie winger Evgeny Dadonov is enjoying his stay with the Panthers and doesn't want to go back to the minors. Brought up from Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester because of all of Florida's injuries, Dadonov has been one of Florida's most dynamic players over the past few weeks.
In the eight games he's been up, Dadonov has two goals and six assists. Thursday marked his second two-point NHL game in the past four games. Both came against Buffalo. Dadonov had a strong season in Rochester last year and a very good training camp before losing the numbers battle and being sent back down.
Love him or loathe him, Rogers was one of the only talk show hosts to ever mention hockey -- much less talk about it with any sort of passion or reverence.
Rogers was talking about hockey years before anyone ever dreamed Miami would be awarded an expansion team in 1992.
Rogers was a huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan and introduced us here in Miami to some of the great hockey announcers -- and would sometimes have Toronto announcers and sports writers call in to talk hockey.
How else would a kid born and raised know who Foster Hewitt was? Well, I did, only because Neil Rogers brought him up all the time. Same goes for Pittsburgh's Mike Lange and Buffalo's Rick Jeanneret.
Neil was also one of the Panthers biggest cheerleaders during their early years and was often seen sitting in the lower level when the team moved to Sunrise.
Yes, his show was offensive most of the times but his popularity down here was unrivaled and will probably never be matched again.
If you would like to listen to some of Neil's old shows and bits, there are ways to do that.
Jorge Rodriguez, Neil's former producer at WIOD and WQAM, is streaming old shows right now at SoFloRadio.com
You can also download old bits and drops at NeilRogers.com
Will have some more Panthers news in a little bit.
Enjoy the Holidays.
PANTHERS 4, SABRES 3
BUFFALO – The Panthers faced the Sabres for the second time in a week on Thursday night, and after the opening period, it looked like a repeat of Florida's blowout win last Friday in Sunrise.
It would not be that easy.
The embarrassed Sabres came out and played as dominating a second period as they possibly could. Buffalo outshot the Panthers by 18, outscored them by three – yet never took the lead.
That little fact was key to Florida's survival. The Panthers withstood the best Buffalo had and won the third period battle, getting a surprising goal from defenseman Jason Garrison and some huge saves from Tomas Vokoun to beat back the Sabres 4-3 at HSBC Arena.
Garrison's goal broke a 3-3 stalemate and sent the Panthers into their brief Christmas break with wins in two of three away from Sunrise and six of nine overall. Buffalo has lost three of four – two to the Panthers and one to the Lightning last Saturday in Tampa Bay.
“For us, instead of playing to win the game we played to hold the lead. We've done that before and it doesn't work for us,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “We were tied and regrouped. We got our game back. The message in the third was, we won the first, they won the second. Let's play to win.''
Garrison's goal – only the fourth in his 64-game NHL career – came with the two teams playing 4-on-4 hockey after Bryan Allen and Cody McCormick rumbled by the Florida net. Garrison picked off the puck deep in the Florida zone when Tyler Myers lost it as he fell, Garrison taking it coast-to-coast.
Flanked by David Booth, Ryan Miller must have figured Garrison would pass it on a 2-on-1 break. He didn't. Garrison looked Booth's way by fired off a shot that beat the All-Star goalie and gave Florida the lead back with 5:06 left. This time, the Panthers held it.
“I was looking to pass the whole way down,'' Garrison said. “The D played it really well and I didn't want to give up a shot there. It came down to the last second and I decided to put it on the net shortside.''
Joked Mike Weaver: “I was yelling at him to dump it in.''
The Panthers played a strong first period, jumping all over Miller like they had last week. Miller was pulled after a first period in Sunrise in which he gave up four goals on 10 shots; On Thursday, the Panthers scored three off 15.
Miller, however, stayed in this time around.
In the opening period, Florida took a 1-0 lead on a Chris Higgins goal 1:10 into the game as he chopped down on his own rebound and batted the puck into the net. The goal was Higgins' fourth of the season – and first since Nov. 12. He would get a second.
Later in the period, Stephen Weiss scored when the Panthers held a two-man advantage. Weiss took a pretty cross-ice feed from Michael Frolik across the ice to beat an angry Miller. The Buffalo goalie didn't calm down any less than two minutes later when Higgins potted his second goal by backhanding a shot from the right side of the cage.
