In the midst of the team's longest losing streak since 2005, it's hard to find many silver linings for the Florida Panthers. When this season finally does come to an official close Saturday against the Capitals, many changes are in store.
For some players on this current roster, what they do through the final week of the season could determine whether or not they are invited back.
“You're looking for energy out of those guys,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “You have to notice them when they hop over the boards,'' DeBoer said. “If I was a player, I would be doing everything I could over these last games to not just blend in.''
As much as some members of the Panthers deny it, the team is in full tryout mode as players hope to impress and get a contract offer for next year.
Some are doing a much better job of that than others. Ryan Carter, Jack Skille and Clay Wilson have all shown the Panthers they are worth future considerations.
“Ryan Carter is separating himself from the group,'' DeBoer said of the 27-year-old who came to the Panthers in the Cory Stillman deal with Carolina around trade deadline time. “A lot of other guys have blended in.''
Jack Skille has definitely been noticed for his physical play. Skille hasn't played much because of an ankle injury, but he was very aggressive on Saturday against the Penguins and scored his first goal as a member of the Panthers. Skille came to Florida in February as part of the Michael Frolik deal with the Blackhawks.
“Give the guy credit for keep coming back through the injuries,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. “He's shown how much he wants to be here and how much he wants to play. We're looking for guys with his kind of character. Other guys in the room should look at him and say 'I need to play like that'. He has the right attitude, the right character. That's what we're looking for. Pete has been saying it and it's true: Guys should be playing for jobs.''
Wilson has had a cup of coffee with Atlanta, Columbus and the Panthers prior to this season. Wilson came into the season with one NHL goal; in the past three weeks, he's scored three.
“This is my sixth year and I'm still a 'call-up' guy. I just try to do the best with what opportunities I get,'' said Wilson, who scored 22 seconds after Skille did Saturday against the Penguins. “This has been about as good an opportunity I've had. It's been a good experience, I've learned a lot. Any time you get to play in different roles, it's good to get that chance. Every night is an interview here.''
Then there is the curious case of Tim Kennedy.
Kennedy has only played in three NHL games this season – all with the Panthers. Kennedy had been stashed in the minors first by the Rangers (he played for the Sabres last year before being bought out over the summer) before the Panthers also banished him to the minors knowing if they called him up, they would lose him through the waiver process.
Once the Panthers did call Kennedy up on March 8, the speedy winger didn't do much and he was sent back to the minors. Kennedy was scheduled to join the team Saturday night, but because of a mistake by the Panthers front office, he won't be able to until Wednesday in Washington.
Kennedy is expected to play in Florida's final three games. He's got some catching up to do.
“I expected to see speed and energy from [Kennedy], a guy tenacious all over the ice,'' DeBoer said. “We saw a little of that. He's getting another chance. I think we'll see a different player.''
-- The Panthers took Sunday off but will return to their training facility in Coral Springs on Monday morning. The 10:30 a.m. session is expected to be Florida's final practice at Saveology IcePlex (3299 Sportsplex Drive, Coral Springs) this season. The workout is free and open to the public.
Florida Panthers Slide Hits Eight as Penguins Roll 4-2 ... Florida Plays One Short Because of Waiver Snafu
The Panthers had their final morning skate at The Billboard on Saturday as they will not hold one before the season finale next week against the Capitals.
Monday is expected to be the final practice of the season at IncredibleIce.
Florida now has three games remaining in what has turned into a disaster of a season. Florida was held to two goals again in Saturday's 4-2 loss to the Penguins. If you're looking for silver linings in this miserable cloudy day, well, Florida didn't lose any ground in the Race for 28th.
Of course, they didn't gain any ground either.
Ottawa and the Islanders both lost Saturday. Florida and the Sens are tied for last in the east with the Uniondale Islanders two points up.
Anyway, here's my game story.
Will have a story tomorrow before turning things over to David J. Neal on Monday and Tuesday. I'll be back Wednesday LIVE! from Washington, D.C.
Enjoy the basketball.
PENGUINS 4, PANTHERS 2
The Panthers haven't scored more than two goals in two weeks, so when they put up that many in a span of just 22 seconds Saturday night, there was hope more were coming. There were not.
Florida never found that elusive third goal on Saturday although the visitors from Pittsburgh did as Zbynek Michalek's goal with 7:11 left proved to be the winner in the Penguins 4-2 win at BankAtlantic Center.
