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58 posts from October 2011

October 23, 2011

Jacob Markstrom Opens Eyes in Florida Panthers Win ... Shawn Matthias Makes Strong Bid to Stay with Team

PlanteMONTREAL – Many a great goalie has honed his game in Quebec, from the days of Jacques Plante, Gump Worsley and Rogie Vachon to Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur and now Marc-Andre Fleury. 

The Panthers have had one Quebecois make a real name for himself in net over their 18 seasons as Roberto Luongo holds a true part of Florida's history of having top goaltending.

Florida has another Quebec product right now in Jose Theodore.

But the Panthers future in net comes direct from Sweden.

Markstrom3Don't believe the hype? Then you didn't watch Jacob Markstrom absolutely shut down an Islanders team charging fast-and-furious in the third period of Florida's eventual 4-2 win on Saturday night. 

“This kid can play,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “He really put an exclamation point on that [Saturday].''

Theodore, Florida's potential starter through next season, excused himself from Saturday's game during the second intermission after cramping up. Theodore only faced 10 shots in the first 40 minutes and just couldn't get loose. The Islanders came much harder in the third period against the 21-year-old whom the Panthers took with the first pick of the second round in the 2008.

And even though Theodore had success in Montreal, the Panthers could give Markstrom his second career NHL start here against the Canadiens on Monday.

Markstrom, drafted by current Canadiens coach Jacques Martin, lived up to his billing as the Panthers 'goalie of the future' on Saturday.

After a strong performance – despite taking a loss – in his first NHL start last Tuesday in Washington, Dineen had no problem going to the bullpen when Theodore was hurting. Markstrom was phenomenal in making 18 saves to grab Saturday's win.

He came in with the score tied at 2 and held off the Islanders late charge after Tim Kennedy gave Florida the lead. The Islanders gave everything they had in the final minutes, a bum-rush at the net with a two-man advantage either by double penalties or by pulling goalie Evgeny Nabokov. 

When Shawn Matthias sprinted out of the penalty box in the final minute and pushed a puck into the empty net, the crowd cheered. Markstrom only exhaled. The battle was over. 

“He really showed what a pro he is,'' goalie coach Markstrom4Robb Tallas said. “To come into a game like that and basically win the game for us is huge. He has a lot of composure for a young guy. He made corrections from his previous game and that's what won for us.''

ROSTER FIGHT

With the Panthers trading David Booth to the Canucks on Saturday for two veteran forwards, competition for roster spots is going to be tough on Florida's forwards – especially with the injured Mike Santorelli and Sean Bergenheim expected back soon. 

Matthias tried proving he deserved to stay by deftly assisting on goals by Matt Bradley and Kennedy on Saturday – then scored into the empty net to seal the win.

Matthias2“I just didn't want to miss,'' he joked. “I didn't want to be on the low-lights.''

Matthias missed Thursday's game and Friday's practice with the stomach flu before coming in on Saturday and having one of his best NHL performances.

“All I can control is how I play,'' Matthias said. “I can't let things distract me or mess with me. It's easy to over think things, can sneak into your head. I think I've learned to just do my thing, control what I can control.''

-- Booth is just the latest to take part in the Vancouver-Sunrise pipeline. Last year, the Canucks
lost to Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals with six former Panthers in their lineup.

The first major trade between the franchises came in Tallonvan1999 when Florida sent Ed Jovanovski to the Canucks for Pavel Bure. 

Other deals between the two teams included: Florida sending Luongo west (for Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and Alex Auld) in 2006; defenseman Keith Ballard going to the Canucks for a draft pick and current Islanders winger Michael Grabner in 2010; and trading Booth for Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm on Saturday.

Since joining the Panthers, GM Dale Tallon – the first draft pick by the expansion Canucks in 1970 – has made four deals with Vancouver. 

Florida Panthers Plug Holes, Beat Islanders 4-2

Heading to the airport in a bit, off to Montreal.

Forgot to post my small game story last night.

Sorry.

PANTHERS 4, ISLANDERS 2

The Panthers weren't completely depleted on Saturday night, but did face the Islanders down two regular forwards as David Booth was traded to Vancouver earlier in the evening and Sean Bergenheim is still hurt. 

Even losing starting goalie Jose Theodore to a cramping issue before the third period didn't keep them from breaking out of their funk.