For Higgins, it was his first multi-goal game since he recorded a hat trick against Ottawa on Nov. 11, 2008.
With a 3-0 lead, things were certainly going Florida's way. The fun times wouldn't last, however, as the Sabres were strong from the start of the second period until its end. Buffalo jumped all over the Panthers, outshooting Florida 20-2 in the process. Defenseman Jordan Leopold – traded from Florida to Pittsburgh last season – put the Sabres on the board 5:44 in on Buffalo's eight shot of the period.
Justin Pominville added a power play less than three minutes later to pull Buffalo within one before Leopold got his second of the night by whipping a shot past Vokoun.
Florida looked better in the third – it would have been hard not too – getting off three quick shots before Dmitry Kulikov went to the box for high sticking. The Sabres had three good chances at scoring the go-ahead goal but failed to do so.
“Vokoun was unreal back there and gave us a chance to win,'' Weaver said of his goalie who made 45 saves. “We didn't play a great second period, but this showed a lot about our team. We're coming together and had a killer instinct in the third. This was a great team win for us.''
Higgins led the Panthers with five shots in Wednesday's 5-2 loss to the Penguins, yet he failed to score – a trend the Panthers hope ended Thursday in Buffalo. Higgins had three goals on 72 shots (four percent) entering Thursday's game.
Yet he's been getting plenty of scoring chances around the net. DeBoer says he'll get his goals if he keeps that up. In the five games since coming back from a staph infection, Higgins has two goals and three assists.
“I like the way he's playing,'' DeBoer said. “The challenge for him is to keep his job on the first line and keep playing those kind of minutes. As long as he's creating chances, that's all you can ask. You can't coach guys to finish. When I get concerned about players, it's when they are not creating chances. He's done it before. He's been a 20-goal scorer in the past.''
Said Higgins: “I'm just glad I got this in a win. If you get two goals and lose, it's a bittersweet moment for sure.''
-- The statisticians in Pittsburgh must have felt bad for the Panthers on Wednesday night as Florida was credited for zero turnovers – despite having multiple miscues with the puck – in the 5-2 loss to the Penguins. The hometown Penguins were charged with 10 turnovers.
“You guys are looking for silver linings from that game,'' DeBoer joked when asked about the obvious disparity. “There weren't any for me.''
-- A number of players skipped out on Florida's flight back to Fort Lauderdale on Thursday night, opting instead to travel to nearby areas for Christmas. DeBoer was not one of those as the native of Canada will celebrate his third Christmas in South Florida.
“I guess I'm getting used to it,'' DeBoer said of his green Christmas. “When I come up here, I get the flu. I'm looking forward to getting back to the south.''
SHARON, Pa. -- Driving to Buffalo with Sr. Harvey and figured I would share this release from the Panthers Foundation.
Happy Festivus everyone!
-- -- -- --
The Florida Panthers Foundation announced today that Cats players Bryan McCabe, Marty Reasoner and Jason Garrison will host a special holiday dinner for more than 50 underprivileged children from SOS Children’s Villages and Family Central of Broward County on Wednesday, Dec. 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs.
Dinner will be provided by Giovanni’s Coal Fire Pizza and the visiting children will also have the opportunity to take part in an open skate with the Panthers players and the Jr. Panthers travel hockey team, get autographs and pictures taken, take tours of the Panthers state-of-the-art training facility and more.
The Saveology.com Iceplex is located at 3299 Sportsplex Dr. in Coral Springs.
Fans interested in supporting the Foundation and future events can contact Community Development & Foundation Coordinator Darren Perry at 954.835.7715 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, for information.
The next Florida Panthers Foundation event is the Bowling Tournament scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 5 at Strikes in Boca Raton.
The Florida Panthers Foundation has had a busy season thus far with highlights including:
- A charitable suite purchased by Panthers players
- A $400,000 donation to the Broward Health Foundation
- The “Saves For Kids” program with goalies Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen
- The sold out Florida Panthers Foundation Face Off Luncheon which raised more than $165,000
- The “Sellout For Charity Program”
- President & COO Michael Yormark’s chairmanship of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night Walk in Broward County which raised over $120,000
- Participation in the Cooperative Feeding Program during Thanksgiving week
- A Thanksgiving feast for underprivileged families from the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County at Pete’s Café Bella Sera
- The Sold Out Foundation Golf Classic which raised more than $40,000
The Foundation’s “Panthers Pledge for Pediatric Cancer”:
- We pledge to donate over $250,000 to individuals and families affected by pediatric cancer.