The Panthers have now lost eight straight for the first time since Florida lost 12 consecutive in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma from Oct. 27-Nov. 23, 2005. The Panthers have also scored two goals or fewer in 16 of their past 21, winning just one of those 16 games.
“Again, you have to score to win in this league. Two is not enough but it's normal our usual output lately,'' coach Pete DeBoer said afterward. “It's frustrating. We had good efforts from a lot of people including the goalie. The combination of not finishing at one end and not getting a timely save at the other is disastrous for us.''
Pittsburgh, which will likely end up the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs and play Tampa Bay, jumped on the Panthers when Tyler Kennedy scored 1:45 into the game. But Florida bounced back later on as Jack Skille – acquired in February's Michael Frolik deal with Chicago – got his first goal as a member of his new organization with 5:22 left in the first.
Defenseman Clay Wilson answered Skille's goal with one of his own 22 seconds later, giving Florida a 2-1 lead after he beat backup Brent Johnson with a long slap shot.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, that would end the scoring surge.
“The momentum really shifted and it was tough when they scored. They put us on our heels a little bit,'' Wilson said. “You had to figure whoever got the third goal would win and that's what happened.''
Florida had some chances later on, but struggled in the second after Pascal Dupuis tied it 45 seconds in. Michalek's goal put Pittsburgh ahead, but the Panthers put heat on Johnson with David Booth being stopped on a backhanded attempt and Marty Reasoner missing on a power play chance.
The Panthers had a 4-on-3 power play opportunity late in the game, but nothing materialized. DeBoer chose not to pull Scott Clemmensen during the power play to give his team another attacker, but eventually did so with 1:35 left. The Penguins quickly deposited the puck into the empty net five seconds later.
ONE MAN SHORT
The Panthers sent winger Patrick Rissmiller back to their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., on Saturday and flew Tim Kennedy to South Florida with the thought he would play against the Penguins. But the Panthers mistakingly did not put Kennedy on re-entry waivers and he was unable to play.
With Rissmiller already gone, the Panthers were a man short of the league-mandated 20-man roster for Saturday. Injured center Shawn Matthias dressed and sat on the bench but did not play. Matthias hasn't skated since re-injuring his ankle March 23 in Chicago.
Stephen Weiss was ruled out for Saturday's game because of a groin injury. Kennedy, in Sunrise on Saturday, will be put on re-entry waivers Sunday and should clear by Tuesday.
“Matthias was the most healthy guy we had, so he's in the lineup,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said. “Even if we had put Kennedy on waivers on Friday, he wouldn't have cleared until Monday. It's unfortunate. It would have been nice to see Kennedy in another game, but he'll play Wednesday.''
Said DeBoer on playing short handed against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference: “It's not the perfect situation, but we had to deal with it.''
This entry, offered to us graciously by Anthony Biancardi doesn't sum up all the losing streaks and poor draft picks over the past decade-plus, but he does sum up just about everything else.
Mike Keenan's name is mispelled, but because of the Roberto Luongo deal, we'll pretend that was on purpose.
So, the ball is now in the Panthers court. Here's your newest banner to hang up in the rafters of the little place we like to call 'Tarp City at The Billboard.'
Hopefully this banner is raised when Mr. Biancardi is there. He wins two tickets to next Saturday's season finale for his winning entry.
I think this homage to the Mary Tyler Moore show would look pretty good on one of those JetBlue-inspired jerseys.
It sure was fun.
The best part? Seeing all the diehard fans -- when you're talking about the Florida Panthers, are there any other kind? -- at the practices day in, day out. It's always good to talk hockey (and tennis or the Yankees when Harvey X. is around) with everyone each day. Makes things fun, no doubt.
Also going to miss my morning iced coffee and toasted bagel from the fine folks at Brooklyn Water Bagel. I'm voting the addition of that bagel factory in the arena and training facility as the Panthers' biggest free agent acquisition this season.
It really is one of the best moves this franchise has made in years (sad statement there, yes? True? Yes).
Not to rain on anyone else's proclimations, but the staff at On Frozen Pond has voted Brooklyn Water Bagel as the best Bagel in South Florida. Your plaque is in the mail.
Still working on the Best Wings in South Florida Award. Lots of homework to do on that one.
