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41 posts from January 2011

January 31, 2011

Florida Panthers' Shawn Matthias (Broken Ankle) Out 6-8 Weeks ... Slumping Michael Frolik Centering Fourth Line (For Now) ... Clemmensen Vs. Leafs

IMG_1131 Before we get into the Panthers Notebook culled from today's practice at Air Canada Center, check out Pete DeBoer's new look.

He won't say if his goatee will make it to Tuesday's game. It's apparently a gametime decision.

Now, on to the hockey news!

-- Oh yeah, Scott Clemmensen starts Tuesday against the Maple Leafs so says Tomas Vokoun.


TORONTO – The Panthers go into the unofficial second part of the season looking for scoring anyway they can get it.

Center Shawn Matthias had been playing well going into the All-Star break, but broke his right ankle after slamming into the boards last Thursday night in Boston.

Matthias, who had a point in each of the three games going into Boston, will be out an estimated six to eight weeks.

“He was playing strong,'' coach Pete DeBoer said after Florida's first practice since the team's four day break for All-Star Weekend. “He's a big guy who gets up and down the ice. He'll be missed, but this is someone else's opportunity.''

With Matthias out, DeBoer switched up his lines on Monday and moved struggling winger Michael Frolik to the fourth line.

IMG_1130 The move was made as much out of desperation as it was necessity. Frolik, who had scored 21 goals in each of his first two seasons with the Panthers, has not scored a goal since 17. This run of 19 straight games without a goal is the longest drought of his short NHL career.

Frolik was working at center on the fourth line, flanked by Steve Bernier and Darcy Hordichuk. This combination probably won't help Frolik break his dry spell, but because of injuries, this is as close to a benching as DeBoer can come up with right now. Frolik was scratched from the lineup on Oct. 28 in Ottawa after he opened the season with no goals in seven games; he bounced right back, scoring four goals in his following five games.

DeBoer hopes this move is another wakeup call. Frolik has no points in 11 straight games.

“This has never happened to me in this league before and it's been very stressful,'' said Frolik, who estimates that he hasn't played center regularly in seven years. “The games go so fast. You go five games without a goal and soon it's 10 then 15. They pile up. I'm trying to play more relaxed, not try to do so much. Sometimes that goes against you. I can't think about this too much, just play the game. I just need a bounce or a lucky goal to turn this around. It's not easy.''

Said DeBoer: “We kept him on the [first] line and gave him the opportunity. You can live with it if opportunities are being created, but when they dry up, that's the red flag that we have to do something. He's got to dig himself out of the hole and he's done it before. He's responded well. He's not alone in the dry-up department when it comes to the goal department, but he's probably the biggest offender in it.''

The Panthers are very light throughout the organization at the center position, although Bill Thomas or Mark Cullen could be recalled from Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., if the Frolik experiment doesn't work out.

IMG_1129 Florida could recall a forward prior to Tuesday's game as well because of the close proximity to Rochester. Bernier has been a healthy scratch the past two games as he hasn't scored since Dec. 9.

-- The Panthers announced a plan Monday in which the team is joining forces with different ice and inline skating rinks throughout the tri-county area to help promote the team and “build the game,'' as DeBoer put it.

The Panthers, who have their own training facility in Coral Springs, plan to hold practices at different rinks throughout South Florida. The Panthers will return to Glacier's Ice Arena in Lighthouse Point for Saturday's practice, the first time the team has been there since their early days. Florida used to practice at Glacier when it was called Gold Coast Ice Arena before building Incredible Ice in northwest Broward.

IMG_1128 The team also plans on holding practices at Pines Ice Arena and Kendall Ice Arena as well as venturing into Palm Beach County in the near future. The Panthers haven't left Coral Springs for a practice since the team was forced to use Pines after Hurricane Wilma. A practice in Kendall would be the Panthers first on-ice activity in Miami-Dade County since leaving Miami Arena in 1998.

“It's no secret that grass roots is how you build a fan base,'' DeBoer said. “Having two kids in minor  hockey in South Florida, I can appreciate that even more. I'm all for to exposing the NHL to as many young hockey players in our area as we can. Los Angeles, Dallas are great examples of how they poured a lot of resources and time into the youth hockey. That translates to more fans in the seats.''

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560/WFTL 640
The series: Toronto leads 28-19-7
The game: This is Florida's second and final trip to Toronto this season. On Oct. 26, the Leafs won 3-1 after Scott Clemmensen was run over by Colton Orr as what turned into the game-winning shot was coming toward the net. Clemmensen will be back in net Tuesday. .-.-. The Panthers have a six-point lead on the Leafs in the standings. Florida has lost five of its past six games, getting a point in three of those losses. The Leafs have lost six of their past seven.

Florida Panthers Going Back in Time: Team to Practice in Pompano on Saturday, Miami in Future

Oldpanthers TORONTO -- When the Panthers came into being in 1993, they had an arena to play in but no real practice facility.

So, the team would play its games in Miami, yet practice all the way up in Pompano Beach at the Gold Coast (now Glaciers) Ice Arena.

Well, it's too late for the Panthers to lace them up at Miami Arena, but they can go back in time.

On Saturday, the Panthers are rumored to be returning to their roots by holding a practice at the very old-school Glacier Ice Arena in Pompano Beach.

This would be the Panthers first practice outside of Incredible Ice in Coral Springs since the new facility was built -- save for a few workouts at Pines Ice Arena when Incredible Ice was out of commission due to Hurricane Wilma.

Miamiarena On Monday, the Panthers announced a new "Rink Coalition" with the different ice and in-line rinks joining forces to help promote hockey in our area.

My opinion: Home run. This is something we've been needing down here for some time.

The plan is, the Panthers will go out to other rinks in South Florida for practices to help spread the game. Not a thing wrong with that. That means fans in West Palm can see the Panthers workout in their town one day, then folks in Pembroke Pines can do so as well.

The Panthers also plan on practicing at Kendall Ice Arena sometime in the near future, marking the first time the Panthers have been on Miami-Dade ice since the final game at Miami Arena in 1998.

-- Got any cool photos from those old practices in Pompano? Feel free to email them to me (grichards@MiamiHerald.com) or LIKE our Facebook page (On Frozen Pond) and post them there.

Will run some of the best ones before the Panthers return to the Pompano ice on Saturday.

-- Here's the release from the Panthers:

Sunrise Sports & Entertainment announced today the formation of the Florida Panthers Rink Coalition with founding members: Glacier Ice and Snow Arena, Kendall Ice Arena, Palm Beach IceWorks, Palm Beach SkateZone Ice & Inline Center, Pines Ice Arena, the Saveology.com Iceplex and the South Florida Inline Hockey League.
The Rink Coalition had its first meeting on Thursday, Jan. 28 at the BankAtlantic Center with representatives from each facility and the Florida Panthers. Each facility will have one member on the Rink Coalition board.
The mission of the Florida Panthers Rink Coalition is to unite local hockey facilities and organizations that are willing and able to work collectively to support and grow the sport of hockey in South Florida. As one united force, the Rink Coalition creates unique opportunities and events, and supports existing initiatives, that engage the entire South Florida hockey community.

As part of the Rink Coalition, local South Florida skating facilities will periodically host public Panthers practices, Panthers Ice Dancers clinics, Panthers player autograph signings and appearances, and the Panthers Party Patrol presented by West Boca Medical Center, North Shore Medical Center and Delray Medical Center, and more.

NHLPA Poll: Players Don't Want to Play for Florida Panthers ... Or on their Ice

TORONTO -- The Panthers aren't real popular with NHL players, so says a survey released by Hockey Night in Canada and the NHLPA this past weekend.

According to the wide-ranging survey -- which you can read right here -- the Panthers are one of the top five teams that current players don't want to play for.

The Panthers arena in Sunrise also got the highest marks -- for having the worst ice in the league.

Of all the votes, 20 percent went with The Billboard for having the crummiest frozen water, followed by Madison Square Garden (14 percent), Tampa Bay (12) and Anaheim.

The Billboard at Tarp City also finished fifth for worst glass. Is it because of all the schmutz?

Edmonton, it should be noted, was the overwhelming winner for best ice (37 percent) but second (behind the Islanders) for franchise you would least like to play for.

The Panthers came in fifth in that polling question, getting just two percent of the vote. The Islanders was the runaway loser here with 27 percent of the vote, followed by the Oilers, Thrashers (7) and Leafs (5).

Of coaches players would least like to play for, Mike Keenan came in fifth with nine percent of the vote.



Florida Panthers Going Back to Work in Toronto ... Michael Frolik in Prolonged Slump ... He's Not Alone

TORONTO -- Good afternoon all. Hope you had a nice All-Star break.

The Florida Panthers gathered in Fort Lauderdale this morning and flew up to the frozen tundra of Ontario. Practice is today at the Air Canada Center.