- We pledge to volunteer staff hours to assist individuals and families affected by
- We pledge to provide unique opportunities and once-in-a-lifetime experiences for individuals and families affected by pediatric cancer.
- We pledge to cultivate relationships and create alliances with community organizations that are focused on supporting individuals and families affected by pediatric cancer.
PENGUINS 5, PANTHERS 2
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
PITTSBURGH – Back during the bruising heydays of the Philadelphia Flyers, opposing hockey players who didn't exactly feel like getting pounded on would mysteriously come down with a malady known as the 'Philly Flu.'
Don't be surprised if goaltenders around the league start complaining of having some sort of illness before they face Pennsylvania's other hockey team.
Led by Sidney Crosby – who else? -- the Penguins continued their dominating ways on Wednesday as they scored three goals in the first half of the opening period en route to a 5-2 win over the Panthers at the team's new arena near downtown.
Panthers coach Pete DeBoer, who excused himself early from Wednesday's morning skate because of a flu bug, pulled goalie Tomas Vokoun less than 11 minutes into the game following the Penguins third goal. Hard to blame Vokoun too much, however. Florida was being outshot 14-2 at the time.
“The game was over in the first 10 minutes. That was the story,'' DeBoer said. “There's a reason they are where they are in the standings and have been on the run they've been on. We knew that. All the things we did in Philadelphia the other night, we didn't bring to the rink. When we did, it was too late.''
The Penguins have won 10 of their past 12 games in their new digs, but they won't have that advantage Thursday when they visit Washington in a preview of next week's Winter Classic. The Penguins play the Capitals at Heinz Field on New Year's Day.
In those 10 wins in Pittsburgh, the red-hot Penguins have outscored their foes 40-16.
“They are a good team and are playing well right now. They play well at home,'' replacement goalie Scott Clemmensen (18 saves) said. “Anytime you spot a team three goals before you get going it's going to be hard to come back. It became too much for us to climb out of. We did have some positives in the second and third.''
Cameras from HBO have been following around the Penguins and Capitals the past few weeks for the latest installment of its reality series 24/7. The Panthers had a cameo in the first episode as Florida beat the host Capitals 3-0. The Penguins all but insured the Panthers will get at least a little look in next week's episode as Mark Letestu and Crosby both had highlight goals against Vokoun.
Letestu scored Pittsburgh's first goal 90 seconds in as he took a pass from Tyler Kennedy and skated in on Vokoun, holding his shot until Vokoun flinched. Once he did, Letestu rifled the puck into the cage.
Florida's Stephen Weiss quickly tied the score when his slap shot hit backup goalie Brent Johnson but trickled through on the Panthers' first shot of the night. But Crosby put the Penguins back up for good five minutes later when he whipped a long shot from the left side that Vokoun may or may not have seen.
Crosby has now scored at least a point in 22 straight games – tying Ottawa's Dany Heatley (Nov. 2005) as the longest such streak in the league since the lockout year. Crosby has a long way to go in catching the Wayne Gretzky's all-time mark of 51 straight games. Mario Lemieux holds the franchise record by scoring in 46 straight during the 1989-90 season.
The Panthers were much more of a factor after the score got a little out of hand, and after Ben Lovejoy scored in the second period to make it 4-1, Florida started putting on some pressure.
Johnson ended up leaving the game after suffering an undisclosed 'lower body injury' late in the second, with usual starter Marc-Andre Fleury taking over the third. That was bad news for Florida as Fleury made 15 saves. One those was great stop against Chris Higgins from point blank range. Bryan McCabe got Florida's second goal with 3:46 left, one answered by Pascal Dupuis' empty net shot with 28 seconds remaining.
“I wish we would have played our game,'' DeBoer said. “They're obviously a great team and Crosby is a great player. I just wish we would have given them more of a game.''
Two Florida prospects were named to Team USA's roster for the upcoming world junior tournament being held in Buffalo later this week. University of Minnesota freshman center Nick Bjugstad and University of Denver sophomore Drew Shore will both likely attend Florida's game on Thursday night in Buffalo.
