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Florida Panthers Opening Night Notebook: Kevin Dineen Wants Hot Start (Who Doesn't?); Cats Slow Starters; Debut Time for Gudbranson and 10 Others


UNIONDALE, N.Y. – Kevin Dineen knows he's not the only coach in the NHL who wants his team to get off to a strong start.

Over the past few seasons, however, the Panthers have done anything but.

“If you read the articles, everyone around the league is talking about getting off to a good start,'' Dineen said prior to Saturday's opener against the host Islanders. 

“We feel it's important and we like being on the road. We spent a lot of time at home during training camp. Now we get to spend some time together and get to know each other. All the focus is on the games. It's a good place to be.''

The Panthers haven't had a winning October since going 6-5-1 in 2005-06. The past three seasons, Florida has gone 12-19-2 in the opening month and are 28-38-5 in October – not counting Saturday's game – in the post-lockout era.

With a first year coach and a glut of new players, the Panthers could be looking at a rocky beginning.

On Saturday, rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson made his NHL debut on Saturday, paired up with veteran Ed Jovanovski. Including Gudbranson, 11 players made their Panthers debut on Saturday, including Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Scottie Upshall, Jose Theodore and Brian Campbell.

Jovanovski represented the Panthers in a regular season game for the first time since the Panthers beat the Islanders 1-0 on January 16, 1999 in Sunrise. Jovanovski, who played for the Panthers from 1995-99, was traded to Vancouver the following day in the Pavel Bure deal.

-- With the Panthers carrying an extra forward and defenseman, someone has to sit. On Saturday, it was Keaton Ellerby and Evgeny Dadonov. Florida opened with a top line of Stephen Weiss centering Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg.

-- The Panthers were expected to square off against Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro although Islanders coach Jack Capuano – an old pal of Dineen's from their AHL days – Started Al Montoya instead.

Along with DiPietro and Montoya, the Islanders also have former Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov in the fold.

"I have seen Montoya in Hartford and have seen what he did here last year,'' Dineen said. “He's a quality goalie. [The Islanders] have some pretty good options in net.''

-- Saturday marked the first of four straight games in which the Panthers will partake in a home opener. Florida will be the visitor for Pittsburgh's second home opener at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday before hosting Tampa Bay on Saturday.

Next week's game at Tampa will be the Lightning's debut at its renovated arena.