RED WINGS 4, PANTHERS 3
When a supposed Detroit fan tossed a slimy Octopus onto the BankAtlantic Center ice late in the second period, he probably hurt his team's cause more than he helped it.
That patron, who was promptly and roughly escorted out of the lower bowl by Sunrise's finest, tossed the cephalopod in the middle of a play, one in which the Red Wings were cycling the puck and looking to put the Panthers away for good.
As usual, the Panthers are a tough group to finish off.
Florida, down two at the time of the Octopus toss, scored two goals to tie the Red Wings only to watch short-time Panthers forward Todd Bertuzzi score from the left circle and lift Detroit to a 4-3 win in front of an announced 19,947 in Sunrise.
The Panthers, now two games under .500 in the win/regulation-loss column, have had 18 of their past 21 games decided by one goal.
“To be tied late in a game against a team like Detroit, well, you have to be doing something right,'' defenseman Mike Weaver said. “We just needed that last goal. It shows we have something going on here. We have a great penalty kill, the power play is picking up goals. We have some things to work on, but I like what's going on. You can sense the turnaround.''
Bertuzzi played in just seven games during his brief stint in South Florida, the power forward coming to the Panthers in the controversial Roberto Luongo trade in 2006. Bertuzzi had a monster night in his first game with the Panthers, then had a back injury and was traded to Detroit at the end of that first year. He's now just another name in the Panthers long list of bad trades.
His game Friday was reminiscent of Opening Night 2006 when he scored a goal and had three assists in a win over Boston.
Bertuzzi scored Detroit's opening goal just 1:21 into the game off a nice pass from Henrik Zetterberg. Bertuzzi's game-winner came after the Panthers gave Detroit an odd-man rush, with Bertuzzi sprinting in just in time to fire Johan Franzen's pass from the left circle past Tomas Vokoun with 7:32.
All the momentum the Panthers had built in tying the Red Wings seemed to evaporate.
“We're knocking on the door and it's easy to be frustrated with the one goal losses,'' said Jack Skille, who had a chance to score in the second but he misfired on a nice pass from Stephen Weiss on a 2-on-1. “We need to get the first goal and stop working from behind.''
Florida trailed 2-0 early in the first but countered with 3:07 left in the opening period when Radek Dvorak outraced Niklas Kronwall to a puck and drove in on goalie Joey MacDonald. Dvorak's off-center shot hit MacDonald before trickling over the line.
The Red Wings added a goal from Pavel Datsyuk off a Panthers defensive breakdown deep in the Florida zone, but Dennis Wideman beat MacDonald with a hard shot during a power play with 21.2 seconds left in the second to allow the Panthers to go into the second intermission down just one.
“We gave them a couple chances early and they stuck it in the net,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “You know what you're dealing with in Detroit. Credit our guys for sticking with it and battling for 60 minutes. We needed a save or a goal at the end and didn't get one.''
The Panthers had plenty of scoring chances in the third period, with Weiss tying the game on a shot midway through. Bertuzzi gave Detroit the lead back, but Florida put pressure on at the end but came up short.
On one sequence, with Vokoun on the bench and the net vacant, Florida couldn't get a puck to the net after Wideman broke his stick on a shot and Cory Stillman whiffed on his. When the Panthers retook control of the puck, Weiss was offsides. At that point, only five seconds remained and the Wings left the Sunshine State a perfect 2-0 after beating the Southeast Division leading Lightning 6-2 on Thursday.
“We wanted a quick start and didn't get it, but I think we played our game after that,'' Weaver said. “Detroit's a good team. They're a puck possession team and overall, we did pretty good. We just didn't get the result.''
Captain Bryan McCabe returned to the Panthers lineup for the first time since breaking his jaw during a game against the Devils on Jan. 15. McCabe has been working for the Panthers the past week and says he feels fine and was ready to go.
“It's been a long time and I'm excited to get back out there, have some fun,'' McCabe said. “There's no pain or anything. I just have to get my timing back, get my legs under me.''
With McCabe in the lineup, Joe Callahan was a healthy scratch.
-- The Panthers called up winger Kenndal McArdle – Florida's first pick in the Sidney Crosby draft of 2005 – on Thursday night as a precaution if Steve Bernier couldn't play. Bernier, who missed Wednesday's game after falling ill, was feeling good Friday and played. McArdle did as well. The Panthers scratched bruiser Darcy Hordichuk.
McArdle and Callahan could be returned to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., as early as Saturday. The two could stick around at least through Saturday's game in Tampa just in case.
SATURDAY: PANTHERS AT LIGHTNING
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Panthers lead 51-34-10
The game: The Panthers haven't fared well in the second game of a back-to-back set this season, going 3-8-0. Tampa Bay had Friday night off after losing to the Red Wings 6-2 on Thursday night. The Southeast Division leaders, the Lightning have lost three of four. Florida has won two of three against the Lightning this season. Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, 21, has six goals and six assists in 12 games against the Panthers.
RED WINGS 4, PANTHERS 3
If you can recall, the Panthers 'guaranteed' fans they would make the playoffs in 2009, putting then first-year coach Pete DeBoer on billboards around town with the bold proclamation.
If Florida didn't make the playoffs, the promise went, fans who bought tickets during that run would get four free tickets during the following season.
Anyone know if the Panthers made the playoffs? Anyone?
This season, the team has a "Good Time" guarantee in which fans who buy single game tickets and don't have a good time can get their money back (after filling out a form in which they turn over such marketing goodies as their address, phone number and e-mail address).
Now, the team is guaranteeing that the NHL will have a season next year -- something the NHL and NBA cannot say.
New graphics on the video billboards outside The Billboard have the Panthers "Next Season. Guaranteed." graphic next to a picture of a beach umbrella with an NBA basketball in one beach chair, an NFL football in the other.
The Panthers are obviously trying to reach out to those Heat and/or Dolphins fans who have some disposable income and are wary about shelling out big bucks for season tickets to a 2011 season that may or not be on time.
Of course, the Heat can guarantee it will be playing basketball in late April.
Don't think the Panthers are going there again.
From Tommy Boy:
Yeah, makes a man feel good.
Of course it does. Why shouldn't it? Ya figure you put that little box under your pillow at night, the Guarantee Fairy might come by and leave a quarter, am I right, Ted?
What's your point?
The point is, how do you know the fairy isn't a crazy glue sniffer? Building model airplanes says the little fairy. Well, we're not buying it. He sneaks into your house once, that's all it takes. The next thing you know, there's money missing off the dresser, and your daughter's knocked up. I've seen it a hundred times.
Kenndal McArdle Is Back With a New Number ... Bryan McCabe Makes Return vs. Red Wings ... Speaking of Detroit...
Bernier is fine, however, but McArdle will play against the Red Wings in place of Darcy Hordichuk. No injury on Hordichuk; Coach Pete DeBoer just feels a tough guy isn't needed against the Red Wings.
McArdle's No. 15 was given to Jack Skille, so McArdle is wearing No. 17.
Who else wore that number in Panthers history?
How about Jody Hull and Viktor Kozlov for starters. Oh yeah, Jason Podollan, Steve Washburn, Dwayne 'Wade' Hay, Greg Adams and Garth Murray did as well.
Why hasn't this number been retired yet?
-- Bryan McCabe will be in the lineup tonight with Gord Murphy telling me they are going to keep an eye on how much McCabe plays. He hasn't been in the lineup since breaking his jaw a month ago.
McCabe says he's excited to be back in the game.
The Panthers are too.
-- Tomas Vokoun goes against the Wings tonight.
Vokoun hasn't fared real well against Detroit over the course of his career. In 31 starts, he has just nine wins with a 3.20 GAA and a save percentage of 91.
Florida has only won two games in Detroit in franchise history.
Bryan McCabe won last year's game with a goal in overtime.