Bjugstad was a first-round pick by the Panthers this past June; Shore was a second-round selection in 2009.
-- The Panthers upcoming break may be coming at a perfect time as DeBoer and a few of his assistants have complained of illness. Florida will visit Buffalo on Thursday, with some players and staffers flying back to Fort Lauderdale soon afterward. A good number of players will go elsewhere for Christmas. The Panthers return to practice Sunday at 3 p.m. in Coral Springs.
-- Crosby has scored in six straight games against the Panthers, scoring six goals with two assists. Not surprisingly, the Penguins have gone 5-1 against Florida during that span.
THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT SABRES
When, Where: 7 p.m.; HSBC Arena, Buffalo
TV/Radio: FSNF; 560-WQAM
The series: Sabres lead 38-23-4
The game: This will be the second meeting between the two in a week, with Florida beating the Sabres 6-2 in Sunrise last Friday. Buffalo followed that up with a loss in Tampa Bay the next night, but beat Anaheim at home on Tuesday. .-.-. The Panthers have only won three of their past 10 games in Buffalo, but one of those wins was last season's 6-2 thumping on Nov. 18, 2009.
PITTSBURGH -- Some early holiday greetings from our friends at Saturday Night Live. Classic stuff. Will have more from the Panthers-Penguins game later tonight.
PITTSBURGH – Professional athletes don't get too excited about checking out arenas, but after years of trudging through the dark tunnels to get to a small and dank visiting locker room, a number of Panthers were interested in seeing the new arena Pittsburgh built to replace the old Igloo.
The team left Philadelphia not long after its rousing 5-0 win over the Flyers, landing in Pittsburgh on Tuesday morning and holding its first practice in the sparkling Consol Energy Center later that afternoon.
One player was more interested in seeing the Penguins new digs than others.
Panthers winger Bill Thomas not only played for the Penguins during their most recent Stanley Cup championship season, but he also hails from the area. Thomas grew up watching the Penguins and thereby associated the old rink with his childhood team.
Thomas missed Pittsburgh's farewell to Mellon Arena – which sits across the street from the new arena but is being gutted and scheduled for demolition – but can't wait to play in the new joint.
“I was talking to my family and they were saying how they would meet me after the game. I have no idea where to meet them at the new place,'' said Thomas, who scored two goals with an assist in 16 games with Pittsburgh in 2008-09. “It'll definitely be different and I'm excited to see it. It'll be neat to get back there and my family is real excited. My best friend works for the team and he tells me it's just awesome. And this is a tough ticket to get because of the holidays and all that.''
Many members of the Panthers will be heading to Canada or remain in the Buffalo area following Thursday's game against the Sabres to celebrate Christmas with family and friends.
Thomas, however, is getting an early holiday.
Tuesday night was going to be Christmas in the Pittsburgh suburbs as Thomas' mom Karen planned to whip up a feast for not only Bill, but his father George as well as siblings Dave and Katherine. Friends from the neighborhood as well as old chums from Fox Chapel High were also expected at the holiday bash.
“They're all excited and I can't wait to see everyone,'' he said. “I haven't been home since May, so I know my mom is going to go all out.''
Friends and family would likely want to talk about Thomas' recent success with the family. Thomas spent last season playing in the minors as well as in Europe. The Panthers signed him over the summer to be a stabilizing voice for their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Because of injuries, Thomas was recalled from Rochester not once, but twice (within the span of a day).
Thomas got his second goal in the past six games on Monday in Philadelphia.
“I didn't know a lot about Bill coming into the season but he's a real reliable guy,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “He's one of those guys who is invaluable within the organization just because of his versatility. He can play any position and he has NHL experience. This isn't his first go-round. He's an easy guy to play. You like having guys like that. Guys like him have kept us competitive and keep our head above water through a real tough stretch.''
Defenseman Keaton Ellerby has been scratched from the lineup the past two games, although DeBoer said it's been a tough decision to make. With Bryan Allen back from his broken foot, the Panthers have an extra defenseman. Ellerby played when Dmitry Kulikov is benched, but now playing time is at a premium.
“This is a lesson for the young guys that you can't have a letdown,'' DeBoer said. “I thought his game was real good but the last game in the loss to Carolina he was off a little bit. He wasn't the only one, but guys in his situation have to make it to where we can't scratch you. Listen, he's done a good job. But Kulikov came out of the stands and had one of his best games of the year. That's why we're sticking with him.''