With the team taking some time off, how about we go back to where we left off, eh?

-- Center Shawn Matthias busted up his ankle pretty bad going into the boards during last Wednesday's 2-1 loss at Boston.

He's not on the trip, so it must be pretty bad. Matthias is a local kid, so missing out on a free -- albeit very cold -- trip home must mean he's hurting something fierce.

Will talk to Pete about the injury today at the skate.

-- After losing to Washington on January 8, general manager Dale Tallon told me "I'm not giving up on this team.''

The Panthers then went out and finished up 4-2-3. The Panthers probably could have done a smidge better had it not been for those pesky two-goal meltdowns that led to the three overtime losses.

If the Panthers want to stick together, they're going to have to play at that type of pace -- only better -- in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline.

That deadline is at the end of this month.

-- To get more wins, the Panthers sure could use a few more goals.

Since losing 3-2 Boston on Dec. 27, the Panthers haven't scored much of anything.

During this span of 16 games, the Panthers have been held to two goals or fewer nine times – losing each of those games.

During Florida's current run (1-2-3), it has only scored more than two goals once (in the win at New York). 

Dating to Dec. 1, Florida has been held to two goals or less 13 times, winning just once. The Panthers have scored three or more in 14 games since Dec. 1, winning 11.

So it looks like we've found the Panthers magic number.

-- So where's the scoring going to come from?

For one, Michael Frolik really needs to get things going.

Haven't noticed him much lately, have you?

Frolik comes into this unofficial second half of the season mired in a huge slump. Frolik hasn't scored a goal since Dec. 17 -- that's 19 straight games.

Frolik had three assists in the month of January -- all of them coming in the first week of the month.

So that's no points -- zero -- in 11 straight.

-- Hate to dump on Frolik, and he's not the only reason the Panthers aren't scoring.

Stephen Weiss, the Panthers front line center, hasn't scored a single point in the past five games.

Weiss, the Panthers leading goal scorer last season, has just two goals this month -- both of which coming in two of Florida's first three games in January. Weiss hasn't scored a goal in 11 straight.

-- David Booth also could be of some help. Booth has gone four straight games without recording a point, but he does have five goals this month and he did have a run of five assists in four games earlier this month. More from him, however, sure would be nice.

-- Rookie Evgeny Dadonov has cooled off after a nice start. Dadonov has two goals this month but doesn't have a point in his past six.

-- Mike Santorelli has been putting up some points of late and that's been a little bit of a help. Santorelli has three goals and eight assists since the month started.



January 28, 2011

Evgeny Dadonov: The Florida Panthers Surprise All-Star Representative

Dadcard You can tell Panthers coach Pete DeBoer was a little taken back when told who would be representing his franchise at this weekend's All-Star Game.

He wasn't alone.

Instead of Tomas Vokoun, Stephen Weiss or David Booth, it will be rookie winger Evgeny Dadonov in Raleigh, N.C., this weekend trying to do the Panthers proud.

Like DeBoer, even Dadonov was a little surprised by the honor. Dadonov got word he would be going to Raleigh a few hours before he played in just his 19th NHL game.

“I don't know much about this, this is the first time they told me about it,'' Dadonov said soon after word broke that he was selected. When asked about the format, it was obvious he hadn't put much thought into it. Why should he?

“I was kind of surprised,'' DeBoer said. “He'd only played in 14 games this season. But what a great honor for him. Next to the Stanley Cup playoffs, this is one of the biggest things in the NHL and he gets to be part of that. It's great for him.''

Dadonov will not be playing in Sunday's All-Star Game as no Florida player was selected for that honor. Dadonov is filling the NHL mandate that each franchise be represented in some way, and he'll take part in Saturday's SuperSkills competition with the rest of the All-Star participants.

This is only the second time in franchise history and first time since 1998 that the Panthers had no player in the All-Star Game.
With the changed format – the game will not be the traditional Eastern vs. Western Conference – the NHL felt it didn't really need to stick by the unwritten rule that each team have someone playing. Florida had Booth, Bryan McCabe and Vokoun on the electronic ballot. The three got minimal support, however, and received the fewest votes at their respective positions.

That's no concern to Dadonov, a skilled winger who will get to show off his moves in Saturday's skills competition.

Dadonov has been impressive at times since being called up from the minors on Dec. 7, and his strong play made veteran forward Steven Reinprecht expendable. When the Panthers started getting some forwards back off the injured list last month, instead of sending Dadonov back to their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., they waived Reinprecht and told Dadonov he could stick around.

Through 23 games, the 21-year-old born in Chelyabinsk, USSR, has four goals and seven assists.

“I think I have much more confidence now that I've gotten some points. I think I can play here,'' Dadonov said recently.

DeBoer would like to see Dadonov keep going hard and not let things like the Raleigh trip swell his head. If Dadonov was to “pull off the gas” for an extensive period of time, he could find himself back in the minors.

“Good things will happen if he keeps doing what he's been doing,'' DeBoer said. “As a coach, I want him to remember his day-to-day obligations and not get too wrapped up in the All-Star thing. He hasn't played that many games. He has to understand that this invitation doesn't mean he's arrived just yet. He's still a very young player. If it was up to me, would I be sending him? No. But good for him. This can be a good experience for him if he keeps it in perspective.''

DeBoer wasn't happy with Dadonov last season when he arrived to his first Panthers training camp out of shape and not really ready to compete. It's easy to see how that happened, what with Dadonov coming over from Russia for his first NHL camp. The NHL is a different game and Dadonov had to find that out.

Dadruss Dadonov, whose team in Russia at one time threatened to sue the Panthers over contractual issues, ended up spending almost the entire season in Rochester. One teammate after another was called up to help fill in with the Panthers, but Dadonov had to wait until the final weeks of the season to get his chance. Dadonov was recalled and played in the final four games of the season, finally making his NHL debut on April 6.

Dadonov didn't make the same mistake this year, trimming down and coming to camp looking like a different player. He was the star of the rookie camp held in Coral Springs and made a strong impression during his stay in camp.

“Last year, he came to camp and his conditioning was an issue. He was carrying too much weight,'' DeBoer said. “He made a real commitment to get into shape and looked like a different person this camp. He turned baby fat into muscle. That made a big impression on us. Once he got here, he made it so we can't take him out of the lineup. He's strong, he's skilled, he's good on the puck. He creates offense but is strong defensively.'' 

Dadonov admits he was confused by the Panthers reluctance to pull him away from the minors last year. By the time Florida brought him up, its season was over. Then it was back to Rochester for a brief run in the AHL playoffs. During the summer, Dadonov was quoted by a Russian news agency that he wanted assurances fro the Panthers that he would play in the NHL or return to Russia. Dadonov vehemently denied making the comments during training camp, saying he would go anywhere the Panthers wanted him to.

In hindsight, he says, spending last season in Rochester was a blessing. He may not be here now, going to the All-Star Game and hobnobbing with the league's biggest stars, had the Panthers not made him be patient.

“Now I see why it happened like that. I didn't understand anything when I got here. My English was bad, I didn't know the system,'' said Dadonov, who hopes to hang out with fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin this weekend.

“This was a different hockey, a different life. This year is much easier than last year. I can handle this much better because of what I went through last season. I came here to play NHL hockey and the AHL was that first step.

“I'm happy right now. Everything is going along to my plan.''

Those Telephone Lines: Dale Tallon, Mike Santos Have Decisions to Make ... Are Panthers More Pretend than Contend?

Gekko BOSTON -- The Panthers go into the All-Star break with the same number of wins as regulation losses with five overtime defeats thrown in for fun.

If one subscribes to the Bill Parcells adage that a team is only as good as its record indicates, well, the Panthers are a pretty average bunch.

Not real good, not real bad.

How ordinary are the Panthers? Not only are they a .500 team in the win-regulation loss category, but they have scored the exact same number of goals (131) as they have given up.

“It's tough to get reflective of where you are at being in the day-to-day grind of it,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “I like our work ethic, I like the way the guys have bought in. But we've left points on the table. That's the story so far. Since Christmas, we've done better at that. Even when we've lost, we've been able to come away with points and that's the key. At the beginning of the year we went stretches without getting anything out of it.''

General manager Dale Tallon will have to decide soon enough whether the Panthers are going to be sellers or buyers at the trade deadline next month,  although Telephone Wednesday's 2-1 loss to the Bruins likely won't sway Tallon or assistant general manager Mike Santos one way or another.

What happens on the upcoming three-game road trip that starts Tuesday in Toronto could begin to sway the Florida brain trust, however. Time is running out and the Panthers have plenty of ground to make up.