-- The will be David Booth's second game against the Wings in his career. He missed one game in Detroit because of a knee injury, and was out for last year's win because of the concussion.
"Is your cat constantly stomping around, driving you crazy?
"Is your cat always clawing at the furnitures?
"Think there's no answer?
"You're so stupid! There is!
If you've never seen the FX comedy 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia,' then you don't get this joke.
But if you have, you have to love this sign spotted behind the glass last night in Sunrise -- no matter what team you were cheering for.
That's just good old original sign makin! Charlie Kelly would approve.
Kudos to PuckDaddy for pulling the photo and running it.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
Here's the original Kitten Mittons sketch (yes, I know it's spelled 'Mittens.')
Stephen Weiss, Florida Panthers Deal with Trade Rumors ... After Nine Seasons, is Weiss on the Move? ... Bryan McCabe Probable as Red Wings Come to Town
Stephen Weiss is playing hurt and it's definitely affecting his play as the Panthers top-line center hasn't scored a goal in five games and hasn't recorded a point in three. Trade rumors surrounding Weiss haven't helped matters.
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
It's apparent Stephen Weiss is playing through some injuries. The Panthers top-line center has seen his production drop off as his shot doesn't have the juice it once did, his skills in the faceoff circle not coming through.
“He's playing through some things other guys wouldn't,'' coach Pete DeBoer said Thursday. “I have no issue with that.''
Yet the thing that seems to be hurting Weiss the most isn't his wrist, hand, shoulder, hip, knee or groin. No, what appears to be bothering Weiss the most these days is the thought that the Florida Panthers may not want him anymore. And that's not the case. The Panthers just don't have many valuable chips to deal in which to rebuild. Weiss is one of them.
“I love it here and I don't want to go anywhere. I'll stay here until my career is over if they'll let me,'' Weiss said Thursday morning, his eyes affixed on the locker room floor. “But it's not up to me. If management feels like they want to make a move and want to move on, I'll have to consider it.''
Weiss' name has been circulating the past few weeks, fueled by general manager Dale Tallon telling NHL.com that he would field offers for any player. Said Tallon: “This team hasn't done anything in 10 years, so why wouldn't I?''
Weiss has been linked to Montreal, Boston, Washington and Los Angeles. It's going to take a bundle for Tallon to part with his top center, a product of the Florida system who, unlike a good number, want to be part of the Panthers solution and not bail on it.
The reality is, Weiss is probably not going anywhere. The Panthers have “plenty of holes” as DeBoer put it. Weiss is not one of them. Despite his offensive struggles – which DeBoer has written off to his increasing number of injuries – Weiss is still very productive. He also carries a very favorable contract (signed through 2012-13 at $3.1 million per season) and is considered one of the Panthers true leaders.
“I try to not listen to it, but to be honest, it's weighing on my mind,'' Weiss said. “The unknown, not knowing what's going on. I've never been in this position before. It's a first, a new thing for me. I've talked to some guys who have been through it, and they say that you can't think about it and keep playing. I know that already. But, certainly, it is a little bit different and it's been bugging me a little.''
An alternate captain for four seasons, Weiss is the heavy favorite to be Florida's next captain if Bryan McCabe were to be moved by the Feb. 28 trade deadline or not return next season.
“He's been a leader here since Day One,'' said DeBoer, who coached Weiss in the Canadian junior leagues from 1999-2001. “He hasn't looked for a way out of town, hasn't complained about personnel or linemates, what we're spending or not spending. He comes to work and does his job. That's leadership and you have to admire that.''
Where once Olli Jokinen bore the weight of the Panthers historic playoff drought, that burden has now been passed to Weiss. If Weiss remains healthy and stays put – and the Panthers don't pull a postseason miracle -- he will go into next season with 562 NHL games played without appearing in a single playoff contest.
Former Panthers assistant coach Guy Charron holds the record for most games played (734) without appearing in a playoff game. Jokinen had surpassed Charron with 827 games before making it with Calgary in 2009.
“I think every time I've come to the rink over the past week it's popped into my head that this could be my last day here,'' he said. “Is this the day I'm going to get called in? For the most part, I try not to think about it and go about my business, do what I do. You feel a little bit helpless, you don't know what's going on with your own life.''
All the losing has wore on Weiss, but he's loyal to a fault. The Panthers made him the fourth overall selection in a 2001 Draft held in the building he now calls home 41 nights a year. Weiss has gone through five coaches, six general managers and countless teammates since he made his NHL debut with the Panthers on April 3, 2002 against Pittsburgh.
Some scouts figure Weiss deserves to be moved, if for nothing else but a change of scenery. Weiss has been in Florida too long, some observe, the losing culture becoming part of his fabric.
“I don't buy that 'change of scenery' stuff,'' DeBoer said. “You look at the players who have left with the supposed change of scenery since I've been here and you don't see any of them turning into different players than they were when they were here. That goes back to Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton.
“This is a guy who deserves to see the fruits of where this is going to go. He's obviously been through the tough times and deserves to see the other side when we get there.''
Weiss has a no-movement clause in his contract, meaning he can decline any deal the Panthers come up with. He says he hasn't talked to management nor has he been asked to waive the no-trade. No one wants to be where they aren't wanted, although that's probably not the case here. Odds are, Weiss is going to get his wish and continue to play for the Panthers.
“I'm going to stay here and play and play hard for the guys who are here,'' Weiss said. “If the time comes and they call me in and tell me they want to make a change, well, I'll have to sit down and decide what I want to do. The good thing is I have the option and can pick and choose where I want to go. That's the only positive thing.''
-- McCabe, out since Jan. 15 with a broken jaw, practiced again on Thursday and DeBoer said he was probable for Friday's much anticipated game against the Red Wings. All the tarps have been removed from the upper deck at BankAtlantic Center and a sellout is expected.
FRIDAY: RED WINGS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Detroit leads 12-4-5
The game: The Panthers have had 17 of their past 20 games decided by a single goal. Wednesday's 4-2 loss to Philadelphia snapped a run of eight straight one-goal games. .-.-. The two teams have split the four games played since 2005-06; last year's win was Florida's first in Detroit since 1996. .-.-. The Red Wings went into Thursday's game at Tampa Bay with wins in three of their past four – including a pair of decisive wins against the Bruins.
Stephen Weiss: "I'll Stay Here Until My Career Is Over If They'll Let Me" ... Trade Rumors Wearing on Florida Panthers Lifer
I've talked to Weiss quite a bit over the years and have never seen him more reflective than he was today. He truly is stressed out about hearing these rumors. That, and playing hurt, aren't helping his game.
As you may have read in the previous post, coach Pete DeBoer said Weiss had a number of scoring chances last night but couldn't put much on his shot. The scouts I've been talking to at the games have noticed it too.
Anyway, more in a bit.
On his injuries:
I'm doing alright. I'm hurting a bit but it's nothing crazy. It's nothing more than what everyone else is going through right now. This is the point of the season where you have things like this. You do your best and there's not much you can do. I wish it was the opposite, but what can you do? Just keep going.
It's been a weird year. Little naggy things have popped up, things that won't keep you out of the lineup but they're enough to affect you, hinder you a little bit.
The worst thing about being banged up at this time of year is you want to be going up, playing your best. You want to feel good. I'm not getting the results right now, but again, what are you going to do? You just have to keep playing and hope it turns around.
I've been through it a few times this year. Right now, though, you want to be going on all cylinders. That's not the case right now but it could change at any moment.
Has it been a frustrating season?
When things are going good, the game is real easy. When it's not, things can pile up on you quickly. The game becomes real hard. You add a few things and it becomes even harder. That's the name of the game. It's not always easy, especially at this point in the year when things tighten up. You have to produce and find ways to contribute no matter what you're going through.