Tim Kennedy, essentially filling in for Bergenheim, scored the game-winning goal not long after Jacob Markstrom took over in net and helped the Panthers to a 4-2 win at BankAtlantic Center.

Markstrom, who came in to start the third, made 18 saves in relief and picked up his first NHL victory in his third appearance. 

Markstrom was put to the test in the end as the Islanders had an extended power play. The 21-year-old stood strong and held on, Shawn Matthias' empty netter after getting out of the box sealing the win.

The Panthers, who had been shutout in their previous two games by 3-0 scores to Washington and Buffalo, trailed 1-0 when Mark Streit scored on a power play 1:01 into the game.

Just over a minute later, Tomas Kopecky failed to tie things up when his penalty shot was stopped by former Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

Florida finally broke its scoreless streak midway through the period when Kris Versteeg's shot got past Nabokov with 5:21 remaining. 

Prior to that goal – Versteeg's team-leading fourth – the Panthers hadn't scored in 1 hour, 17 minutes 52 seconds. Florida's hadn't put a puck in since Jason Garrison got the last of the scoring in Monday's 7-4 win at Tampa Bay.

The Panthers made it 2-1 in the second period when Matt Bradley – who fought Matt Martin earlier – scored his first goal with his new team off a nice feed from Matthias. 

Matthias, who is trying to keep his roster spot with the new additions (and Mike Santorelli getting healthy), got a second assist when he fed Kennedy slicing in front of the net for a 3-2 lead with 16:00 left in the third. Matthias hadn't recorded a point prior to Saturday.

-- Coach Kevin Dineen said that Bergenheim's injury is more serious than previously thought as he has now missed three games and may not make this week's trip to Canada.

Injured center Mike Santorelli is getting closer and will travel. Dineen also said that goalie Scott Clemmensen is a few weeks away from returning and will not be with the team.

“We're going to give him some more time to work on his core,'' Dineen said of Bergenheim. “We don't want to rush him.''

 

October 22, 2011

Florida Panthers and Vancouver Canucks: BFFs, Trader Jacks

CanucksOn Saturday when word went out that the Canucks made a trade, I immediately thought 'man, the Panthers have done it again.'

Florida's trade of David Booth to the Pacific northwest wasn't its first with the Canucks.

No, these two go way back.

The biggest trade between the two? Take your pick of these:

Bure1999: Florida gets Pavel Bure for Ed Jovanovski. OK, others were involved, but that's the gist of it.

2006: Vancouver gets LouieRoberto Luongo, Florida gets Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan Allen. Panthers also lose Mike Keenan in the deal since Berthe was fired months later.

2010: Panthers trade Keith Ballard to the Canucks for a first round pick and Steve Bernier. Well, the pick was good. Oh, wait, Michael Grabner was also traded here. He hasn't scored for the Islanders yet tonight, but he still Ballardhas plenty of time.

2011: Panthers send Chris Higgins to the Canucks at the deadline, get a third round pick in return. The Canucks now have that pick back.


Booth22012: Florida sends Booth and exiled center Steven Reinprecht west for UFAs (and likely trade deadline draft pick chips) Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm.

If there are any more Vancouver-Florida swaps you all rememeber, send 'em along!

Tallonvan-- Panthers GM Dale Tallon has now made three of the deals with the Canucks (Ballard, Higgins and
Booth).

He's always had a soft spot for the Canucks.

 

David Booth Goes from Mr. Sunshine to Mr. Drizzle: Florida Panthers Send Popular Booth to Canucks

Mrsunshine

David Booth obviously didn't see this coming.

The popular Panthers winger joked about his Michigan State football team in the morning and showed up to the BankAtlantic Center early to do his workout.

Then he was traded.

Booth apparently broke down in tears when informed that he was traded to Vancouver in exchange for veteran wingers Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm. Booth left a message for his teammates on the dry erase board in the locker room.

The trade was finalized not long before the Panthers took the ice for their pregame skate. Florida ended up beating the visiting Islanders 4-2.

“Anytime this happens as you're going out for a game, yeah, it's shocking,'' center Stephen Weiss said. “I would have liked to have been able to see him and wish him luck, say goodbye. That's the toughest part, not being able to do that.''

Booth, who turns 27 next month, had struggled this season notching just one assist. While tied for fourth on the team with 14 shots, he was tied for ninth in scoring. And his minus-6 rating was worst on the team.

While the Panthers unload Booth's big contract, GM Dale Tallon said the move was about performance. He hadn't been happy with the Panthers of late and didn't think Booth was performing at a high level.

