They may not have been wearing their new red jerseys, but the new-look Florida Panthers were, for the most part, finally on the ice together under game conditions on Saturday night.
The Panthers, who are saving their new duds for the Oct. 15 home opener, played most of their expected starters in the fourth exhibition game of the preseason.
Despite playing against a watered-down Tampa Bay team, the Panthers gave up three goals in the third period and lost 5-3 at BankAtlantic Center.
With the score tied 3-3, Tampa Bay scored twice within a span of nine seconds to put the game away with just over five minutes remaining.
“We had half a dozen bodies in which that was their first game,'' first-year coach Kevin Dineen said. “I'm not big on making excuses, but fatigue played a factor. We also had a little chemistry issues. When things got frantic, we failed to settle down and right things.''
Making their preseason debut for the Panthers: Goalie Jose Theodore, defenseman Ed Jovanovski, winger Kris Versteeg, center Stephen Weiss, winger Tomas Fleischmann and winger Tomas Kopecky.
The Lightning had emerging superstar Steven Stamkos in the lineup for the second straight night (the Lightning beat Florida's 'B-squad' 5-2 in Tampa on Friday) but that was about it.
For Jovanovski, it was his first game at the Sunrise representing the Panthers since Florida beat the visiting Islanders 1-0 on January 16, 1999. Jovanovski was traded to Vancouver the following day as part of the blockbuster Pavel Bure deal.
“It was good, good to get into a game,'' said Jovanovski, whom Florida made the first pick of the 1994 draft.
Theodore, who hadn't taken a shot under a game situation since April 10 as a member of the Minnesota Wild, gave up a quick goal to Pavel Kubina 1:29 into the game. Kubina whipped off a shot from 25 feet away, the puck getting under Theodore's arm for a 1-0 Lightning lead. Weiss was in the penalty box for goalie interference just 32 seconds in.
Although he seemed to settle in, the third period was not good for Theodore as Tom Pyatt, Mattias Ritola and Teddy Purcell all scored. Purcell's goal, which came moments after Ritola gave Tampa Bay the lead, clipped Theodore in the helmet and bounced into the net.
Theodore, who signed a two-year deal with the Panthers worth $3 million on July 1, gave up three goals on 12 third period shots.
Florida is 1-3 this preseason with two games against Dallas remaining.
“I thought he played some pretty good hockey,'' Dineen said of Theodore, who enters his 15th NHL season after stints with Montreal, Colorado, Washington and Minnesota.
“He didn't have a shot at a few of those. There were some coverage issues as we went down the stretch. He's not happy when he gives up five goals, but for the first time playing in five months, it was OK.''
The Panthers got two quick goals in the second, with Versteeg and Kopecky scoring less than a minute apart to give Florida a 3-1 lead early in the period. Tampa Bay came back, scoring on a 5-on-3 opportunity when Brett Connolly camped out in front of the net and took a nice feed from Ryan Shannon for the easy goal midway through the period.
Tampa Bay failed to tie the score later in the period when Carter Ashton's penalty shot hit the crossbar. Rookie Erik Gudbranson, who was cooling his heels in the penalty box with Jovanovski during the Lightning's 5-on-3 chance, was called for tripping Ashton on the breakaway.
ROSTER MOVES MADE
The Panthers made a number of cuts on Saturday, sending 13 players to their AHL training camp in San Antonio. Among the players moved: Mark Cullen, Roman Derlyuk, Angelo Esposito, Jonathan Hazen, Keith Seabrook, Eric Selleck, Tyson Strachan, Scott Timmins and Nolan Yonkman.
Florida now has 32 players in camp; the team could make a few moves after Tuesday's preseason game although most of the cuts will be made after the exhibition finale on Thursday. The Panthers are expected to carry 22 players when the season starts Oct. 8.
Cullen, Kearns, Strachan and Yonkman have to clear through waivers before they can join the Rampage for Monday's workout in San Antonio.
“We don't have a football roster so we can't carry 53,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. “It's getting tougher every year. There are some good kids. .-.-. This is a matter of experience. They need to start their pro careers and work their way up the ladder.''
(-) The Panthers kept both of their minor league goalies and will likely hold onto at least one through the end of the exhibition schedule.
Scott Clemmensen is expected to start Tuesday's preseason game against the Stars with Theodore playing Thursday in Dallas. San Antonio doesn't play until Friday in Austin, Tex., so both goalies could stay with the Panthers and fly to Texas with the team on Thursday.
(-) Of the players sent to AHL camp on Saturday, only Scott Timmins played with the Panthers last season. Timmins played in 19 NHL games (scoring a goal) with Florida last year in his first professional season. Timmins suffered a concussion in a game on March 10 at Ottawa and missed the rest of the season. He said he has had no symptoms in some time.
“I think he needs to go down and play and be a well-rounded player, get offense and get comfortable,'' Tallon said. “He came up [last year]; we had a lot of injuries, made a lot of trades. I think it's important he goes down and get some confidence. We know he's a real good two-way player.''
(-) Dineen is expected to name the team's newest captain in the coming days. Weiss, Jovanovski and Kopecky were Saturday's alternate captains.