The trade rumors:
I try to not listen to it, but to be honest, it's weighing on my mind. The unknown, not knowing what's going on. I've never been in this position before. It's a first, a new thing for me.
I've talked to some guys who have been through it, and they say that you can't think about it and keep playing. I know that already. But, certainly, it is a little bit different and it's been bugging me a little.
Have you been asked to waive no-movement clause?
I haven't been asked anything, not yet. We have 10 days or so to get to that point and we'll see what happens. But I've certainly been getting a lot of phone calls from people asking me what's going on – and that's a little bit different for me. We'll see what happens. I have no idea what's happening. I haven't heard anything nor talked to anyone of any significance who would know what's going on.
How much do you think about 'this could be my last day here? My last game here?'
I think every time I've come to the rink over the past week it's popped into my head that this could be my last day here. Is this the day I'm going to get called in? For the most part, I try not to think about it and go about my business, do what I do. But, yeah, I always wondered how tough this would be to go through, and it's not easy.
You feel a little bit helpless, you don't know what's going on with your own life.
Some say you might just need a change of scenery.
It is and it isn't. I just want to win. But I love it here and I don't want to go anywhere. I'll stay here until my career is over if they'll let me. But it's not up to me.
If management feels like they want to make a move and want to move on, I'll have to consider it.
I'm not going in and ask for anything to be done. I'm going to stay here and play and play hard for the guys who are here.
If the time comes and they call me in and tell me they want to make a change, well, I'll have to sit down and decide what I want to do.
The good thing is I have the option and can pick and choose where I want to go. That's the only positive thing.
Just talking about it makes me tired. I don't like talking about this, don't like thinking about it.
Weiss is obviously stressed about it, but more on that in a later post.
Here is what Pete had to say about Weiss -- a player he has known since he coached Weiss with the Plymouth Whalers back in the 1990s.
On Weiss playing through pain:
The injuries have affected the numbers. Even last night, he created two or three chances where he got in and just couldn't get enough on it. It's frustrating for him and we need him to produce, but he's dealing with some things that you have to cut him some slack on.
He's not going to complain. He's playing through some things other guys wouldn't. I have no issue with that.
Does that show something to his leadership?
He's been a leader here since Day One. He hasn't looked for a way out of town, hasn't complained about personnel or linemates, what we're spending or not spending. He comes to work and does his job. That's leadership and you have to admire that.
Some scouts have suggested the Panthers need to trade Weiss if only for a 'change of scenery':
I don't buy that 'change of scenery' stuff. You look at the players who have left with the supposed change of scenery since I've been here and you don't see any of them turning into different players than they were when they were here. That goes back to Jokinen and Jay Bouwmeester and Nathan Horton. The change thing, I don't buy it.
Weiss has said he wants to continue to play here, only wants to be a Florida Panther. Does he deserve that?
Absolutely.This is a guy who deserves to see the fruits of where this is going to go. He's obviously been through the tough times and deserves to see the other side when we get there.
And you think the franchise is turning that corner?
Yeah, I do. I think we're turning the corner. Our holes are obvious, you see the personnel we need and the game we need to work on. But I think there's a clear plan, a clear direction and the pipeline is filling up with good young players.
Payback for Chris Bosh?: Toronto Denies Another Florida Panthers Goal ... Flyers hold on for 4-2 win, First in Sunrise since 2009
FLYERS 4, PANTHERS 2
With Steve Bernier missing Wednesday's game because of illness, the Panthers were forced to take on the Eastern Conference's best team down a player.
Despite that, the Panthers made a strong third-period comeback but couldn't overcome a three goal deficit as the Flyers won at BankAtlantic Center for the first time in two years by holding on for a 4-2 win.
Florida got nice goals from Rostislav Olesz (early in the third) and David Booth (midway through) but just didn't have enough to beat a Philadelphia team that has won 15 of 19 since Jan. 2. The two goals in the third made what happened in the second so much more painful as an apparent goal from Marty Reasoner wasn't allowed.
Reasoner appeared to jam the puck through Bobrovsky and defenseman Andreas Nodl – who came into the crease as a measure of last defense. Play was stopped with 2:09 left in the period and Hockey Central in Toronto reviewed the play for a few minutes.
It was ruled the puck didn't go all the way across the line because the review was inconclusive.
“Another call against us,'' Chris Higgins said.
Nodl appeared to kick the puck out of the corner of the net – similar to Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec shoveling the puck out from under the cage on a Bryan McCabe goal that wasn't on Jan. 5. The NHL did not review that goal and it cost the Panthers. As did this.
“I'm at a loss,'' an angry Pete DeBoer said. “You show 100 people that play and 100 people will say it's a goal yet Toronto says it isn't. What are you going to do?"
Said Mike Santorelli: “It looked good to me. I thought it was a goal. Definitely. It crossed and [Nodl] slipped it out with his foot.''
Although the Panthers don't have a winning record and will likely miss the playoffs for an NHL record 10th straight season, the team rarely gets blown out and has shown plenty of moxie.
If not for an empty net goal with 21.7 seconds left, the Panthers likely would have lost by a single goal for a ninth straight game. Coming into Wednesday, the Panthers had lost 17 of 19 by one goal.
The Flyers, booed off the ice in Philly after a lopsided 5-0 loss to the Panthers in December, looked more like their usual selves on Wednesday. Philadelphia, the defending Eastern Conference champs, came hard at the Panthers as expected. Even though the Flyers won a hard-fought game at Tampa Bay the night before, they weren't looking ahead and obviously took the Panthers very seriously.
Goalie Tomas Vokoun was forced to make seven stops early on, those saves putting him 18th on the NHL's all-time list. But the Flyers scored goals on each of their next two shots, putting the Panthers in a very precarious position as the Flyers don't surrender too many leads.
Florida, outshot 18-5 in the opening period, recovered and played a strong second and third period, putting pressure on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky early in the second yet the Flyers still held a 3-0 lead at the time of Reasoner's disputed shot.
The Panthers finally got one past Bobrovsky early in the third period when Olesz backhanded a loose puck off a Jason Garrison shot on Florida's third power play chance of the night. Later on, Booth picked off a loose puck and walked in on Bobrovsky, fired high and watched the puck glance off the goalies shoulder and singe the back of the net.
Booth's goal should have tied the score. Instead, the Panthers lost another close one.
“We started off slow and it killed us,'' Higgins said. “We didn't show up with our sharpest game in the first and it cost us. Philadelphia capitalizes on fast starts and if you are on your heels, they'll make you look stupid.''
LATEST MR. 1,000
The Panthers are considered a pretty young team by NHL standards, yet Cory Stillman became the third current member of the team to play in 1,000 NHL games joining Bryan McCabe and Radek Dvorak. The Panthers have almost 10 percent of the 32 active players to have hit that plateau on their roster.
“We're either young or old, there's not much in between,'' coach Pete DeBoer joked. “Those three guys, the ones with 1,000 games, are great role models for the kids we have coming up here. The main reason for me is their love of the game. They show up, at their age after the abuse their bodies have take over the years, and have energy and enthusiasm. Most days, they're the first ones in here.''
The Panthers announced Stillman's achievement soon after the game started, but don't plan on having the official on-ice ceremony for him Friday because his family is at a junior tournament in Quebec. The team plans on honoring Stillman at their following home game on Feb. 27 -- if Stillman is still around, that is.
Stillman, 37, is expected to be traded by the Panthers prior to or at to the Feb. 28 deadline.
-- A number of Marlins players – including Mike Stanton, Burke Badenhop, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley and Brian Sanches -- attended Wednesday's game and were presented with Panthers jerseys.
The Marlins officially open spring training Friday at their complex in Jupiter.
Panthers Notebook: Chris Higgins Looked Good on New Line ... Injury Updates ... Flyers Get Even Better
With the Panthers not creating much of anything Sunday against visiting San Jose, coach Pete DeBoer did some minor modifications to three of his team's four forward lines and may have found something that works.