“Those are tough decisions you have to make,'' Tallon said. “We have to move on. He’s going to a great organization, a great team and has a good chance to help them get to where they want to go.”

Samuelsson, who won the Stanley Cup with 2008 with Detroit and played in Florida from 2003-04, has a goal and two assists in six games. Sturm has no goals nor assists in six games. Florida also sent minor league center Steven Reinprecht and a third round pick (which Florida originally got from the Canucks in 2011 for Chris Higgins) to Vancouver.

Prior to Saturday's win, the Panthers had been shut out in consecutive losses to Washington and Buffalo.

“A lot of things come into play. We’re in the performance business and I was not happy with our team’s performance, especially the last two games,'' Tallon said.

"I wasn’t going to sit still and let this fester and I want to send a message and I want to make changes and I want to get better. We felt as far as an organization we get two top NHL players and it allows David to rekindle his career and go to a winning team in Vancouver and regain the touch that he had in previous years.”

Samuelsson and Sturm are expected to join the Panthers in Montreal. Florida plays the Canadiens on Monday night. Sturm will not have visa issues; Samuelsson will need to get one while the Panthers are in Ottawa next week.

Booth, a fan favorite, had four more years left on his contract at $4.25 million per season. Samuelsson and Sturm make about a combined $4.5 million this season and could be free agents on July 1. With Reinprecht's $2 million salary thrown in, Florida saves about $2 million in payroll while taking on a small cap hit as Reinprecht – who was playing in the AHL – didn't count against Florida's cap.

“Nothing to do with contract. Nothing to do at all,'' Tallon said. “We’re taking on more money in this deal. It gives our young guys an opportunity to make our lineup moving forward. It gives us more freedom and flexibility as we move forward. .-.-. On the NHL [cap] side, we’re taking on more money.”

The Panthers awarded Booth with a six-year contract in 2009 after he had 31 goals in his second full season and 56 total. But the 2009-10 season was a washout for Booth as he suffered two major concussions and played in just 28 games.

Booth bounced back last season, playing in all 82 games as he scored 23 goals with 17 assists. Booth was a disappointing minus-31, however.

There had been rumors that the Panthers had been trying to move Booth – because of his contract – for some time, although Tallon denied that on Saturday. He did say a deal with the Canucks had been in the works during the week. Booth did not have to waive a no-trade clause to go to the Canucks.

Tallon said that if the Panthers don't get going, more moves could be made.

“We treat everybody equally. They better pull up their socks,'' he said. “It doesn’t matter if they signed as free agents or not. It’s about production, it’s about performance and it’s about the Panthers.”

PREVIOUS STORY

When David Booth wasn't on the ice for Florida's pregame skate on Saturday, all kinds of speculation began. Was Booth benched for being a minus-6 with no goals and only one assist through six games? Was he hurt? 

Turns out, the Panthers traded him.

General manager Dale Tallon said Saturday that the popular Booth was sent west to the Vancouver Canucks; Florida gets former Panthers winger Mikael SammySamuelsson, 34, and 33-year-old Marco Sturm in return. Booth turns 27 next month.

Florida also sent minor league center Steven Reinprecht and a third round pick (which Florida originally got from the Canucks in 2011 for Chris Higgins). 

BoothBooth, who was joking about his alma mater Michigan State's chances against Wisconsin hours before the deal, couldn't be reached for comment. 

“I think he’s sad. It’s not easy. I like him a lot, he’s a great person,'' Tallon said. “Those are tough decisions you have to make. We have to move on. He’s going to a great organization, a great team and has a good chance to help them get to where they want to go.”

Samuelsson and Sturm are expected to join the Panthers in Montreal. Florida plays the Canadiens on Monday night. Sturm will not have visa issues; Samuelsson will need to get one while the Panthers are in Ottawa next week. 

“A lot of things come into play. We’re in the performance business and I was not happy with our team’s performance, especially the last two games,'' GM Dale Tallon said, referring to the Panthers' consecutive 3-0 losses to Washington and Buffalo. 

“I wasn’t going to sit still and let this fester and I want to send a message and I want to make changes and I want to get better. We felt as far as an organization we get two top NHL players and it allows David to rekindle his career and go to a winning team in Vancouver and regain the touch that he had in previous years.”