The Panthers have their flaws, no doubt. Florida's top scorers – or the players the Panthers count on to do the bulk of the heavy lifting – are streaky. And they seem to feed off each other. When Stephen Weiss isn't scoring much, neither, it seems, is David Booth, Michael Frolik or Chris Higgins.

Of Florida's 49 games this season, 27 have been decided by a single goal with the Panthers winning 12. They don't get blown out very often (Florida has been in 16 games decided by three goals and has won nine), and on those rare occasions when they haven't shown up in a game this season, the Panthers almost assuredly bounce back the next time out.

It's that type of even-keeled play that has kept the Panthers within sight of a playoff berth. Atlanta goes into the break holding an eight-point lead on Florida but has Carphone played in three more games.

The Panthers, to break into the postseason for the first time since their arena was named after a rental car company, will have to not only hold off teams below them (Florida has a six-point lead on Toronto and seven-point cushion on Ottawa), but catch the Thrashers, Hurricanes and Sabres.

Right now, the Panthers think they can do just that. They play strong defense and have a terrific one-two punch in goal with Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen. By being in every game, the Panthers have a chance each night.

Is that good enough?

“This team finds a way to consistently stay in games,'' DeBoer said. “We're in the game every night, we just need to make sure we're on the right side of it.''

Had Florida won in Boston on Wednesday, it would have gone into the break on a 5-1-3 run with a chance to have won all but the game in New Jersey last Sunday. By losing to the Bruins, Florida ended up with 11 of a possible 18 points. They should have had more but don't.

And the reality, now, is this: Tallon is not going to sit still. With the trade deadline coming up at the end of February – and scouts from dozens of teams watching each Panthers game from the press box – moves are probably going to be made.
Big moves.

The Panthers have a few unmovable contracts that Tallon will likely deal with in the summer, but for right now, he has players he can move for future concerns like draft picks, prospects and young players who may just need a chance Florida can provide.

If Tallon decides that's the route the Panthers will take, this current roster could be shaken up. The Panthers say they would like to sign Vokoun to a contract extension, although that could be a smokescreen to try and finagle another piece from a team who would be interested in the pending free agent.

Tallon has seen the Panthers lose top players – like Roberto Luongo and Jay Bouwmeester – for little return. He's not going to let a key player like Vokoun (who can veto any trade) walk away July 1 and not get anything in return.

Florida also has more than a few veteran players who could help a contending team. If Tallon decides Florida is more pretender than contender, players like Bryan McCabe, Cory Stillman, Chris Higgins, Radek Dvorak and others may find themselves somewhere else. For the right price, even players like Weiss and Booth could be pried out of South Florida.

But Tallon is patient. He'll give the Panthers a few more weeks to get closer to the playoffs before he does anything. Tallon seems to genuinely like the effort and makeup of the Panthers, yet he knows this roster isn't what he ultimately wants.

“The telephone calls have increased and it's going to get busier,'' Santos said.

January 26, 2011

Florida Panthers Get Mauled by Tim Thomas and Bruins 2-1 ... Shawn Matthias Ankle "Doesn't Look Good" ... Erik Gudbrasnon Suspended by OHL (With Video)


BOSTON – The Panthers probably didn't deserve to win after the way they played Tuesday night in New York, only thanks to a fluke goal in the third, they somehow did just that.

Florida didn't really deserve to win Wednesday night, either, although the Panthers made a better case for themselves with a strong showing in the third. This time, however, the opposing goalie made sure Florida went home for the All-Star break empty handed.

Tim Thomas, who will be playing in the NHL festival in North Carolina this weekend, continued to control the Panthers offense as he made 34 saves as the Bruins swept the four-game season series from Florida with a 2-1 win at the Garden.

The Panthers scored four goals in four games against the Bruins this season.

Allstarlogo “He's one of the best goalies in the league and when he sees the puck, he's going to stop it,'' winger David Booth said. “You have to get rebound goals against him. That's what we needed.''

The loss was Florida's fifth in its final six games going into the short weekend reprieve. The Panthers failed to pick up any more ground on division rivals Atlanta or Carolina in the race for the final playoff spot.

The Panthers, down 2-0 in the third, pulled to within one when defenseman Bryan Allen scored midway through the period. Florida had numerous other chances – including when Dennis Wideman and Chris Higgins went after Thomas later in the period – but couldn't find another goal.

“He's a frustrating guy to play against because he's not the most orthodox goalie,'' Higgins said. “He just throws himself in front of the puck. They're a solid defensive team and don't give up too many chances. Thomas made some big saves, especially in the third. You would like to gain a little confidence against a team like this. These guys seem to have our number.''

Matthias Florida may have lost center Shawn Matthias for a considerable amount of time after he was helped off the ice after he could barely stand after getting jammed against the boards.

Matthias, who has 13 goals and 19 assists in 102 games over the past two seasons, was driving hard at the net when he was pulled down by Adam McQuaid while putting a shot up against Thomas. Matthias whipped back and slid hard into the boards.

Matthias tossed his stick aside as he tried to get back up, only he couldn't support himself and he tried crawling along the side boards back to the Florida bench. An official finally – and mercifully – stopped play allowing teammates and trainers to come to his aid. Matthias was helped to the locker room and didn't return.

“It doesn't look good,'' coach Pete DeBoer said of Matthias' ankle injury. “We'll know more when we see a better picture of it. But it doesn't look good.''

Boston controlled the flow of the game as the Panthers were playing their second in as many nights – although the Bruins played in Los Angeles on Monday.

In the first period, Brad Marchand gave Boston the opening lead with a wraparound goal Tomas Vokoun (the game's third star with 33 saves) was a step late on. The play was reviewed in Toronto but the decision came back quickly as the puck obviously went past Vokoun's stick and over the line.

Milan Lucic gave the Bruins a two-goal cushion just before the Matthias injury at 1:52 of the second period. Lucic scored three goals against the Panthers in Florida's previous visit to Boston, a 4-0 Bruins victory on Nov. 18.

Former Panthers winger Nathan Horton, who assisted on all three of Lucic's goal in November, continues to struggle. Horton, who told general manager Dale Tallon he wouldn't mind leaving South Florida and then promptly got his wish, has one goal in his past 20 games and none in 10. Horton opened the season with seven goals in his first 12 games. Horton has 12 goals in 48 games this season.


Gudbransondraft Panthers prospect Erik Gudbranson was suspended indefinitely by the Ontario Hockey League on Wednesday after the 19-year-old defenseman crushed a forward from a rival team in retaliation for a hit put on a teammate.

Gudbranson, playing for the Kingston Frontenacs, went after Oshawa's J.P. Labardo after Labardo dropped Kingston goalie Philipp Grubauer with an open-ice hit. This is the second suspension this month for Gudbranson – the third overall pick of the 2010 draft. He was suspended for a game last week and stripped of his title as alternate captain by the team after he apparently got into a shouting match with members of his coaching staff.

Panthers assistant general manager Mike Santos said the team is not concerned with the suspensions as one (insubordination) had nothing to do with the other (defending a teammate). Labardo was suspended five games for his hit to the head of the Kingston goalie.

“He's an 18-year-old kid who has had a lot of things thrown at him in the past couple of months,'' Santos said. “He realized he spoke out of line a little bit and is willing to pay for that and did that with the one game suspension. He didn't lose any respect from his coaches or teammates. I want a guy who plays with a little edge, is a little nasty. But he's a kid and has to grow into that.''

In an interesting twist, Panthers coach Pete DeBoer is a part-owner of the Oshawa Generals. He said Wednesday that he has very little contact with the franchise as far as day-to-day operations go, and says he has never even met Labardo. DeBoer and former NHL winger Adam Graves bought the Generals last year. DeBoer had been coach and general manager of the OHL's Kitchener Rangers.

“As long as there wasn't an injury,'' DeBoer said, “I'm probably more concerned about Erik than I am about anything else.''

-- The Panthers used the same lineup Wednesday as they did Tuesday against the New York Rangers, meaning Vokoun got his second straight start since missing Sunday's game with a muscle pull. Steve Bernier, who has one goal in the past 24 games, was a healthy scratch for the second straight night as was defenseman Joe Callahan.

Callahan was sent back to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., following the game.

January 25, 2011

Luck in the City: Mike Weaver's Odd Goal Lifts Florida Panthers to 4-3 Win over Rangers

Pantherguardian PANTHERS 4, RANGERS 3

NEW YORK – It has been a few games since the Panthers had a two goal lead on an opponent, but it hasn't been so long ago that they forgot how to squander such a cushion.

On Tuesday night, the Rangers became the latest team to erase a two-goal deficit against a Florida team that simply cannot put teams away.

This time, however, it was the Panthers who were the ones making the late push as they held on for a 4-3 victory at Madison Square Garden after Mike Weaver's long shot toward the net deflected off a New York defender and floated past the goalie for the winning goal.