Anyway, on to hockey:
In an otherwise bleak season, the Panthers hope they have seen glimpses of the future offensively in the recent play of Evgeny Dadonov.
With over $30 million to spend just to get to the league-mandated salary cap floor this summer, the Panthers are expected to go after offensive-minded players either through trade or via free agency. But with most – if not all – of the league's top players locked into contracts, the Panthers are going to have to develop scoring through what they have as well.
The Panthers think they have a real keeper in the 22-year-old Russian winger.
“We're looking for top two-line forwards in the organization, guys with skill who play the right way,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “Winning teams have that. .-.-. The reality is you can't sign four of five of those guys because they're just not out there. He has that kind of potential. He can fit in in one of those roles. He just needs to keep developing.''
It took Dadonov a little while to make it to the Panthers. After coming into his first training camp last year out of shape, the Panthers stashed him with their AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., until the end of the year, finally calling him up with four games left.
Dadonov had hoped to make the roster after a strong training camp this year, but he lost out in a numbers battle, going back to Rochester. Yet once the Panthers called him up in December, Dadonov was here to stay, scoring three goals with 10 points in his first 17 games. Dadonov went through a rough patch where he didn't score in eight straight games before breaking a finger. That cost Dadonov six weeks.
Since returning to the lineup, Dadonov has four goals in seven games – including a pretty back-handed wraparound goal against Columbus' Steve Mason on Tuesday. When DeBoer says Dadonov can't “take his foot off the gas,'' Dadonov says he understands what he has to do to build on this season in the offseason.
“Everyone is trying to play their best right now, end their season good because it's important going into next year,'' said Dadonov, who plans on returning to his hometown of Chelyabinsk, Russia, soon after Florida's season comes to a close next week. “Every player has highs and lows in a season, as did I. I'm just trying to be a better professional, eat good food, get good rest. I know what it takes to play at this level and I just need to keep it going.''
Darcy Hordichuk had Thursday's game against the Senators in his mind for weeks, the Panthers enforcer itching for a chance to fight Ottawa's Francis Lessard to right what he thought was a wrong. In the previous matchup, Lessard's hard hit knocked Florida's Scott Timmins out.
Hordichuk tried to engage Lessard as soon as that hit happened, although Lessard declined as officials herded him off the ice. Lessard received a game misconduct for the hit and was ejected from that game. Thursday, Hordichuk took on Lessard less than three minutes into the game.
“That's my job, to protect our guys,'' Hordichuk said. “If guys think they're going to come in here and take liberties with our guys, well, there are repercussions.''
Timmins has been out since the hit with a concussion and may not return this season. The Panthers are taking Timmins' return slowly and he has just begun skating.
“Every time you see him fight it's exciting, but knowing that was for me was great,'' Timmins said. “That's the kind of guy he is. He always sticks up for his guys. I can't thank him enough.''
-- DeBoer said he's treating Clemmensen like the Panthers starter while Tomas Vokoun is out with a back injury saying Clemmensen deserves the chance to play. Vokoun could be out some time – although DeBoer says it's too soon to tell whether Vokoun's season is over.
Vokoun has not skated since being hurt Sunday in Pittsburgh. Clemmensen will start Saturday against the Penguins.
“We're trying to win every game and Clemmensen has paid his dues here,'' DeBoer said before Thursday's loss to Ottawa. “He's been here every day for two years, practiced every day and has been a good teammate. He's also played well. This isn't training camp. We're trying to send the right messages and the message is he deserves to play for what he's done. Vokoun is a free agent so there's a question mark about our goaltending going forward. Clemmensen is under contract and we know he'll be back for sure.''
-- Winger Jack Skille (ankle) practiced again on Friday and DeBoer said he was probable for Saturday's game.
SATURDAY: PENGUINS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM 560
The series: Pittsburgh leads 34-30-4
The game: The Panthers have lost seven straight games and haven't scored more than two goals in any of their past six games. Florida is on the verge of not getting a win in a season series against the Penguins for the first time since the inaugural season of 1993-94 when Florida lost three and got a tie. Pittsburgh has lost to Philadelphia and Tampa Bay since beating Florida 2-1 in a shootout last Sunday. Sidney Crosby is still working his way back from a concussion and is practicing with the Penguins without contact. Crosby will not play Saturday.