-- The Panthers didn't bring any of their injured players on this trip with those players holding daily workouts in Coral Springs. DeBoer says Rostislav Olesz is due to return first out of that group, although he still doesn't know when that will be.
“He's been out five weeks with a broken finger,'' DeBoer said. “That's the longest broken finger I've ever seen.''
WEDNESDAY: PANTHERS AT PENGUINS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
TV/Radio: FSNF; 560-WQAM
The series: Penguins lead 32-30-4
The game: Pittsburgh had its 12-game winning streak snapped on Dec. 14 by the Flyers, then lost to the Rangers. The Penguins got back to their winning ways Monday as Evgeni Malkin recorded five points in Pittsburgh's 6-1 win over Phoenix. The Pens visit Washington on Thursday as a prelude to the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at the Steelers' Heinz Field. .-.-. Florida has won two straight and five of seven. Pittsburgh beat the Panthers in Sunrise 3-2 on Nov. 22.
PANTHERS 5, FLYERS 0
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
PHILADELPHIA – After Monday night's game, the Flyers don't play again until three days after Christmas.
When asked if he was a little envious of Philadelphia's quirky scheduling break, Panthers coach Pete DeBoer smiled and said he was more jealous of other things the defending Eastern Conference champions possess. “It's not just their schedule,'' DeBoer chuckled.
For one night, anyway, it was the Flyers who coveted something the Panthers had.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette warned of his team falling into a trap against the Panthers but that's exactly what happened Monday as the Panthers jumped to a big lead before sending the Flyers to their lengthy break with a 5-0 defeat before a capacity crowd in south Philly.
“Never mind early leads, scoring three or four goals a night is something we're not used to,'' DeBoer said. “Pucks are going in for us. When that's happening, and you're on a streak, you better make sure you're putting points [in the standings].''
The first-place Flyers, who had won five straight and seven of their previous eight, went through the motions early – and the Panthers made them pay. By the time Green Day's Holiday was played over the PA with seven minutes left, it was obvious the Flyers had already been on vacation.
“We're playing with heart and working hard, getting to the loose pucks,'' said Mike Santorelli, who scored Florida's fourth goal. “Putting those pucks to the net is key. They have a great team and we had to stay on our game for 60 minutes. A lot of offensive power.''
Florida, for its part, didn't do much in the first half of the first but picked up the pace and went into the break with a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers, who have won two straight and five of seven, got its first goal with 2:33 left in the opening period after Bill Thomas fired a shot that deflected off Oskars Bartulis and past goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers scored again less than two minutes later when Evgeny Dadonov chased down a loose puck and flew past Matt Carle before pulling Bobrovsky out the crease and putting the puck in the emptied net.
In the past three games, Florida has outscored its opponents 9-0 in the opening period and 14-6 overall. In consecutive wins, the Panthers have outscored the Sabres and Flyers by a combined 11-2.
“The first period is critical for us,'' DeBoer said before the game. “We had some bad starts and addressed it and have had real good starts the past few games.''
The Panthers continued to pour it on in the second period, sending Bobrovsky to the bench in the process. Bobrovsky has played extremely well for the Flyers and came into the night tied for third in wins. With the injured Michael Leighton back, Philadelphia is carrying three netminders so there is plenty of competition for starts.
Bobrovsky sure didn't look all that special against a Panthers team playing a smart team game. In the second, Shawn Matthias pushed a loose puck past Bobrovsky after Marty Reasoner hit the post at 3:53 of the period. Later on, Santorelli teed off on a pretty crossing pass from Steve Bernier on Florida's 24th shot of the night – ending Bobrovsky's night prematurely.
For the third straight game, the Panthers sent the starting goalie to the bench as Bobrovsky joined Carolina's Cam Ward and Buffalo's Ryan Miller as Florida casualties this week. Brian Boucher came on in relief and stopped nine of 10, his only goal surrendered coming off a long slap shot from Dmitry Kulikov.
With the Panthers scoring at a rapid (for them) clip, goalie Tomas Vokoun has been a little overlooked. Vokoun, who took the brunt of the blame for last week's 4-3 loss to Carolina, has now stopped 67 of 69 shots in the past two games.