Weaver's fortunate goal came on Florida's first shot of the third period with 8:19 remaining in regulation. It also came on the Panthers only – as in one – shot of the third period. And had the puck not bounced past the goalie, it wouldn't have counted as a shot at all since it was way wide of the net.

Weaver “I was relieved to see it. We were up 3-1 and they scored back-to-back,'' Weaver said. “It was great to see that goal. Thank God.''

The Panthers led 3-1 going into the third but watched the Rangers score twice off six shot within the first 3:05 to tie things up. It looked like it was going to be another meltdown by the Panthers, although Weaver's fluke goal took some weight off and Tomas Vokoun was strong the rest of the night. Vokoun stopped 32 shots as he helped the Panthers snap a four-game losing streak.

Since Dec. 31, the Panthers had taken at least a two-goal lead in eight games – failing to hold that lead in seven of them.

“Our goalie won us this game,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “There's been a few nights this year that we left the building with no points after outplaying an opponent. We were on the other end of that. Those kind of things sometimes even out. We got outplayed for big stretches of the game and probably didn't deserve to be in the spot we were. We'll take it. Our goalie was our best player and it was enough.''

Florida can finish strong heading into the All-Star break as it has gone 4-1-3 since Jan. 11. A win or point in Boston on Wednesday night should keep general manager Dale Tallon from making any sort of a seller's move during the break in the schedule.

The Panthers haven't made the playoffs in a decade and still have acres of ground to make up to get close to the eighth spot. DeBoer doesn't even want to talk about such things.

“We're just putting our heads down and trying to win as many games as we can,'' he said.

Rusty The night started off well for the Panthers as Rostislav Olesz gave Florida a 1-0 lead by whipping the puck past goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 7:25 of the first on Florida's third shot of the night. The Panthers had just four shots in the entire opening period.

“We wanted to jump on them but they jumped on us,'' Olesz said. “It was good for us to get the lead, to settle things down. We finished the first period strong. This was a good win for us but a strange one. Hey, we've lost games where we were the better team. That's how it works sometimes. We battled through. That was the biggest thing.''

New York bounced back and tied it in the second on Derek Stepan's goal, with Florida quickly answering as defenseman Keaton Ellerby picked up his first NHL goal less than a minute later. The locals turned on Lundqvist when Mike Santorelli made it 3-1 on Florida's next shot – his 13th goal of the year coming 1:08 after Ellerby's.

Florida held the 3-1 lead going into the third, although the Rangers would make up lost ground quickly.

A long shot from Michael Sauer was deflected by Brandon Prust just 1:14 into the third, with Brian Boyle tying it by knocking a loose puck past Tomas Vokoun on a power play at 3:05 of the period.

The Panthers did just about nothing on the offensive side of the ice throughout the entire third period, but Weaver's shot found the back of Artem Anisimov and bounced over Lundqvist's head and to the back of the net.

“Hey,'' Weaver said, “we'll take 'em any way we can.''


Dmitry Kulikov was cleared to play by the Panthers team trainer after Tuesday's morning skate and was back in the lineup against the Rangers. Kulikov missed the past two games after injuring his upper rib cage. Kulikov says the pain of breathing was gone and felt confident the padding he was wearing would protect him during hits.

Kulikov said after Monday's practice that he probably would not play.

-- Chris Higgins was back at Madison Square Garden for the first time since the Rangers traded him to Calgary at last year's trade deadline. Higgins missed Florida's past eight games with a hamstring injury and says he hopes to help the Panthers pick up some wins and get back into the playoff hunt. Florida came into the day eight points behind Atlanta for the final spot with four games in hand on the Thrashers.

-- With Higgins and Kulikov back in, DeBoer had some decisions to make with the lineup. Darcy Hordichuk was back in after being scratched the past two games with DeBoer benching the slumping Steve Bernier.

Bernier had two goals with an assist in his first game back from orbital bone surgery in December, but he only has one goal in the 24 games since. His assist Sunday was his first point in 16 games as he has seen his playing time diminish.

The Panthers acquired Bernier, Michael Grabner and a first round pick from Vancouver in exchange for Keith Ballard at the June draft. Bernier and Ballard have struggled, although Grabner – waived by Florida after training camp and claimed by the Islanders – has 14 goals and 19 points in 43 games. That would rank him eighth on the Panthers in scoring.

When, Where: 7 p.m.; TD Garden, Boston
TV/Radio: FSNF; WFTL 640
The series: Tied 30-30-6
The game: This is both team's final game before going into the All-Star break. The Panthers plan to hold their next practice Monday afternoon in Toronto before embarking on another three-game road trip. .-.-. The Bruins have won all three games against the Panthers this season. .-.-. Hortonboston After getting off to a torrid start, former Panthers winger Nathan Horton has definitely cooled off. Horton has one goal this month and has gone nine straight games without scoring one.

Living for the City: Florida Panthers at New York Rangers ... Vokoun Back, Bernier Scratched

Murphskates NEW YORK -- The Panthers square off against the Rangers at the Garden tonight, although by the looks of the picture to the left, Panthers arena host Bill Murphy got things started on Monday night.

Murphy apparently mixed things up with his brother Steve on some frozen swamp in Jersey.

Anyway, cool shot. And Steve also did a bang-up job singing the Anthem before the game. Had I known he was doing it, I would have timed him. Thinking it was in the 1:28 range.

On to the game at hand:

Tomas Vokoun looked sharp at the morning skate and will be in net Tuesday against the Rangers. Would think Scott Clemmensen will play against the Bruins on Wednesday.

Also, it looks like Dmitry Kulikov is back. He said he wanted to play, but he has to be cleared by medical staff. He was out for the warmups.

Darcy Hordichuk will be back in the lineup even though Chris Higgins returns after missing eight games with a hamstring injury. That means someone else is out. Who is it?

Steve Bernier.

For in-game updates and anything else feel like throwing out there, follow on Twitter ( twitter.com/OnFrozenPond) or like our Facebook page (OnFrozenPond). You could always do both. Don't cost nuthin.


January 24, 2011

Florida Panthers on the Hudson: Offense in Big-Time Funk ... Tomas Vokoun, Chris Higgins Back for Rangers ... Dmitry Kulikov Still Out

VokounNYC NEW YORK -- With the Hudson River and the snow-lined banks of New Jersey serving as an unusually scenic backdrop, the Panthers held Monday's practice at the SkyRink at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan.

The workout was intense, although attendance was limited. Just a handful of forwards and defensemen joined goalie Tomas Vokoun and assistant coaches Gord Murphy and Robb Tallas on the ice.

With so few forwards working out, Florida's stagnant offense wasn't addressed although Murphy ran his defensemen through some shooting drills.

Lauderdaletimessq At this point, the Panthers offense could use all the help it can get.

Florida's 126 goals are for 11th fewest in the Eastern Conference and only Edmonton (117) has fewer goals in the west.

Since losing 3-2 Boston on Dec. 27, the Panthers have struggled to score in most games. During those 14 games, the Panthers have been held to two goals or fewer eight times – losing each time. During Florida's current four-game losing streak, it hasn't scored more than twice in a single game.

Dating back to Dec. 1, Florida has been held to two goals or less 12 times, winning just once -- and that was a shootout win in which the team actually only scored one goal. The Panthers have scored three or more in 13 games since Dec. 1, winning 10.

Goldielaurer “We just have to find a way to put the puck in the net. We're getting a ton of chances,'' center Stephen Weiss said. “We're not finishing things off. We'll just keep going at it and hopefully we'll get one and it snowballs and we'll get a bunch on this trip, get some points.''

The offense will get a boost Tuesday when winger Chris Higgins returns after missing eight games with a hamstring injury. Higgins, who practiced Monday, said he's “good to go” and will play against his former teammates. Higgins played for the Rangers last season before being traded to Calgary in the Olli Jokinen deal.

Higgins, who scored five goals with six assists in the seven games before getting hurt, will definitely be welcomed. So, too, would some production out of Florida's other forwards.

Weiss leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and 20 assists, his 33 points ranking him tied for 69th in the league. David Booth was heating up a bit, scoring three goals in a four-game span from Jan. 7-13 but has just one since.

PanthersNYC The Panthers would really like to see more from Michael Frolik as the streaky third-year winger hasn't scored since Dec. 17 – a span of 17 straight games – and hasn't recorded a single point in his past nine. Mike Santorelli, who has been a nice surprise with 12 goals so far, has scored twice in his past 13.

“We have to finish our opportunities,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “We're just not finishing. Guys like Frolik and Santorelli were hot early and have gone cold here. It's hard to explain. There are a lot of streaky scorers in hockey. We sat Frolik when his chances diminished, but as long as he's getting chances, I can live with that because he'll put a few in soon.''