Booth, a fan favorite, had four more years left on his Booth2contract at $4.25 million per season. Samuelsson and Sturm make about a combined $4.5 million this season and could be free agents on July 1. With Reinprecht's $2 million salary thrown in, Florida saves about $2 million in payroll while taking on a small cap hit as Reinprecht – who was playing in the AHL – didn't count against Florida's cap.

“Nothing to do with contract. Nothing to do at all,'' Tallon said. “We’re taking on more money in this deal. It gives our young guys an opportunity to make our lineup moving forward. It gives us more freedom and flexibility as we move forward. .-.-. On the NHL [cap] side, we’re taking on more money.”

Booth definitely struggled this season. While tied for fourth on the team with 14 shots, he was tied for ninth with just one point. Samuelsson, who won the Stanley Cup with 2008 with Detroit and played in Florida from 2003-04, has a goal and two assists in six games. Sturm has no goals nor assists in six games.

The Panthers awarded Booth with a six-year contract in 2009 after he had 31 goals in his second full season and 56 total. But the 2009-10 season was a washout for Booth as he suffered two major concussions and played in just 28 games. 

Booth bounced back last season, playing in all 82 games and scored 23 goals with 17 assists.

There had been rumors that the Panthers had been trying to move Booth – because of his contract – for some time, although Tallon denied that on Saturday.

He did say a deal with the Canucks had been in the works during the week. Booth did not have to waive a no-trade clause to go to the Canucks.

Tallon said that if the Panthers don't get going, more moves could be made. 

“We treat everybody equally. They better pull up their socks,'' he said. “It doesn’t matter if they signed as free agents or not. It’s about production, it’s about performance and it’s about the Panthers.”


October 21, 2011

Bracken Kearns Making Most of Time with Florida Panthers

Thursday was just a normal game day for Bracken Kearns.

With his American Hockey League game starting in a few hours, the 30-year-old forward got down to his regular routine. A light lunch of soup, pasta and chicken breast before a quick drive to Austin, Texas, for that night's game.

With the soup on the stove, the phone rang.

The voice on the line was a familiar one, San Antonio coach Chuck Weber. Get to the airport, Weber said, and quick. Forget Austin; You're going to South Florida.

“I was told the flight was leaving in 45 minutes,'' Kearns said, recalling the rush of being told he was not going to be playing for the San Antonio Rampage on Thursday. Instead, the career minor leaguer would make his NHL debut with the Panthers in what ended up being a 3-0 loss to the Sabres. 

“I was definitely panicking. I didn't want to miss the flights. I made 'em.'' 

Kearns was in such a hurry, while hastily throwing clothes into his travel bag the thought came to him. The water for his pasta was still boiling. “I had to run downstairs to shut off the stove,'' he said with a smile. Kearns never got to throw down his afternoon meal. Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said Kearns was such a late addition, the flight the team needed him on was full. 

The San Antonio Spurs, which own the Rampage, apparently made a phone call to the airline. A seat mysteriously opened up.

“He's a good story,'' Dineen said. “You see guys get to fulfill a dream, although I don't think it ended the way he would have wanted. There's been a lot of years and effort for one NHL game. When you have a lot of games under the belt, you forget how special that is. Unfortunately for us, it wasn't a motivational factor in the game.''

Kearns' flight finally touched down in Fort Lauderdale just after 6 p.m. With Thursday's game against the Islanders scheduled to start at 7:30, Kearns had a stressful westbound drive on I-595 during rush hour. By the time he arrived at BankAtlantic Center, warm-ups were just about to start. They started without him. Kearns, who spent seven years in the minors chasing his dream of playing in the NHL, made it for the final minutes of the pregame skate.

In all the hustle, Kearns didn't have time to be nervous. If there were butterflies in his stomach, well, they were alone. Kearns doesn't remember if he ever had time to eat. 

“I should have taken a bowl of soup to go because I hadn't eaten all day,'' he said. “That may have been a good thing.''

With Sean Bergenheim and Shawn Matthias out for Thursday's game, the Panthers quickly recalled Kearns and Tim Kennedy. Neither Bergenheim (soreness) nor Matthias (flu) practiced on Friday and their status for Saturday's game against the Islanders is in question. If one or both don't play, Saturday is another opportunity. 

For Kearns, that's all he's ever asked for. A formidable golfer in his youth, Kearns – who says he is a 1 handicap – tried to land at a college in the south where he could play golf and hockey. When he was told to pick one or the other, he went to the University of Calgary. It wasn't for the golf.