The new combinations helped Florida score three goals in the final 21 minutes of what turned into a 3-2 victory over the streaking Sharks.
With the Panthers struggling to score, DeBoer apparently doesn't want to mess with even moderate success.
Florida's new lines were on display at Tuesday's practice in Coral Springs. While the moves weren't major – basically, DeBoer just moved around wingers Chris Higgins, Radek Dvorak, Cory Stillman and Rostislav Olesz – they did seem to breathe new life into a moribund offensive attack.
Higgins seemed to be the biggest benefactor of the switch as he had numerous scoring chances against the Sharks and ended up tying the score when his shot found its way past goalie Antti Niemi.
“We had 11 shots at the end of two periods,'' DeBoer said. “We weren't getting thing going offensively. Higgins kickstarted his line. I like his game lately. He's working hard, battling for pucks and quietly putting together a good season, one we anticipated he could have.''
Higgins, who had been playing with Stephen Weiss and Jack Skille, says having a big forward like Rostislav Olesz get in front of the net and create space really helps shots find their way. Olesz was camped out in front of Niemi when Higgins' backhanded shot took flight.
“Playing with Weiss was a lot of fun, he creates a lot of offense, but I liked playing with Reasoner earlier this season and I think it's going to work well,'' Higgins said. “On the right side, both Skille and Olesz are big guys. That's nice to have a big presence around the net. They protect the puck well in the corners.''
D-MEN NOT READY
Defenseman Bryan McCabe was back on the ice participating in a full practice one month after breaking his jaw in a game against the Devils. Doctors said McCabe would be out six to eight weeks after the injury, but he looks good and is ready to jump into the lineup.
DeBoer says the Panthers have to slow McCabe down a bit and that the Panthers captain wouldn't be in the lineup Wednesday against the Flyers. McCabe could play Friday against Detroit.
“He looks good, but the doctors and the trainers will say one thing and that's probably not the same as his mindset,'' DeBoer said. “He'll be in sooner than later. If he keeps going the way he is, I would anticipate him in there this weekend. He's adamant he'll be back this week.''
DeBoer also said that while Dmitry Kulikov's ankle isn't broken, it is severely bruised. DeBoer said it will be at least a week before Kulikov can begin skating, and likely two weeks before he's back playing in games.
RICH GET RICHER
The Flyers made a nice deal on Tuesday, getting forward Kris Versteeg from Toronto in exchange for a first and third round pick in the upcoming June draft.
Versteeg, who had 14 goals with 21 assists for the Leafs, was a key member of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks last season. In 22 playoff games, Versteeg recorded 14 points. He has two goals and three assists against his new teammates in the 2010 Finals.
“They made themselves a lot stronger,'' DeBoer said. “He fits right into that third line.''
Versteeg was expected to make his Philadelphia debut Tuesday night in Tampa Bay.
WEDNESDAY: FLYERS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM 560
The series: Flyers lead 38-26-7
The game: The Panthers have done surprisingly well against the Flyers of late, winning 12 of the past 18 meetings. Florida split the first two games between the two this season in Philadelphia, with the Panthers winning 5-0 on Dec. 20. Florida – which will start Tomas Vokoun in net -- has won the past three games against the Flyers at BankAtlantic Center dating to the 2008-09 season. The east-leading Flyers had won three straight before being shutout by the Kings 1-0 on Sunday. Philadelphia played at Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
Florida Panthers Practice Report: Bryan McCabe OUT for Flyers; Dmitry Kulikov Likely OUT Two Weeks ... New Lines on the Frozen Water
Thanks to Pete DeBoer for not keeping the guys out there too long so everyone could enjoy this absolutely glorious South Florida day.
Defenseman Bryan McCabe was out there and was in a regular jersey and took some contact. McCabe, out since Jan. 15 with a broken jaw, is getting real close to returning to the lineup.
DeBoer says McCabe is out for Wednesday's game, but expects to see him in one of the two weekend games, either against Detroit on Friday or Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Dmitry Kulikov, as reported earlier, doesn't have a broken ankle but it is badly bruised. He's not able to put much weight on it although he was walking around Sunday with the aid of a walking boot.
DeBoer says it'll probably be a week before Kulikov can skate and likely two weeks before he returns to the lineup.
DeBoer also stayed with the lines he shuffled up during the San Jose game.
That means Cory Stillman is up on the top line with center Stephen Weiss and Jack Skille.
Your second line is David Booth, Mike Santorelli and Radek Dvorak, with Chris Higgins, Marty Reasoner and Rostislav Olesz manning the third set. Darcy Hordichuk, Scott Timmins and Steve Bernier are your fourth pairing.
Will have more -- with quotes -- later on.
Enjoy your day....
Florida Panthers Stick Around Long Enough to Shock Sharks 3-2 ... Win Very Similar to Upset in San Jose last season
PANTHERS 3, SHARKS 2
Pete DeBoer said the Sharks may be the best team in the league right now, so when San Jose got rolling against the Panthers on Sunday afternoon, it looked like things were going to get ugly.
The Panthers didn't do much against the Sharks, but stuck around long enough to get a most satisfying result. Despite trailing by a goal twice in the game, the Panthers somehow found a way to derail the high-flying visitors from San Jose as Jason Garrison's goal with just over two minutes remaining was the difference in a 3-2 win in front of an announced 16,217 at BankAtlantic Center.
San Jose had won nine of its past 11 games, losing just once in regulation during that time. Florida had lost nine of 11 – five of those defeats coming in overtime.
“We have to be patient against a team like that,'' center Stephen Weiss said. “We knew that wasn't our best two periods, but that's a good team. It's not easy to stick around against them. We found a way to win.''
As was the case last spring in San Jose, the Panthers looked like they were skating in mud against the quick and physical Sharks for much of the first two periods. Not only were the Panthers unable to test goalie Antti Niemi (Florida got off just four shots in the opening period) but were struggling just to put passes together and get the puck out of its own zone.
The Sharks scored first when Kent Huskins banged a puck past Tomas Vokoun in the opening period. Down 1-0, the Panthers were still in the game but weren't very competitive. Then, late in the second, former Panthers defenseman Dan Boyle hit Darcy Hordichuk hard. Bryan Allen took exception and ended up tangling with Jamal Mayers at center ice in front of the bench.
Allen ended up taking a game misconduct and didn't return until late in the game leaving the Panthers shorthanded, but the fight woke his team up. With 28.9 seconds left in the period, Mike Santorelli took a shot on Niemi that was blocked. Santorelli worked his way back to grab his own rebound and awkwardly shot the puck toward the net, the puck bouncing off the goalie and into the net to tie the score.
“That was a big play for us, sticking together, having [Allen] jump in there like that,'' DeBoer said. “[Allen's] a character guy. When one of your leaders gets involved like that, that's contagious, especially with a young team. I don't think it's an accident that we picked our game up and scored a goal after that.''
San Jose answered Santorelli's goal two minutes into the third to retake the lead, but the Panthers started getting their game together and put pressure on Niemi – Chicago's Stanley Cup winning goalie last year.
Chris Higgins had a great scoring chance go high with 14:05 left, but he made up for it a few minutes later when he corralled the puck from the corner and threw a backhanded shot that slipped through. Florida, again, had new life.
“They were really taking it to us for the first half of the game,'' Higgins said. “they're a good team and makes plays. We battled back. It seems like we've been on the losing end of games in which we played the better game. This was the flip result for us.''
The Panthers continued to keep heat on Niemi and refused to give up the puck on one big possession late in the game. During that marathon shift, the puck found its way to defenseman Jason Garrison. With Rostislav Olesz blocking Niemi's view, Garrison fired the puck through to give the Panthers their first – and final – lead of the night.