-- Vokoun, who missed Sunday's game after suffering a muscle pull Friday against Tampa Bay, said he would likely dress Tuesday. DeBoer said Scott Clemmensen could play depending on how Vokoun felt Tuesday morning. With Florida playing at Boston on Wednesday, both goalies are expected to play in the coming days anyway.

“I felt pretty good so I think I'll be able to play,'' Vokoun said.

With Vokoun ready to go, rookie Jacob Markstrom was returned to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Markstrom, 20, made his NHL debut Sunday at New Jersey.

-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (rib cage) practiced Monday and said he felt better but probably not good enough to play Tuesday.

-- Defensemen Joe Callahan and Clay Wilson were in the Panthers lineup for the second straight game on Sunday as DeBoer continued to go with seven defensemen because of Jason Garrison's bothersome groin injury.

Callahan was called up for the second time this season on Thursday after playing in two games for the Panthers in November. Wilson, recalled on Friday, made his 2010-11 NHL debut Friday against the Lightning. He played in two games in 2009-10.

Wilson was sent back to Rochester on Monday after DeBoer determined Garrison would be able to play the next two games leading into the All-Star break.

With the recent loss of Bryan McCabe (broken jaw) and Kulikov, the Panthers lost 1,223 games worth of NHL experience on defense -- McCabe owns 1,111 of those games -- and replaced it with the 84 of Callahan, Wilson and Keaton Ellerby.

“We have a young defense to begin with,'' DeBoer said last week. “It's nothing we haven't dealt with all year. The guys we're bringing in can all play. When you're in the middle of a season and have played as many games as we have, it's nice to have a shot of energy.''

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Rangers lead 37-28-6
The game: This is Florida's first visit to the Garden this season but this is the third meeting with the Rangers. The Panthers went 1-1 against New York in Sunrise, winning 3-0 on Jan. 2 and losing 3-0 on Nov. 27. .-.-. The Rangers are a banged up bunch but have held things together and are 6-5-1 this month. The Rangers were missing seven regular forwards on Saturday Torts but still beat the Thrashers 3-2 in a shootout. Notables out include Ryan Callahan (broken hand), Erik Christensen (knee), Brandon Dubinsky (leg), Ruslan Fedotenko (shoulder) and Alex Frolov (knee).

January 23, 2011

BeDeviled: Jacob Markstrom Makes NHL Debut, Florida Panthers Lose in Jersey 5-2


NEWARK, N.J. -- The Panthers caught a glimpse into their future on Sunday afternoon.

They are banking it will get better.

Jacob Markstrom, Florida's highly-touted goalie prospect, made his NHL debut against the Devils on Sunday and despite a strong start – well, the Devils didn't get off a shot in his opening 11 minutes – things went downhill rapidly. New Jersey picked up two power play goals on its first five shots against Markstrom and ran away with a 5-2 victory.

“It's fun to play your first game in the NHL, this is why I came to North America in the first place,'' Markstrom said afterward. “But you always want to win. I hate to lose. It doesn't matter if I played two periods or one or three. We didn't win. There are more games coming up.''

Said coach Pete DeBoer: “He's going to be an NHL goalie for a long time. Now he's got the first one out of the way.''

Florida has now lost four straight but did pick up at least a point in its previous three losses. The surging Devils are still way out of the playoff race, but have won six of seven with their only loss during this run coming to the Panthers in Sunrise on Jan. 15.

Markstrom was told by Rochester coach Chuck Weber on Saturday night that he was coming up to backup Scott Clemmensen after it was decided Tomas Vokoun's undisclosed 'upper-body' injury would keep him from dressing. Clemmensen has been strong against his former teammates of late, winning both starts against the Devils last season and taking the game earlier this month.

Devil Clemmensen, however, wasn't very sharp on Sunday and DeBoer decided to make a change after New Jersey scored twice in the opening period.

“We were looking for a shock for the team,'' DeBoer said of the quick hook. “It was a no pressure situation for [Markstrom] because sometimes if you know you're playing, you sit around all day thinking about it. In this case, we threw him out there. I thought he handled himself well.''

The Devils jumped to a 1-0 lead when Florida nemesis Ilya Kovalchuk – 32 goals and 30 assists in 51 games, most of which with Atlanta – fired a long shot past Clemmensen after the Panthers defense failed to clear the puck less than five minutes in.

The two teams played a defensive-minded game for much of the remainder of the first, with the two teams combining for just 15 shots. But the Devils' eighth shot of the period was a doozy as Jason Arnott knocked the puck past Clemmensen with just two seconds remaining.

The Panthers failed to clear the puck on numerous chances, although Clemmensen didn't help his cause by misplaying a puck. Thanks to that and Florida's inability to get rid of it, the Devils set themselves up nicely.

“If you're going to play it, play it hard,'' goalie coach Robb Tallas said. “I think the game for [Clemmensen] was a reflection of how the game was going for us. Changing goalies did give us a spark. We came out and were shooting. Clemmensen knew he misplayed the puck. You can't have a soft touch there.''

Clemmensen found himself on the bench to start the second with Markstrom making his debut. Markstrom, the first pick of the second round in the 2008 draft, had plenty of time to calm any nerves he may have had as the Panthers played the aggressor and cycled the puck in the Jersey zone.

Markstrom By the time Alexander Vasyunov took the Devils' first shot of the second with 8:31 remaining, the Panthers had already cut the deficit in half as center Shawn Matthias scored on a pretty shot, beating Martin Brodeur at 7:22 of the second.

Markstrom stopped the first two shots he faced, but he never saw the third as Brian Rolston whipped a power play shot from the right side that buzzed over the 20-year-old goalie's shoulder. The Devils got a great power play chance not long after when Florida defensemen Joe Callahan and Mike Weaver went to the penalty box within 18 seconds of each infraction.

Playing with a two-man advantage, the Devils quickly made it 4-1 when Patrik Elias – another Devil who loves playing Florida – slipped in a shot from the right side of the cage.

The Panthers made it a two-goal game when Marty Reasoner knocked in a loose puck five minutes into the third, but unlike Florida, the Devils traditionally don't give up many two goal leads – especially with Jacques Lemaire back behind the bench. The Devils got their fifth goal when Arnott scored into an empty net.

Sunday's game could be the only one Markstrom plays with the Panthers this season – or not. He said he didn't know his immediate future. Vokoun is expected to practice with the team Monday at Chelsea Pier in Manhattan.

“As a backup goalie, you have to prepare to be ready to play,'' said Markstrom, whose official opening line is two goals off 14 shots in 39:49 of playing time. “I was prepared to get in but I didn't expect it.''

Hershey -- Markstrom was told he was joining the Panthers on Saturday night after his Rochester Americans played in Hershey, Pa. Markstrom said he woke up early, flew into the New York area and took a cab to the team's hotel in Times Square. Markstrom was rushed because Sunday's game was an afternoon start.

“I thought he was real good for traveling all day,'' Tallas said.

Luongo -- Markstrom became the youngest goalie to make his debut with the Panthers. Roberto Luongo, who had already made his NHL debut by the time he made his first start for the Panthers in 2000, was 21-years-old.

Kevin Weekes and Alexander Salak were both 22 when they played in their first games for Florida. Weekes

Salak, like Markstrom, made his debut by coming in after DeBoer decided to make a change. Salak replaced Vokoun in a game at Carolina last season.

The 'Future' Started Sunday: Jacob Markstrom Makes NHL Debut

Markstrom NEWARK, N.J. -- Panthers coach Pete DeBoer pulled Scott Clemmensen after he gave up two goals on eight shots in the first period of Sunday's game in New Jersey.

Starting the second period? Rookie Jacob Markstrom.

Markstrom, anointed the Panthers future in net since being taken with the first pick of the second round in 2008, didn't face his first shot from the Devils until there was 8:32 left in the second period.

Brian Rolston took the Devils' third shot against Markstrom and it was a doozy: A power play goal giving Jersey a 3-1 lead.

Standing 6-foot-3, Markstrom really does fill up a cage.

-- The Panthers went into the second day of the NHL Draft in 2008 knowing exactly who they were going to take. In fact, as soon as the final pick of the first round was made, the Panthers knew who they were taking.


"I could hardly contain myself on the bus back to the hotel,'' scouting director Scott Luce said then.

-- Shawn Matthias got the Panthers on the board in the second period by whipping a shot past Marty Brodeur. It was his first goal since Dec. 20 at Philadelphia.

-- Panthers 0-1 on power play so far; Devils are 1-1.

More later...

Jacob Markstrom Heads to Jersey on a Jet Plane: Goalie of Future to Backup Clemmensen

Mccaberex NEWARK, N.J. -- The Panthers goalie of the future has arrived earlier than most expected, although it's hard to get too excited over this.