The shutout was Vokoun's second in the past five games and fourth this season.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game for them being before the break as they're home for Christmas,'' Vokoun said. “It's easier to play with the lead. We've lost some tough games but have come back strong against good teams.''
-- Vokoun picked up his first assist of the season as he got the second helper on Thomas' goal. Vokoun had two assists last season, six for the Panthers in 2007-08 and now has 19 in his career.
-- With the victory against the Flyers, Florida is 7-10-0 against teams within the top eight in their respective conferences this season with wins in three of its past four against teams currently holding a playoff position.
It's Downright Chilly in Philadelphia ... Marty Reasoner Clicking with Youngsters ... Panthers at Flyers on Monday
And by doing that, I offer up an early afternoon post -- with said early feature.
It's on Marty Reasoner who has two goals and an assist in the past two games. The guy is a very quiet but solid contributor and is probably Florida's best defensive forward. So when he puts up some points, that's a nice little bonus.
Off to have some crab fries and see if I can get the Dolphins game on. Have a great day.
-- During the first few weeks of the season, Marty Reasoner found himself centering a pretty productive line.
Radek Dvorak joked that the forward trio probably had the most experience in the entire league. At the time, Reasoner – despite being in the NHL for this his 12th season – was the relative baby of the group. Dvorak has played in 1,077 games, Cory Stillman 980.
Only Dvorak and Stillman are injured, both missing at least the past five games for the Panthers.
Perhaps it is little coincidence, then, that Reasoner's production had fallen off as he was shuffled around lines and skating partners.
During his first 18 games – mostly played alongside Dvorak and Stillman – Reasoner had four goals and five assists, a marked improvement over last year's struggles in Atlanta.
Reasoner had a 10-game stretch in which he didn't record a single point.
That slide was broken when he assisted on Evgeny Dadonov's first NHL goal in last week's loss to Carolina. The Panthers hope Reasoner's troubles are past him after Friday's game, one in which he scored consecutive goals – his second eventually becoming the game-winner in a 6-2 victory over Buffalo.
“For me, it was one of those things where it's not the first time I've been through something like that,'' Reasoner said. “When the puck isn't going in, you just concentrate on doing the other things and not being a negative on the team. Win faceoffs, be good on the penalty kill. If you stay positive and keep making positive plays, eventually you'll get out of it.''
Said Shawn Matthias: “I told him before the game that I thought he was going to get a couple.''
Reasoner was a quiet acquisition over the summer, coming to Florida via Chicago. Reasoner never suited up for the defending Stanley Cup champions as Atlanta sent him to the Blackhawks in a multi-player deal before the draft.
Florida picked up the veteran center for center Jeff Taffe. If nothing else, it's a solid move as Reasoner has been a key component of Florida's much improved penalty kill.
“Look what he's done since coming here, just on the penalty kill,'' goalie Tomas Vokoun said. “It's not just about goals. It's about smart plays and sometimes people don't see that. As a player, you really appreciate watching him make the right play on defense almost every single time. He's playing for the team to win, not individual statistics. That means a lot to all of us.''
Reasoner's has been with his newest dance partners for a little bit now and chemistry is starting to show. Instead of being the youngster in the Stillman-Reasoner-Dvorak troika, Reasoner is now the older statesman of the group.
Reasoner sits between Matthias, a natural center who is playing wing right now in what is his second full-time season with the Panthers. On the other side is Dadonov who played in his ninth NHL game on Friday.
“I think we're starting to get it going,'' Reasoner said. “They have the young legs. I just kind of let them go.''
In the past two games, Reasoner has two goals and an assist; Dadonov has a goal with two assists and Matthias has three assists.
“We've been playing well as a line,'' Matthias said. “Marty is the brains of the group, he is such a smart player. He sees everything, helps us out between shifts. He's a pretty quiet guy, but if you ask him, he'll let you know what he thinks. I love playing with him and I really look up to him. Being able to sit next to him in the locker room is great. We just shoot the bull.''
In Friday's win against the Sabres, that trio was perhaps Florida's best.
“I thought Dadonov was outstanding, Matthias was physical,'' coach Pete DeBoer. “Marty brings the same game every night and it was good to see him finally get rewarded. He's always good defensively and is a key part to our penalty kill. But you could see it starting to get to him. He got off to such a good start, you always want to carry that through.''