“We were able to maintain and battle through then finally put some pressure on them,'' said Garrison, who has three goals this season. Two of those were game-winners. Smiling when told of that stat, Garrison replied: “Shoot the puck. That's what I'm supposed to do.''
Sunday's game was very reminiscent of last season's surprising win in San Jose. The Panthers didn't do much in that game either, but like Sunday, they stuck around. Florida won as Allen – who got all of four goals last season – scored on a long shot in overtime. The Panthers have now beaten the Sharks three straight times.
“We weren't happy with the way we were in the offensive zone, but we stuck with it and poured it on at the end,'' Weiss said. “It's a win. We'll take it.''
--- Injured defenseman Dmitry Kulikov watched Sunday's game from the press box along with Evgeny Dadonov (broken finger), wearing a walking boot on his injured ankle. Joe Callahan was called up from the minors to replace Kulikov in the lineup.
Michael Frolik, who turns 23 on Thursday, was looked at as a player who would be around the Panthers for a long, long time.
Of course, he was sent to Chicago on Wednesday.
But his memory lives on.
Heck, Nathan Horton's picture is STILL on the side of Comcast service vans and he was traded to Boston last June.
Of course, Comcast has been known to be slow about some things.
Bad News for Florida Panthers: NHL's Best Teams Coming to Sunrise ... Dmitry Kulikov OUT v Sharks, Joe Callahan On Way
With the way things have been going of late, it's hard to believe the Panthers actually seem excited about their upcoming schedule.
In the next week, the Panthers won't be playing any of the league's bottom feeders. Instead, Florida gets some of the NHL's best.
The Panthers begin a four-game run Sunday afternoon against teams that are either leading their division or close to it.
San Jose, Sunday's opponent, has won nine of its past 11 games. The Sharks' loss to New Jersey on Friday was San Jose's first in regulation since Jan. 15. The Sharks came into Saturday trailing Dallas by two points in the race for the Pacific Division title. San Jose is the only of Florida's next four opponents to not be atop their division.
“I think this is a great opportunity. We're playing the best teams in the league and we're going to find out where we're at,'' defenseman Mike Weaver said. “As a player, you don't want to play in the boring games. You want to play against the best. You want to challenge yourself. You have to go through these teams in the end anyway. It's a great challenge for us and I'm looking forward to it. It should be a lot of fun.''
The Panthers have lost nine of their past 11 games but have usually fared well against the league's better teams – especially those elite teams coming up.
Florida will play host to San Jose, Philadelphia (Wednesday) and Detroit (Friday). The Panthers won in San Jose last season and have split the two games played in Philadelphia this season. Florida won in Detroit last year, the first time the Panthers have done so since 1996.
And playing those three teams at home doesn't really matter much. San Jose, Philadelphia and Detroit came into Saturday tied for the league lead with 17 road wins apiece.
On Saturday, the Panthers visit Tampa Bay. Florida has won two of three against the Southeast-leading Lightning this season.
With the playoffs still a remote possibility, Florida needs every win it can get. This is probably not the best way about getting them.
“This is a big test for us. San Jose, the way they're playing, might be the best team in the league,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “We have four of the top 10 teams in the league on our plate this week. It's a good test. We've risen to the occasion when playing the top teams this season. Our attention to detail has to be in the right spot.''
Added Stephen Weiss: “This is going to be fun. You want to play those teams at this time of year. If you want to get in, you have to get through the best teams. I'm looking forward to it. It's a challenge, but we're all excited. It's different playing teams like Philly, Detroit, San Jose. You have to bring everything you have, be sharp or they'll make you look pretty bad.''
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov won't play Sunday because of his injured ankle, but winger Cory Stillman will be back in the lineup.
Stillman participated in his second straight practice and was back on his usual line with Marty Reasoner and Radek Dvorak.
Defenseman Bryan McCabe took part in a full practice Saturday but is still a few days away from returning. McCabe has missed the past 11 games because of a broken jaw suffered during a game Jan. 15 against the Devils.
“He's working through some things but it's a big difference between going in a day-before practice and playing in a game,'' DeBoer said. “He's lost some weight and his game legs aren't there. But he's close. As hard as he works, he'll be back sooner than later.''
With Kulikov out, the Panthers recalled defenseman Joe Callahan – who played in one game for the Sharks last season – from their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.
SUNDAY: SHARKS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 5 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSNF; WKIS 99.9 FM
The series: Sharks lead 9-6-7
The game: Florida has won the past two meetings against the Sharks with the Panthers winning on Bryan Allen's overtime shot last March. The Panthers are 5-7-1 against Western Conference teams this season, and have won just one of four games against teams (Phoenix) from the Pacific Division. While San Jose is tied for the league lead in road wins, the Panthers 11 home wins are fourth-lowest in the NHL.
Florida Panthers Notebook: Bryan McCabe Close to Return, Contract Stuff from Mike Santos ... Panthers in your Neighborhood (as long as it's not Miami-Dade County)
Bryan McCabe lost 10 pounds after breaking his jaw during a game last month.
The Panthers have lost a whole lot more.
The loss of McCabe may not be the sole reason Florida has won just two of the 11 games its captain has missed, although his absence both on the off the ice cannot be understated.
McCabe, 35, had the wires holding his jaw closed removed. He can now talk, breathe and – most importantly to him -- eat things not blended, mashed or pureed. He thinks the weight he lost will quickly return. “I've been eating a lot,'' he said. “A lot.'' After skating Friday in Coral Springs, he hopes to be back in the lineup within the week.
The Panthers can only hope McCabe doesn't miss too many more games.
“One player, especially your captain, makes a big difference on a team like ours,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “There's lots of intangibles with him and he's a big part of our team.''
Despite all the losing, the Panthers are still very much alive in the playoff race, fighting for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference no one – save for the red-hot Sabres – seems to want. The Thrashers had been holding the eighth spot, but they had lost four straight and 11 of 13 going into Friday's game against the Rangers. Those losses helped division rival Carolina sneak into playoff position.
Coming into Friday's games, Carolina held a one point lead on Atlanta and a two point lead on Buffalo. The Panthers were six points back despite all of their recent losing.
“For all our screwing up, we're six points back with a game in hand,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. “We still have a chance.”
McCabe thinks he can help the Panthers find their winning ways once more. McCabe's final game – he missed just one shift after breaking his jaw on an errant puck during the first period – was a 3-2 overtime victory over New Jersey on Jan. 15. That was the last game in Florida's three-game winning streak that ended a few days later.
“Hopefully it's just another week. That's what I'm aiming for,'' McCabe said. “It's always hard to sit out no matter what kind of injury you have. I'm itching and as soon as I'm allowed, I'll be back. I just want to be back and part of this team, helping things out. This is crunch time. We have to pull some wins together.''
McCabe was playing solid at the time of his injury, assisting on goals in each of Florida's previous two victories. Off the ice, McCabe has shown that he was indeed the correct choice as the sixth captain in franchise history. He has been vocal as well as a leader by example. The Panthers will not forget the grit he showed in refusing to sit out despite his painful injury.
Oh yeah: McCabe was also playing with a broken finger.
“He's such a positive leader, always picking guys up when they are down,'' said 22-year-old rookie defenseman Keaton Ellerby. “He's our captain and our leader. He does things right on and off the ice. We all learn from him. He's the foundation of this team. We miss him when he's not there. He'll be a huge addition when he comes back.''
NO NEW DEALS
McCabe said that he wants to end his career with the Panthers, although his name has been thrown about as one the Panthers might move before the Feb. 28 trade deadline. The Panthers have a number of players with expiring contracts, and if the team doesn't look like a true contender for a playoff spot by then, a good number may be moved for future considerations.
Goalie Tomas Vokoun and the Panthers had brief talks regarding a contract extension last month, but the two sides haven't talked since. Santos said Friday that the team would not negotiate deals with any of its pending free agents until after the season. That will only fuel trade rumors as the deadline approaches.