Jacob Markstrom has been recalled from AHL Rochester to backup Scott Clemmensen for today's game at Newark Center against the Devils.

Tomas Vokoun, who could possibly have a groin injury, will not dress for this afternoon's contest.

Have to assume Markstrom is wearing the No. 33 he wore in training camp.

If he does, he joins such notables in Florida history as Eldon Reddick, David Morisset, Kristian Kudroc and Eric Cairns in wearing that number for the Panthers.

Been kind of a disappointing season for Markstrom down on the farm, but the Panthers aren't detered. Markstrom is still their guy, the No. 1 prospect in the organization. Markstrom, people sometimes forget, is 20-years-old playing a new style of hockey and living in a new country with new customs and ways of living.

Markstromhabs Florida's management warned us that Markstrom might take some time to adjust and even hinted they wouldn't have a problem with him serving a second season in the AHL -- be that in Rochester or wherever else the Panthers hang their hat.

Markstrom had one of his best games of the season on Friday, stopping 35 of 36 shots as the Amerks beat the rival Syracuse Crunch 2-1.

So far this year, Markstrom is 13-19-1 mark with a 3.14 GAA and a .902 save percentage -- improved numbers after his start.


January 22, 2011

Florida Panthers Don't Catch the Breaks ... Tomas Vokoun Is Injured, Clemmensen Vs. Devils

The Panthers haven't caught many breaks this season.

Friday's 2-1 shootout loss to the Lightning was just another example of close calls going against the Panthers.

Bryan Allen was called for tripping Vinny Lecavalier on a breakaway as the Lightning star winger was awarded a penalty shot. Replays show a penalty probably shouldn't have been called at all. Allen and Lecavalier collided about the same time as Allen knocked the puck away cleanly.

“I thought I hit the puck first, but that's a judgment call. They thought I tripped him first,'' Allen said. “That's the way it seems to be going. We never get the benefit of the doubt. That's frustrating. I don't know if it's because we're playing better teams, but we get the short end of the stick. Maybe it's because we don't play in a big media market like Canadian teams or other cities where there's more attention. It comes with the territory of where you are. We have to earn respect in all areas.''

In the shootout, Dominic Moore appeared to be stopped by goalie Tomas Vokoun only Moore's stick continued to push the puck through. The shootout goal was reviewed in Toronto by league officials and upheld.

That was the fifth disputed goal call this season to go against the Panthers. Florida should have known something was up on opening night in Edmonton when Shawn Horcoff kicked a puck into the net yet it was ruled good. General manager Dale Tallon was incredulous then, and hasn't been happy about the most recent turn of events.

“Whether it's coincidence or not, we have to go into every game with the mindset that we have to earn whatever we get,'' coach Pete DeBoer said.

The Panthers haven't made the playoffs in a decade, so getting respect from those around the league is a little tougher to get. Florida was picked to finish last in the Eastern Conference by a number of publications, something DeBoer has brought up a few times – especially after wins against teams entrenched in the playoffs. The Panthers are one of only a handful of teams to not be represented in next Sunday's All-Star Game.

“That stokes that fire of the lack of respect we've gotten from Day 1,'' DeBoer said “The All-Star Game is a small part of that. It's not a great motivator, but it's part of the big picture that no one picks us to be competitive.''

Florida has a good opportunity to pick up ground in the playoff race this week as it embarks on a three game road trip before going into the All-Star break. Florida opens Sunday in New Jersey – in a game that's not televised locally because it was scheduled, but not picked up, during the NBC national window – before ending with the Rangers and Bruins.

“We just have to win games, get some points and let our play do the talking for us,'' Stephen Weiss said. “We need to keep climbing in the second half and sneak our way in [to the playoffs]. We can beat anyone when we play our game, we know that. We've beaten all the best teams in the league before. If we do the right things, sometimes it won't be good enough, but we'll be in every game.''


DeBoer said Vokoun suffered an injury during Friday's game but continued to play. DeBoer, who wouldn't disclose what the injury was, said Vokoun would not start Sunday against the Devils and an emergency backup could be recalled from the minors.

Scott Clemmensen had been expected to get the start against the Devils anyway. Clemmensen, the former New Jersey backup, has won all three of his starts against New Jersey.

“He's got an injury and we're just taking it day-by-day,'' DeBoer said.

-- Center Mark Cullen had his final practice with the Panthers Saturday before reporting to the team's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Cullen, who was placed on waivers Saturday, has been out since rupturing his Achilles tendon during physicals the day before training camp started. Cullen has been working with the Panthers for the past few weeks and said he hopes to begin play in Rochester this week.

“I feel pretty good although it's not there yet,'' Cullen said. “I didn't get a training camp so this has been like a training camp for me. It's good to be here with the guys, going at an NHL pace. I need to get accustomed to that. We're going to see how it goes on the ice the next few days after we start getting some contact.''

-- Chris Higgins (hamstring) practiced on Saturday but said he would not play on Sunday. Dmitry Kulikov (rib cage) won't play either, but Jason Garrison (groin) is probable.

When, Where: 3 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
TV/Radio: No local TV; WQAM 560
The series: Devils lead 41-22-7
The game: New Jersey had won four of its past five games heading into Saturday's game against the Flyers. The lone loss during that stretch came against the Panthers last weekend in Sunrise. Scott Clemmensen, who spent five seasons with the Devils, has given up six goals off 107 shots in three career starts against the Devils. Florida has lost three straight – all in overtime – and went 3-0-3 on its most recent homestand. The Panthers have been to overtime in five of their past six games including four straight.

January 21, 2011

Florida Panthers Hold Back Lightning, Yet Still Lose 2-1: Dominic Moore's Shootout Goal the Winner


When Cory Stillman scored after the puck had been kicked around the ice 50 seconds into Friday's game, one would be forgiven for assuming Florida's meeting with the rival Lightning would turn into a high-flying offensive shootout.

And why not? The Lightning, which has played more road games than any other team in the league, aren't exactly known for its defensive prowess. Then again, the Panthers aren't exactly an offensive juggernaut.

The two teams each scored in the first period but got nothing else until Tampa Bay's Dominic Moore scored on the final shootout shot of the night Friday. Moore's shot was reviewed in Toronto but held up and served as the game-winner as the Lightning escaped BankAtlantic Center with a 2-1 win. The Panthers have been in four straight overtime games.

Moore, traded from the Panthers to Montreal for a 2011 second round pick last March, appeared to have touched the puck twice before it went past goalie Tomas Vokoun. The NHL's Mike Murphy, however, told Fox Florida that was not the case and the goal stood.

“I don't know. There's a clear save. The puck was headed to the corner,'' said coach Pete DeBoer, whose team has been on the losing end of just about every close goal call this season. “Whether it stays on his stick and it's jammed into the net, I still don't understand the rationale on that. I'll call and get an explanation on that too.''

The big surprise Friday wasn't that the Panthers were held to one goal. In their past 12 games, Florida has been held to two goals or fewer six times.

The biggest shocker was the Panthers patched up defense holding the talented Lightning to only one in regulation. Florida was playing with three defensemen who were playing for their minor league team in western New York just last week. The Panthers held Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis – the Lightning's two leading scorers – to one combined shot.

“We played a hell of a game,'' DeBoer said. “Tip your hat to their goaltender. He made some big saves, our guy made the big saves. We had a lot of young guys on defense and they all played well. It was one of those games you can't be too upset about. I don't know if we could have done more differently.''

Tampa Bay, which has given up the third-highest amount of goals in the league, scuttled numerous scoring chances by the Panthers throughout. Florida's power play, which appeared to show signs of life just a few games ago, went 0-for-7 against the Lightning and backup goalie Dan Ellis.

“They played well and we did a good job of shutting them down,'' Wideman said. “We drew a lot of penalties and didn't score on the power play. When it comes down to it, when it's down the stretch, the power play has to come through.''

Wideman was stopped in front of the net by Ellis with 3:39 left in overtime just before the Panthers fell victim to a questionable call. Moments after Mike Santorelli was smashed against the boards by Victor Hedman, Florida's Bryan Allen was called for tripping Vinny Lecavalier on a breakaway. Lecavalier could have won it for the Lightning, but put a shot up under Vokoun's pad.
-- The Lightning played its league-high 29th road game on Friday but are now getting a reprieve. The Lightning will not be the visitor again until Feb. 28 as it plays host to 12 straight home games at St. Pete Times Forum – the longest homestand since the California Golden Seals of the mid-1970s.

-- The Panthers lost the final three games of their homestand but still finished 3-0-3. The nine points were the most for a Florida homestand since it got 13 in 2007-07 by going 6-0-1. Five of the six games ended in overtime.


Defenseman Jason Garrison was questionable going into Friday's game so Clay Wilson was brought up from Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., as a precaution.