MONDAY: PANTHERS AT FLYERS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
TV/Radio: FSNF; 560-WQAM
The series: Flyers lead 38-25-7
The game: Philadelphia has the most points of any NHL team and have lost just two games this month. The Flyers come into the game riding a five-game winning streak in which they have outscored their opponents (Toronto, Boston, Pittsburgh, Montreal and New York Rangers) 18-8. The Flyers have won 12 of their 17 games on home ice. .-.-. The Panthers won three of four against the Flyers last year including the second meeting in Philly. Florida lost the previous meeting in Philadelphia 5-2 on Nov. 13.
The BankAtlantic Center suffered a complete power outage Saturday afternoon during the second half of the Miami-UCF basketball game.
The main lights were off for a good 10 minutes following the power coming back on.
Michael Yormark told me there was no damage done to the ice power plant and that all is well. Florida doesn't play here again until Dec. 27 when the Boston Hortons come to town.
Enjoy your day.
Pete DeBoer admits he took a calculated risk by taking it easy on his team after Wednesday's epic collapse against Carolina.
In the day following that 4-3 loss, one in which the Panthers held a 3-0 lead less than six minutes in, DeBoer held a film session before conducting a normal practice. Prior to Friday's game against Buffalo, DeBoer gave his players an optional morning skate. DeBoer took his option and didn't take to the ice.
“Sometimes the coach does a lot of talking behind the scenes in meetings,'' he said with a smile. “Sometimes they don't need to hear you. Sometimes you need to take a step back for their mental health.''
The plan worked. On Friday night, the Panthers came out flying and scored four times in the opening period before rolling to a 6-2 win over the visiting Sabres.
DeBoer decided against going with a heavy hand in good part because he had faith in his team's internal leadership. Captain Bryan McCabe spoke up and had a spirited message for his teammates.
The Panthers also feel more secure in their personnel for handling such adversity. Florida didn't make a big splash during the offseason, but general manager Dale Tallon and assistant general manager Mike Santos made a point of bringing in players with some character.
“They didn't feel good about the last game,'' DeBoer said. “The big question is whether we can reproduce this every night. I really liked how we handled it. The Carolina game was very disappointing for everyone in the room. We woke up the next day and dealt with it and pressed the reset button. Right from our warm-up through the full 60 minutes, we were focused and ready.''
On Friday, the Panthers bounced back after a crushing loss. In the past, the sulking may have continued into the next night.
“We have a lot of good guys here. Regardless of our record or what happens during a game, I like playing with these guys,'' said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who's poor clearing pass Wednesday set up the winning goal. On Friday, he made 41 saves to get his 12th win of the season.
“No one in here was pointing fingers on what went wrong. Everyone makes mistakes. That's one of the most important thing. We have a real team. I like the feeling around here. This season isn't over yet. We can still turn this thing around.''
The Panthers had a small part in HBO's first installment of its latest 24/7 series, this one featuring the Penguins and Capitals as they prepare for the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. The Panthers beat the Capitals 3-0 in Washington on Dec. 9 and highlights (or lowlights to the Capitals) were included in the hour-long show that is drawing rave reviews.
“That was a big win for us, we worked real hard for it,'' DeBoer said. “It was cool that we were a part of it.''
DeBoer added that he would welcome having cameras follow around the team on an around-the-clock basis. No word from HBO on whether they will do something on the Panthers in the future. The Panthers will probably be included in the third episode of the series as well; Florida makes its first visit to Pittsburgh's new arena next Wednesday.
“It is intrusive, but the more access – as long as its not every day – in which you can show people what goes on is good,'' DeBoer said. “I don't think the coaching fraternity gets enough credit from the average fan on what goes on each day. I think that's true in all sports. The football guys sleep at the stadium. It's a nice peak into our world.''
-- The Panthers took Saturday off but will return to practice Sunday morning in Coral Springs before boarding a plane to Philadelphia. Florida will play three straight on the road this week leading into the Christmas break.
“We have some tough games in some tough buildings,'' said DeBoer, whose team visits Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Buffalo in a span of four days.
Good afternoon from Tarp City. The Hurricanes and UCF Knights are here in Sunrise and I'm doing a special edition LIVE! chat over on the Miami page.
If you want to talk some Panthers stuff during the game, feel free to join us.
I'll be there most of the day...