Both Vokoun and McCabe can stay in South Florida if they want as both have no-movement clauses in their contracts. They would have to agree to a trade before Florida could make one happen.
“We haven't talked contract with anyone save for Vokoun and that was over a month ago,'' Santos said. “With all the veteran guys who are free agents, we're going to wait and evaluate after the season. I don't think it's necessary to talk about contracts right now. I would hope everyone in the room would want to come back especially with the way the culture is changing. This is becoming a desirable place to play.''
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was scheduled to have an MRI on his injured ankle on Friday after being hit point blank by a Buffalo shot during the second period of Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss. DeBoer said he doesn't think anything is broken, and hopes the bruising subsides in the coming days allowing Kulikov to play Sunday afternoon against the Sharks.
Winger Cory Stillman also practiced Friday and proclaimed himself likely to play Sunday. “I feel good,'' he said with a wide smile.
PANTHERS: OUT AND ABOUT IN BROWARD AND PALM BEACH
A number of Florida Panthers -- including Vokoun, Stephen Weiss and Radek Dvorak -- visited the Chris Evert Children’s Hospital in Fort Lauderdale on Friday. The players hung out with the kids in the hospital and also had an ice cream party and handed out Valentine's Day goodies.
On Friday night, Scott Clemmensen, Jason Garrison and Mike Santorelli will join Bill Lindsay and Bill Murphy at Duffy's at the Fountains in Plantation.
That event starts at 6 p.m., so if you're going, you better get.
-- On Saturday at 5 p.m., a number of Panthers are scheduled to visit local rinks.
-- Rostislav Olesz and Scott Timmins at Pines Ice Arena, 12425 Taft St., Pembroke Pines, 5 p.m.
-- Keaton Ellerby and Evgeny Dadonov at Palm Beach SkateZone, 8125 Lake Worth Road, Lake Worth
-- Chris Higgins and Mike Weaver at Palm Beach IceWorks, 1590 N. Florida Mango Road, West Palm Beach.
Mike Santos: No Contract Extensions Before Deadline ... Good Day, Rochester ... Bryan McCabe, Cory Stillman Practicing ... Dmitry Kulikov Status Unknown
Good afternoon hockey fans.
Was at practice today for the first time this week and got some pretty good stuff.
First off, I was under the impression that the Panthers might want to sign a couple of their unrestricted free agents to a contract extension before the trade deadline later this month.
Well, nix that.
Assistant general manager Mike Santos told me today that the team will not be talking contracts to any of their pending free agents until after the season.
That means no extension for the likes of Tomas Vokoun or Bryan McCabe. At least not now.
I have said in the past that if the Panthers and Vokoun don't get a deal done before the deadline, Vokoun would be traded. Now, I guess, I'm not so sure about that. First, Vokoun can turn down any deal. Second, the Panthers seem to be in no rush to do anything. They are pretty confident the players they want to stick around will stick around.
It's a dangerous game – if the Panthers decide to keep some of these free agents at the deadline. In that case, they once again risk losing players for nothing.
I still see quite a few trades in the Panthers near future.
-- Last night at the town hall meetings, Santos talked about Rochester and how that franchise has been “bad” for the Florida Panthers.
It has been floated in Rochester that the Amerks and Panthers affiliation could be rekindled, but I definitely don't see that happening anymore.
This divorce is going to be final soon.
Santos said he doesn't see the Panthers returning next year, and said the worst case scenario for the Panthers – if there are no open AHL spots save for Rochester – was that the team would go back to splitting an affiliation with another team.
If that does happen -- which the Panthers really, really don't want to happen -- my money is on Florida joining up with Nashville.
Just a hunch.
-- Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov went for an MRI today although the Panthers don't think he has a broken ankle after being smacked by a puck last night. Coach Pete DeBoer thinks, as long as nothing is broken, that Kulikov could play Sunday against the Sharks.
Word out of Rochester is that no player has been told he's coming up yet. Joe Callahan and Clay Wilson would be your natural candidates to replace Kulikov if need be.
-- Cory Stillman was in a cheerful mood today and after working out at the optional skate said he felt “good” and would probably play Sunday.
-- McCabe also worked out and said he should be ready to go in a week. Not sure if McCabe will take part in Saturday's 10 a.m. practice in Coral Springs, but he probably will.
-- Last time I spoke with Byron Bitz -- about two weeks ago -- he said he hoped his latest trip to a specialist would allow him to get back on the ice. Apparently not. Bitz, who had sports hernia surgery, is still not skating.
Bitz was acquired by the Panthers at the deadline last year and played in seven games before getting hurt. Then he suffered the sports hernia during training camp.
-- Will have more after I go through the tape. Writing on McCabe's impact on the Panthers is bigger than anyone had previously thought.
He wants to stay with the team – and they think hard about making that happen.
The Panthers sent streaky winger Michael Frolk to Chicago on Wednesday, getting RW Jack Skille, RW Hugh Jessiman and C David Pacan back.
Florida also threw in goalie Alexander Salak (loaned to Sweden).
''We need more physical players up front,'' assistant GM Mike Santos said. ''Skille is hard to play against.''
Frolik hasn't scored a goal since December but was a 20-plus goal scorer in each of his first two seasons with the Panthers.
Skille is expected to fly from Edmonton to Toronto tonight, then fly to Lauderdale in the morning. He's expected to be in the lineup Thursday against the Sabres.
The 23-year-old has played in 49 games with the Chicago Blackhawks this season scoring seven goals with 10 assists. He has 25 points (12-13-25) in 79 career games all with the Blackhawks.
The Madison, Wisc., native was selected by Chicago with their first choice (seventh overall) in 2005.
''This is a character guy Dale [Tallon] knows very well,'' Santos said.
When asked if this was the start of the Panthers fire sale, Santos laughed.
''We just got three guys for two,'' he said. ''I would say we're buying.''
Here are the bios on the other guys courtesy of the Panthers press release:
-- Jessiman, 26, has played in 25 games for the Rockford IceHogs (AHL) this year scoring three goals with two assists and 27 PIM.
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound winger has recorded back-to-back 20 goal seasons with the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL), while also registering more than 100 PIM three times in his professional career.
The New York, N.Y. native was drafted by the New York Rangers in the first round (No. 12 overall) in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
-- Pacan, 19, has played in 47 games with Niagara (OHL) scoring 14 goals with 29 assists and 31 PIM. The Ottawa native was drafted by Chicago with their sixth choice (No. 177 overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
Super Sunday: My Forced Mini Vacation ... Rostislav Olesz is Shooting More, Scoring More ... Cats Back in Pompano ... Weiss, Others Take Day Off
Trust me, it's great to be back home.
If you enjoy reading David's coverage of the Panthers, well, you're in luck. The Herald is forcing me to take some days off this week, so both David and Adam Beasley will be covering the team for me. I will return on Friday.
Now, Monday and Tuesday are furlough days for me -- meaning I don't get paid and am not allowed to do any kind of Miami Herald related work. That's the law man. So, this blog will be dark on Monday and Tuesday because of that.
So you can catch me there all this week. If something pops up on Wednesday or Thursday (those are just regular off days) I may post it here.
To follow me on Facebook, go to the On Frozen Pond page and click LIKE
For Twitter, just follow me @OnFrozenPond
Stephen Weiss and a few others didn't practice because of light injuries. They should all be back Monday morning at Incredible Ice.
-- And here's an early peek at my feature on Rostislav Olesz for Monday's paper. Good to see Olesz playing better, although we've said that before. The biggest thing is he has a tendency to disappear, something his teammates all have noticed.
Tomas Vokoun understands why fans get on Olesz because of the money he makes, but Vokoun says players don't care about that. They don't care if you make the league minumum or Sidney Crosby cash; you better come to work every day. That's all that matters.