Even though Garrison played, Wilson was in the lineup as well. The Panthers went with seven defensemen, including Joe Callahan – called up from Rochester on Thursday to fill in for the injured Dmitry Kulikov.

Forward Darcy Hordichuk was a healthy scratch as Florida played 11 forwards with David Booth doubling up by playing on both the second and fourth lines. With seven defensemen, the Panthers would not be shorthanded defensively if Garrison's troublesome groin flared up during the game. It didn't – although Garrison was definitely sore. Garrison played 23:50 on 24 shifts.

-- Coach Pete DeBoer said Kulikov (ribs) should be on the team plane to New Jersey on Saturday as the Panthers kick off a three-game road trip Sunday in Newark. Kulikov is not expected to play against the Devils but could come back for one of the final two games. DeBoer said Kulikov did not suffer broken ribs, but it “is a painful injury.''

Kulikov had been playing very well before getting hurt, with DeBoer praising his game against the Devils on Saturday by saying it was the best game of his young career.

“He was playing the best hockey of his career, making a difference every night,'' DeBoer said.

-- Winger Chris Higgins (hamstring) is back skating and said he was going to be on the upcoming trip and hoped to play before the All-Star break. Higgins has missed the past seven games.

January 20, 2011

Florida Panthers Trying to 'Look at the Bright Side of Life' ... Dmitry Kulikov (McRibs) Out v. Lightning, Joe Callahan Up ... Darcy Hordichuk Not Thrilled

Spamalot Had you told Pete DeBoer last week that his team not only would have won three of its first five games in a very important six-game home stretch, but picked up eight of the possible 10 points, he would have been a very happy man.

The Panthers have done exactly that.

Yet based on the circumstances surrounding how the Panthers have gone about getting those points has left no one celebrating and the mood around the team wouldn't be considered even remotely jovial.

Florida opened its homestand with three straight wins. Then came two late meltdowns that resulted in two points in the standings – but two lost points as well.

“It's always tougher to swallow when you've lost games the way we have,'' DeBoer said. “If we had crappy starts and had been coming back in all these games, everyone would be patting us on the back talking about our great character. Instead, we can't finish but got eight of 10. We have to keep this in perspective.''

The Panthers led Atlanta, a team they are chasing for the final playoff spot, by two with two minutes left on Monday. The Thrashers got two quick goals then won in a shootout, their radio announcer giddily calling it “a miracle win.''

Wednesday, Columbus trailed 2-1 in the waning moments before Antoine Vermette Bjackets scored off a rebound to tie it, R.J. Umberger winning it for the Blue Jackets in overtime.

Their celebration – Columbus had lost seven of its past eight – looked like something out of the Stanley Cup playoffs and not a weekday game in front of a sparse crowd on the edge of the Florida Everglades.

(Photo credit: Lynne Sladky, Associated Press)

The prevailing theme around the Panthers is that they need to have a short memory, to put these two losses in the back of their minds and move on. Only these type of losses are happening almost on a nightly basis.

“It definitely hurts, we needed these couple of points,'' center Mike Santorelli said. “We played good enough to win. We just need to find a way, any way, to get through these last couple of minutes.''

Since Dec. 31, when the Panthers led Montreal 2-0 only to lose 3-2 in overtime, the Panthers have scored four goals just twice. Florida has held early two goal leads in games in seven of its past 11 games. Of those seven games, the Panthers have given up said lead six times – winning just twice under those circumstances.

Florida's problems late in games could be avoided if only the team were to score more earlier. In both the Atlanta and Columbus losses, Florida missed great scoring chances, be it missing empty nets (five against Atlanta) or missing out on close goals (the Panthers would have taken a 3-1 lead late against Columbus were it not for an odd and errant roll of a puck near the goal cage).

“It's the worst bounce I've ever seen. That puck was going into the net,'' DeBoer said. “We have to find a way to manufacture more goals. That's the bottom line. We can fix the last-minute stuff. That's just the by-product of the bigger problem and that's not getting more goals at the right time.''

Kulikov -- The Panthers played the second half of Wednesday's game a little shorthanded as two of their defensemen were slowed by injury.

Dmitry Kulikov (ribs) and Jason Garrison (groin) left the game but did return. Kulikov, who will miss Friday's game against Tampa Bay, was called for holding late in overtime – a penalty that led to Columbus' game-winning goal. “Sure, [the injury] affected him,'' DeBoer said.

Defenseman Joe Callahan has been called up from the Panthers AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. If Garrison is unable to play, Clay Wilson will be summoned from Rochester as well.

-- Even though the Panthers appear to be fatigued late in games, DeBoer doesn't sound like he's ready to give Darcy Hordichuk any more playing time. Hordichuk seemed a little upset about his lack of playing time following Wednesday's loss as he had hoped to contribute more with the Panthers after being traded here before the start of the season.

Hordichuk played six shifts in the first Wednesday and fought on his third shift of the Darcy second. Hordichuk didn't leave the bench after serving his five minute penalty for fighting and totaled 5:45 on the ice – the most time he's seen in the past five games.

Hordichuk is averaging 4:22 per game this season.

“He's averaging for us about what he's averaged his whole career,'' DeBoer said. “When we got him, we weren't going to turn him from a five-minute player into a 10 or a 15 minute player.''

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Florida leads 51-33-10
The game: This is the third time these two rivals have met this season, with the Panthers winning the first two. The Panthers beat Tampa Bay 6-0 in their home opener on Oct. 16, then won in Tampa 4-3 on Stephen Weiss' shootout goal on Nov. 27. .-.-. This is the finale of Florida's six-game homestand. The Panthers are 3-0-2 so far. Tampa Bay will play at Atlanta on Thursday night and are 0-3 in the second game of a back-to-back set this month. The Lightning have been outscored 20-8 in those games. 

January 19, 2011

Florida Panthers Surprisingly Lose Late Lead as Mighty Blue Jackets Charge Back, Win 3-2 in OT


The Panthers grabbed a two goal lead in the opening period against Columbus on Wednesday night. Anyone following this team lately knows that wasn't a good omen.

Yes, Florida gave up yet another late goal Wednesday as the visiting Blue Jackets battled back from a two goal deficit just as four other opponents have in recent weeks.

And once more, the Panthers watched a valuable point in the standings float away. The Blue Jackets, who had lost seven of their past eight, got a goal from Antoine Vermette with 52.7 seconds remaining then won in the final minute of overtime as R.J. Umberger scored on a power play to lift the Blue Jackets to a 3-2 win in Sunrise.

“I don't even know what to say. This is inexcusable,'' defenseman Bryan Allen said. “I don't even know if it's a let down. We're just letting teams hang around. If we get that third goal, it's a different game. We need to find a way to hold on to leads whether its 2-0 or 3-0. We need to pull these games out.''

The Panthers have won three of the first five games on this six-game homestand that concludes Friday against the rival Lightning.

Thanks to late meltdowns against Columbus and Atlanta, Florida has picked up eight of what should have been 10 points during this run of home dates. Atlanta trailed 2-0 before scoring in the final two minutes, winning 3-2 in a shootout.

“We need to bear down and get these points. We've let these games slip,'' Darcy Hordichuk said. “These are games that come back to haunt you at the end of a season.''

Atlanta isn't the only team that's been finding a way to come back on the Panthers. Coming into Wednesday, Florida held a two-goal lead in six of its previous 10 games. In those six games, they gave up that lead five times – and won just two of those games.

Columbus made sure the Panthers didn't make that three.

The Panthers took the initial lead when David Booth followed up a hard shot from Mike Santorelli – who now has a point in 11 of his past 12 games -- and beat Steve Mason on the rebound less 2:43 into the game.

Cory Stillman gave Florida its cursed two-goal lead less than six minutes later, head-butting the puck past Mason at 8:21. Stillman, crashing the net looking for a dirty goal, got his chance when Radek Dvorak's slap shot bounced off Mason and hit Stillman's helmet.

The Panthers had plenty of other chances to beat Mason and the tired Blue Jackets (who lost in a shootout in Tampa on Tuesday night) but never fully took advantage.

“I liked our start, we were ready to play,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “But it's been a repeat of a lot of nights. We get the lead, have some opportunities to extend it when the other team pushes back and we don't. We let them stick around and you see what happens. We lose our composure in the final minutes and I need to find a way to instill some confidence in the right guys out there.''

Columbus, which was almost completely outplayed through the first period, cut its deficit in half late in the opening period. Florida failed to get a stick on a Steve Bernier clear attempt, one that found its way to Fedor Tyutin retreating the zone on the left side. Instead, the puck found his stick and Tyutin pulled back and fired, the 50-foot shot finding its way through traffic and past Vokoun for the Blue Jackets' lone goal of the night.

