MINNEAPOLIS – The Panthers will have a new look next season, one that makes its official debut on Oct. 8 against the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y.
The NHL officially released the 2011-12 schedule on Thursday, with the Panthers opening their season with two road games (Islanders, at Pittsburgh on Oct. 11) before coming home to face the rival Lightning on Oct. 15. Florida will play four of its first five games away from Sunrise.
Unlike past seasons, the Panthers won't be burdened with many home-and-road games on consecutive nights. The Panthers have 13 back-to-back sets during the season, with four of them coming in March – the most of any one month. Many of them are manageable, however, with a number of them being games within Pennsylvania, Florida or the New York metro area.
The Panthers also won't spend too much time at home nor the road at one time. The Panthers season-long homestand is four games; that is the same number for Florida's longest road trip.
“It's better, but it's still not where I want it to be,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. “The end is very busy with a lot of games. [If Florida is] fighting for a playoff spot, that concerns me.
"There are a lot of games on top of each other and there are a lot of road games. Overall, it's a good schedule. But you have to play all 82. Everyone has issues with the schedules but the better your team, the less of an issue it becomes.''
-- Thanksgiving Week will feature visits from New Jersey (Nov. 21), the New York Rangers (Nov. 23) and Tampa Bay (Nov. 25).
-- The Panthers will also be home after Christmas, playing host to Toronto (Dec. 27), the Rangers (Dec. 30) and the now annual New Year's Eve game against Montreal.
-- Florida will visit Winnipeg, Manitoba, for the first time since March 7, 1996 (a 5-3 loss) when the Panthers play the yet-unnamed team on Nov. 10. The Panthers will visit Winnipeg three times this season (with Winnipeg also coming to Sunrise three times) as the former Atlanta Thrashers remain in the Southeast Division for a final season.
-- All home games, save for ones on Sunday, will begin at 7:30 p.m. The Panthers had played Saturday home games at 7.
-- Nathan Horton and the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins make their first visit in Sunrise on Jan. 16. The defending Western Conference champion Canucks – featuring former Florida goalie Roberto Luongo – come to town on Jan. 9.
-- The regular season ends with three division games. The Panthers host Winnipeg on April 3, visit Washington on April 5 and finish up at home against Carolina on April 7.
CONFLICTS (AND INTERESTS)
There are a few conflicts between the Panthers and the Dolphins/Hurricanes. A lot of these conflicts are when one team is away, so that's good.
October 8: UM @ Virginia Tech; FLA @ NYI
Oct. 15: UM @ North Carolina; TB @ FLA
Oct. 17: Dolphins @ Jets; FLA @ TB
Oct. 22: Georgia Tech @ UM; NYI @ FLA
Oct. 27: Virginia @ UM; FLA @ OTT
Nov. 6: Dolphins @ Kansas City; TB @ FLA
Nov. 13: Redskins @ Dolphins; PHL @ FLA
Nov. 19: UM @ USF; TB @ FLA
Nov. 25: Boston College @ UM; TB @ FLA
Dec. 11: Eagles @ Dolphins; FLA @ NYR
Dec. 18: Dolphins @ Buffalo; CAR @ FLA