Anyway, here's my story.
Because of the furlough, I'm technically not allowed to even open emails or take work related calls. But if you contact me on Facebook or Twitter, well, that's my personal business now isn't it?
-- By the way, if you see me walking around the arena on Tuesday or Thursday, come up and say hello. I'll be strolling around visiting different sections the next few nights. Is there any place special I need to go?
I think I'm watching Thursday's game from the ADT Club. If you've never watched a game from there, check out Stubhub. They have some good deals there and it's the best. It really is a good game-night experience.
-- OK, here's the Olesz story. I promise.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Jacques Martin wanted Rostislav Olesz to shoot the puck more. Pete DeBoer wants Olesz to take aim at the net more often. So does Dale Tallon.
Olesz has heard that refrain many times in his six seasons with the Panthers from coaches and teammates alike. Olesz grew up with a passer's mentality, and even though he has a pretty nice shot, he would rather set a teammate up than go for the gold himself.
He says he wants to change that thought proccess and has been shooting more lately.
And guess what? Olesz has scored a few goals.
“I'm playing on a line with Mike Santorelli and David Booth and they like to shoot, so we have to share the puck,'' said Olesz, whose overtime goal beat the Devils on Friday night. That goal came after he almost won the game in regulation, his shot ringing off the post.
“Some nights I'm not going to have the shots because they're taking them. I know I have to be patient but I'm trying to get the puck at the net. Since my first year here, everyone has told me to shoot the puck more. Everyone. I don't know, I like to pass. I don't think it's a bad habit, but if a guy is open, I'm going to try to get the puck to him. If not, I'm looking to shoot it.''
Olesz, who scored 14 goals last season, has two goals off nine shots in his past five games. DeBoer would like to see Olesz be more aggressive in front of the net, using his wide frame to create some space and thereby open things up for current linemates David Booth and Mike Santorelli.
When Olesz isn't in front of the net, however, he should be taking aim at the goalie.
“Yeah, I want him to shoot more,'' DeBoer said. “A lot more. And take the puck to the net with more authority. Rusty is a guy we need to score and be a regular contributor out there. Hopefully this is the first step in that.''
Olesz has been an enigma for the Panthers the past few seasons. A promising player early in his career, Olesz was a restricted free agent after getting 14 goals and 12 assists in 56 games during the 2007-08 season. Martin, then the Panthers general manager, was worried that another team was going to swoop in and sign Olesz to a big-money offer sheet.
Instead of waiting for that to happen, Martin signed Olesz to a six-year deal worth almost $19 million.
Since signing that big contract, Olesz has struggled on the offensive side of the ice and has been sidelined with numerous injuries. In the first year of Olesz's new deal, he missed all but 37 games with a groin injury that was later discovered to be a sports hernia that needed surgery. This year, he missed six weeks with a broken middle finger. Olesz has three of his five goals this season since returning from that injury on Dec. 31.
Olesz wasn't a very popular teammate last season, with former general manager Randy Sexton complaining about Olesz once the season was finished, saying he wanted to trade him “for anything I can get.''
Tallon, who replaced Sexton last summer, doesn't neccissarily feel the same way and thinks Olesz can still be a key part of the Panthers rebuild. Olesz came into this season with a more aggressive attitude and seemed to work hard at fitting in with his teammates more.
While fans have derided Olesz because of Florida's limited offensive return on a big-money contract, goalie Tomas Vokoun said teammates don't look at it that way. If he's making an effort each and every day, that's cool with them. One of the knocks on Olesz is that's not always the case.
“Rusty needs to play like that every night,'' Vokoun said on Friday. “We really need him to play like that for us to be successful. When he plays hard, he's a very effective player. Everyone has an off night during an 82 game season, we know that. But he needs to play like this in 75 of them. And it's not about numbers of money.
“I don't care how much he makes or if he has one goal or 30. It's about the effort and how he battles. He's a 230-pound guy. We need him to make a mark somewhere, even if it’s just on defense. We don't give him grief if he doesn't score because of how much money he makes. He doesn't control that. He does control his effort.''
DeBoer, one of Olesz's most vocal critics over the past few years, had plenty of good things to say about Olesz following Friday's game.
“You know what? Rusty is coming around and we're seeing glimpses of the player he can be,'' DeBoer said. “Everyone's frustration lies in that the sky is the limit with this guy. We just want him to realize his potential. Some guys get it different, especially power forwards. It took Todd Bertuzzi years to learn how to use his size and that body to be effective at this level. His God-given gifts are his size and power. He's figuring it out.''
PANTHERS 4, DEVILS 3
NEWARK, N.J. – With a lot going against his team Friday night, coach Pete DeBoer said he naturally worried his team would “say 'here we go again' and just pack it in.''
This version of the Panthers has more than their share of flaws, but one thing they don't do is quit.
That resolve paid off Friday.
Down a goal going into third third against a defensive-minded team, the Panthers kept coming at the Devils and got a shorthanded breakaway beauty from Mike Santorelli to tie the game. That allowed Rostislav Olesz to score two minutes into overtime and give Florida a rare come-from-behind 4-3 win at Prudential Center.
“I think we deserved that. We've been playing some good hockey and haven't gotten a lot of bounces around the net at least on this trip,'' DeBoer said. “We're in the mix. Health is an issue, we're dealing with some things. But we have some time before we get going on a critical homestand.''
The Panthers snapped a three game losing streak and head home for two weeks. Florida went 2-3-1 on the trip and picked up two points in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers finally picked up a little ground on Atlanta and Carolina and currently trailed the Thrashers by five points for the final spot.
“It's hard to get two or three points much less seven,'' center Stephen Weiss said. “Every point is huge and we just have to keep winning, chip away at them. Pretty soon things snowball and you're right in it.''
The resurgent Devils – who have won eight of 11 with two losses coming tot he Panthers – bounced back after Florida took its usual 1-0 lead after Chris Higgins knocked in a rebound off a Steve Bernier shot. The Devils then took advantage of some leaky defense, scoring two quick goals for a 2-1 advantage.
The Panthers tied things before the first break as Dennis Wideman – who was benched for the third period of Wednesday's loss in Montreal – came up big by ripping a shot from the slot and putting the puck past backup Johan Hedberg. Michael Frolik, who hasn't scored a goal in 22 games, celebrated like someone who hasn't scored a goal in 22 games as he shielded Hedberg's view helping Wideman's shot find paydirt.
The Devils took their last and final lead of the night in the second when Tomas Vokoun gave up a crazy soft goal that he never saw.
Jersey's Mark Fayne hit the puck as if struck with a sand wedge from 40 feet out, the puck harmlessly floating toward the net. Teammate Nick Palmieri was camped in front of Vokoun and saw the knuckleball coming and ducked at the last second. That move allowed the puck to go over both his and Vokoun's head, flopping at the base of the net for a 3-2 lead. Vokoun never saw it.
“If he tried that 100 times, he couldn't chip it that far and have it do that and go into the net,'' Vokoun said smiling. “It was just bad luck. Hey, it doesn't matter now. We got the two points. But, that would have been a good shot from the sand.''
The Panthers continued to come hard at Hedberg and the Devils defense, finally breaking through when Santorelli picked off the puck in the Florida zone and raced in on Hedberg. The Devils goalie came out of the crease giving Santorelli an easy shot into an empty net.
“I had a move picked out in my head,'' Santorelli said. “I saw him come out and stuck with my plan. I thought we played real well, it's nice to get the win. We stuck to it and finally got the win''
The Devils had a number of chances in overtime but Vokoun was sharp, allowing Olesz to take Florida's only shot of the session count. The goal was Olesz's fifth of the season and 11th game-winner in his six seasons with the Panthers.
“The team put a great effort out there, everyone did,'' said Olesz, who had to be stitched up after being struck in the mouth by a puck. “We left it all on the ice in the third.''