Florida didn't do much in the second period but watch the Jackets get scoring opportunities despite  having three power plays chances during the session. It appeared as if Columbus joined the likes of Atlanta, Montreal, Carolina (twice) and Washington to come back from multi-goal deficits on Florida when Derick Brassard fired off a puck during a horrible Florida clearing shift.

Video review showed Brassard's shot banged off the crossbar of the goal cage. Bad for Columbus, lucky for the Panthers. The Panthers weren't so lucky late in the third when Michael Frolik fired off a long power play shot that Stephen Weiss deflected past Mason. Neither Evgeny Dadonov nor Booth could get to the slippery puck despite it being so close to the open cage.

With just over a minute left, the Jackets pulled Mason and Columbus came hard at the Panthers, Vermette joining the scramble in front and knocking a loose puck past Vokoun. It never should have been that close.

“I don't know what it is,'' Vokoun said. “I've been here a long time and this isn't a [new] event. It's happened a few times. I don't what to tell you. If I knew what it was, I would figure it out for everyone here. It's costing us points and it's not good.''

One reason the Panthers lost to Atlanta on Monday night was giving up two goals in the final two minutes of the game. Another was lost opportunities. At least four players missed open nets, with Bernier misfiring on a shot with a wide-open net in the third; Allen missed an empty net just before Bryan Little scored Atlanta's first goal of the night.

The Panthers followed that same trend on Wednesday.

“You've got to bury a team,'' DeBoer said. “You've got to stick a fork in them, and we don't. That's been our problem all year. We don't have the killer instinct. That leads to the late game collapses. We're not giving up breakaways. The goals we give up are scrambles and results of not finishing off the other team when we get the chance.''

January 18, 2011

Florida Panthers Special Teams on a Roll ... Chris Higgins Has "Setback" ... Tomas Vokoun Back Vs. Blue Jackets

Olindo The Panthers head into Wednesday's game against Columbus with wins in three of their past four games and seven of an available eight points.

One big reason for Florida's upsurge over the past week has been the play of its special teams.

Not only has the Panthers penalty play been consistently strong, but Florida's beleaguered power play is finding its way as well. The Panthers, which has had the league's worst power play for almost the entire season, are close to climbing out of the cellar after scoring seven goals in the past four games.

“It's critical,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “We're good 5-on-5 so if we can be good on both sides of special teams, we're a hard team to play against. You'll win a lot of games if you can do that. The thing is to do it consistently. Everyone knows we struggled with the power play but we wanted to wipe the slate and start fresh in the second half. We have done that and are being rewarded.''

The Panthers penalty kill has been the team's strong suit since the preseason but nothing like it has been of late. Florida has killed off 15 consecutive penalties and since Jan. 2, have given up just two goals on 32 chances.

Florida came into Tuesday with the league's third best penalty kill, denying the opposition a goal 85.5 percent of the time.

Wideman Yet it's the Panthers power play that has been receiving much of the press throughout the season – and not in a good way. Florida was on pace to not only set the franchise record for fewest power play goals (less even than the 44-game strike season of 1994-95) but be one of the lowest-scoring power plays in league history.

The Panthers had two 5-on-3 chances and one 4-on-3 in overtime during last week's victory over the Capitals, Florida scoring three power play goals for the first time this season. The Panthers came back with two power play goals in Monday's loss to the Thrashers. Coming into the Capitals game, Florida had a mere 12 power play goals in 40 games, putting it on pace for 25 through the 82 game season.

After the recent up tick in goals, the Panthers are now on schedule to score 35 this season. That's still bad enough to set the franchise record, but definitely showing signs of improvement -- and allowing power play coach Jim Hulton to sleep a little better. Defensemen Dennis Wideman (three power play goals) and Dmitry Kulikov (one) have definitely helped.

“I think confidence is such a big part of it, even though they are pros,'' Hulton said. “When you keep reading about it, it becomes self-perpetuating. We were in a bad spot for quite a while and I think the 5-on-3s really were a springboard into this. It gives us something to build on. You're seeing more crisp passes and better shot selection. And the puck is getting into the net.''

Higgins -- DeBoer said that injured winger Chris Higgins “had a little setback off the ice” and that he will continue to be out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.

Higgins has missed the past five games with a strained hamstring. DeBoer said with the team winning, there has been no thought to “shake anything up” and bring up another forward from the minors.

“We've taken a step back with [the injury],'' DeBoer said. “I don't know when he's going to start skating again. Whenever it starts to feel better. We're still a ways away.''

Vokounweiss -- Tomas Vokoun's three-game stint on the end of the Panthers bench is over. DeBoer confirmed on Tuesday that Vokoun would be back in net Wednesday against the Blue Jackets. Backup Scott Clemmensen went 2-0-1 in place of Vokoun.

“Clemmensen did a great job, did exactly what a backup goalie should do,'' DeBoer said. “He gave us a good stretch of games, got us seven of eight points and played with a lot of energy. Now Vokoun has got to grab it and go again.''

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WFTL 640
The series: Columbus leads 5-4-0
The game: Goalie Tomas Vokoun spent a big part of his career in the Western Conference and did a lot of beating up on the Blue Jackets in the process. Vokoun, who retakes the Panthers starting position, is 19-8-1 against Columbus. .-.-. Rimer The Panthers haven't beaten Columbus at home since 2004. .-.-. The Blue Jackets had lost six of seven going into Tuesday's game at Tampa Bay.

Move Hordi, Get Out the Way! Darcy Hordichuk Flips off Bench -- Literally

Pete DeBoer says that Darcy Hordichuk is fine after his fall during last night's game.

He was all smiles today as he was one of only five skaters to take the ice during the Panthers optional skate on Tuesday in Coral Springs. I'm calling him 'Flip' from now on.


Florida Panthers Sweaters Going Back to the Future?

Panthersclassicred According to Icethetics.com, Reebok has "released its 2011 planning catalog to retailers across North America so they can decide what merchandise to carry."

Here's what Icethetics says about the Panthers:

Reebok says that Florida's piping-happy home and away sweaters are going away at the end of this season. And even a Lightning fan will admit that's a good thing. Because these are terrible.

Over the last season or two, there's been a noticeable shift away from the leaping panther logo to something more simplified — similar to what we're seeing in Nashville. The Cats' new third jersey is a great example of this.

More and more, Panthers marketing materials have featured either the third jersey logo or a paws up version of the leaping cat. It's hard to say for certain what Panthersclassicwhite changes are in store for the new sweaters, but there are no plans to change the third jersey at this point.

If the Cats really want to do it right, just look back. Under the heading of you don't know what you have until it's gone, the funny thing is they're one of those teams that got it right the first time.

And even though the red jersey that we'll always associate with John Vanbiesbrouck was relegated to alternate status in 2003, it's too good to disappear forever. Bring it back.

Pantherblue90alt This season the Panthers are holding a few throwback nights. And while we hoped to see them in red again, these events had nothing to do with the jerseys worn on the ice.

Now that the Panthers have a navy blue jersey that actually looks good, they should hang onto it (as a third) and bring the red back. To the Panthers I say, let the Lightning be blue and reclaim your original colors.

Despite all that, however, the new third jersey does show a clear move away from red. The addition of powder blue is great as an alternate color, but I would hope they aren't looking to extract the red from their identity altogether.

Hopefully the hot Florida summer — which I no longer have to contend with (yay!) — will yield some answers. Until then, all we have is speculation.

Panthersunireebok You want speculation? You got it!

Players and team officials have told me the red jerseys are apparently coming back.

At least five players have said they had heard the reds were coming back.

Bill Torrey, Dale Tallon and Mike Santos have all alluded to their return.

This is a big turnaround from the summer when it appeared that everything was going to the Michael Yormark-favored JetBlue uniforms. 

So what are the Panthers going to do?

Again, it's just speculation. But I wouldn't be surprised to see the Panthers keep their traditional color scheme for home and away -- with a new logo, or just a modified one -- with the third jerseys sticking around for Chevy/Ford/Pontiac Fridays.

Panthersnewblue And I think everyone could live with that.

Although ... Was talking with some friends last night as we watched the replay of the Atlanta game and the Panthers current dark blue home jerseys have finally worn on me. I dig them. I liked the blue alternate when they came out in the late 1990s and I think it's a good look today.

I wouldn't mind the Panthers going to white-dark blue-red as their three jersey combos and dropping the Tampa Bay JetBlue Rays look completely.

But I don't see that happening.

-- And if you click on the Icethetics site, you'll see a number of teams are planning on changing things up for next year, including the Lightning and L.A. Kings. Those Kings threads are tight. Got to love the return to the Raiders combo.

-- Thanks to Yahoo's PuckDaddy for picking up the Icethetics story in the first place.

And, if you like keeping up on trends as far as hockey uniforms go, Icethetics is always worth a visit.