The Panthers will be going back in time Saturday as they hold a special practice at their old stomping grounds off Federal Highway in Lighthouse Point. The Panthers haven't practiced at the former Gold Coast Ice Arena since moving into what is their current training facility in 1997.
The team will hold a number of activities at Glacier Ice Arena starting at 2 p.m., with the Panthers taking the ice for a light practice around 4.
Radek Dvorak is the only current player who regularly worked out at Gold Coast, although assistant coach Gord Murphy as well as broadcasters Randy Moller and Bill Lindsay also were members of the Panthers during their days near the beach.
“It's going to bring back a lot of memories. It was nice, a small rink and I can't wait to go out there again,'' said Dvorak, drafted by the Panthers in 1995. Dvorak was traded in 1999, but returned to the franchise as a free agent in 2007. “It's been a long time since I've been there. I think it's going to be nice. We had a nice locker room, things were OK there. I never minded it.''
One of the most enduring images of the Panthers practicing at the small facility was the access fans had. When the team was in the midst of its run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, it would be commonplace for more than a hundred fans to line up in the parking lot for autographs and photos.
The late Roger Neilson, Florida's first coach, embodied hockey in South Florida as he would often leave the rink on a beach cruiser and cruise up U.S. 1 to his waterfront condo -- all while wearing sandals and sunglasses.
“I'll never forget the day he came in all scraped up. Someone cut him off and he went over the handlebars,'' Lindsay said. “That was a great place with a bunch of guys who didn't know any better and didn't care. We were five minutes from the beach, all of us just happy to be playing NHL hockey in Florida. It was a different time, that's for sure.''
Florida Panthers Getting off the Road ... Tomas Vokoun IN, Martin Brodeur OUT ... Panthers Return to Pompano on Saturday
NEWARK – Nothing much going on around the Panthers today as they gear up to finish this six-game roadtrip that was split by the All-Star break.
Florida hasn't fared very well on this trip. If not for Mike Weaver's fluke goal against the Rangers, the Panthers may not have won a single game.
Right now they've had regulation losses to New Jersey, Boston and Montreal; a shootout loss to the Leafs and the win over the Rangers.
Still, Atlanta and Carolina haven't done anything either. As much as the Panthers have squandered opportunity to pick up real estate, the teams in front of Florida haven't gobbled up any more.
So, we'll see.
-- Tomas Vokoun is back in net tonight for the Panthers, although the Devils are going with Johan Hedberg instead of Martin Brodeur.
-- No call-up to replace Evgeny Dadonov, with Scott Timmins centering a fourth line with Darcy Hordichuk and Steve Bernier.
Michael Frolik is back on the top line with Stephen Weiss and Chris Higgins; Rostislav Olesz up with David Booth and Mike Santorelli. The Century Village Line, as usual, stays intact.
-- Speaking of that line, spoke to Radek Dvorak today about returning to Gold Coast, err, Glaciers Ice Arena for Saturday's afternoon practice.
He's pretty excited about going back in time and returning to the rink where it all started for him in the NHL – and for the Florida Panthers.
Will have more Gold Coast memories from Dvorak and Billy Lindsay later on.
Special thanks to Dara Ross for scanning these photos in.
You can also follow news and updates on Twitter @OnFrozenPond
Keaton and Kulikov: Florida Panthers Top D-Pairing of the Future? Tomas Vokoun Hopes to Talk Contract with Dale Tallon Soon ... No Rochester Callup -- For Now
NEWARK, N.J. -- The Panthers haven't had much to celebrate since captain Bryan McCabe broke his jaw during a game against the Devils on Jan. 15. Florida won that night, but haven't done much since, winning just once in the eight games since McCabe has been on the sidelines.
One bright spot during that time has been the play of defensemen Keaton Ellerby and Dmitry Kulikov. Ellerby came up from the minors to fill in for McCabe with assistant coach Gord Murphy pairing the two youngsters up.
Yes, it's early. But the Panthers may be getting a look at what will be their top defensive pairing of the future.
“We really like these two together. Look at their age. What these kids are doing is really a silver lining for us right now,'' coach Pete DeBoer said Thursday. “We're throwing them into a lot of situations and giving them a lot of responsibility on the power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5, in key moments in overtime. And they're handling it. That's a good sign.''
With McCabe out for another few weeks, Ellerby – the tenth overall pick of the 2007 draft -- is playing with the confidence of a veteran and knowing he's not going back to the minors any time soon may be a reason. Ellerby looked tentative and shaky when he came up from Rochester last year, with DeBoer giving him almost no playing time.
DeBoer had a heart-to-heart with Ellerby when the season ended, a talk Ellerby took to heart. Days after the season was over, Ellerby was working out like never before. He added 20 pounds to his lean frame and came to camp with a chip on his shoulder.
On Wednesday, Ellerby crushed Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn along the boards, drawing chirping from the Canadiens bench as well as a loud response from the sold out crowd and numerous replays on Canadian sports programs.
“The coaches want us to play more physical and Kostitsyn was in a perfect spot for one of us to get a big hit on him,'' Ellerby said. “I think we've been playing good together and hopefully that continues so the coaches keep us together for a long time.''
And Ellerby, more of a physical defensive presence than Kulikov, is rubbing off on his new running mate. Kulikov, who broke into the league as an 18-year-old last year after being taken 14th overall in the 2009 draft, is playing with more and more confidence and is hitting more.
“He's a good player and I think there is good chemistry there,'' Kulikov said. “I seem to know where he is at all times. We had some bad goals against us in Montreal, but other than that, I think we've done a good job. Experience is a big part of playing well. He didn't do so well last year and I was a rookie. We both have a little more experience now and that leads to confidence.''
Added Murphy: “They are young guys who are energetic and share a lot of the same interests. They seem to be very comfortable together and relate well to each other on and off the ice. We have a bright future in Florida on defense and they are part of this. They have great guys to learn from with Bryan Allen and Bryan McCabe showing them the way. They have been pushed into bigger roles because of injuries and are doing a good job with it.''
-- Goalie Tomas Vokoun said Thursday that he hasn't heard of any new offers from the Panthers regarding a contract extension. Vokoun, who signed a four-year deal with Nashville prior to be traded to Florida in 2007, can be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career on July 1.
Vokoun said he hopes to speak to general manager Dale Tallon when the team returns to South Florida. The NHL's trade deadline is Feb. 28, and the general thought is Florida will try to deal Vokoun if a deal is not reached. Vokoun can decline any trade as he has a non-movement clause.
Center Stephen Weiss (signed through the 2012-13 season) and defenseman Bryan McCabe (unrestricted free agent) also have no-trade clauses in their contracts.
Weiss said he didn't realize his no-trade had kicked in until he called his agent a few weeks ago. “I asked him if I was being traded,'' Weiss said with a laugh. “He said no. But if they wanted to trade me, they have to talk to him first.''
-- With winger Evgeny Dadonov out for at least a month with a broken finger suffered Wednesday in Montreal, the Panthers could recall a forward from their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. For now, however, it looks like the Panthers will go with a fourth line consisting of rookie center Scott Timmins with wingers Steve Bernier and Darcy Hordichuk.
FRIDAY: PANTHERS AT DEVILS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Prudential Center, Newark, N.J.
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Devils lead 42-22-7
The game: The Panthers end this strange six-game road trip in the same place it started. Florida lost to the Devils on Jan. 23, then split games in New York and Boston before going into the All-Star break. The Panthers then met up in Toronto. The Panthers are just 1-2-1 on this trip. Tomas Vokoun will be in net against the Devils. New Jersey had won seven of nine going into Thursday's game at the Rangers. Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur is 37-15 with seven ties against Florida (with six shutouts), but backup Johan Hedberg (8-7-0 vs. Florida) could face the Panthers on Friday.