Dennis Kearns, Bracken's father, spent 10 seasons on defense with the Vancouver Canucks in the 1970s and played alongside Panthers GM Dale Tallon during the expansion days of the franchise. 

Mike Santos, the Panthers assistant GM, knows Bracken from their days with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals. When Kearns scored 20 goals with 43 points last season in San Antonio, Santos gave him a contract with the Panthers. 

“This wasn't a favor, he earned his way here by scoring three goals in three games in San Antonio,'' Santos said. “He's a lesson for a lot of guys struggling to get to the NHL. You can do it. He's showed that.''

-- Dineen said Bergenheim, Matthias and defenseman Ed Jovanovski (hip) were questionable for Saturday's game. None of them practiced on Friday. Center Mike Santorelli (shoulder) practiced but was in a no-contact jersey. He's expected to miss Saturday's game but join the team on its trip to Canada on Sunday.  

SATURDAY: ISLANDERS AT PANTHERS

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: No local TV; WQAM-560

Series: Panthers lead 37-30-5

The game: Florida won the season-opener between the two teams 2-0 on Oct. 8 at Nassau Coliseum. Jose Theodore made 27 saves to lead the Panthers to the victory. Florida has now won three of the past five against the Islanders dating to last season. .-.-. The Islanders are 3-2-0 after losing in Tampa Bay on Thursday. Florida has lost two straight – both 3-0 losses to Washington and Buffalo – and haven't scored a goal since Jason Garrison's power play goal in the third period of Monday's 7-4 win at Tampa.

 

October 20, 2011

Bracken Kearns, 30, Makes NHL Debut for Florida Panthers

KearnsWith Shawn Matthias and Sean Bergenheim out, the Panthers recalled forwards Tim Kennedy and Bracken Kearns from their AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Kearns made his NHL debut on Thursday, becoming only the second 30-or-older player to make their NHL debut with the Panthers. Magnus Svensson was 32 when he made his debut back in 1995. 

Kearns has spent the past seven seasons toiling in the minor leagues. On Wednesday, Dennis Kearns – Bracken's father, who played with Florida GM Dale DenniskearnsTallon in the early days of the Vancouver Canucks – texted birthday greetings to Tallon. 

Tallon responded that Bracken had a strong camp, and with three goals in three games with San Antonio, would be called up eventually. Thursday, Bracken Kearns got the call he's been waiting on for a long, long time.

“Unbeknownst to me, we needed a couple guys so here he is. It's kind of cool,'' Tallon said. “He's been waiting a long time.

"This is no gift, though. He earned this. He's a usable player and a good kid.''

Saturday's game at Houston game was Kearns' 429th in the minors; Kearns has played for seven different teams since leaving the University of Calgary in 2005.

Kearns said he was warming up soup in his kitchen when he got the call from Rampage coach Chuck Weber.

He had 45 minutes to make his flight and it landed just after 6 p.m. in Fort Lauderdale. Fun drive on 595 at that time of day, eh?

Kearns was late to the warm up but made it into the game.

After getting on the ice late, Kearns said he was too busy to be nervous about his debut. 

 

Buffalo Stampede: Sabres Rock Panthers 3-0 as Florida Shut Out for Second Straight Game ... Kevin Dineen Ain't Happy

BuffalokitchenThe Panthers had little problem putting the puck into the net Monday night in Tampa, scoring seven goals to spoil the Lightning's home opener.

Things haven't been so good since. 

Florida has been shut down and shut out in its following two games, first by former teammate Tomas Vokoun on Tuesday and then by Buffalo's Ryan Miller on Thursday. In the Panthers second home game of the season, Miller made just 22 saves and led the red-hot Sabres to a 3-0 victory at BankAtlantic Center. 

Buffalo, which lost its only game on home ice this season, is now 5-1-0. The Panthers haven't scored a goal since Jason Garrison whipped one past Dwayne Roloson late in Monday's win.

Florida's scoreless streak is now at 2 hours 3 minutes 16 seconds. The Panthers were previously shutout in consecutive games last March against the Rangers and Blackhawks.

Florida is averaging just 21 shots in its past two defeats. 

“I don't think we tried hard enough,'' coach Kevin Dineen said flatly. “There are a lot of little things that go on during the course of a game. .-.-. That's six periods in a row that we showed little snapshots here and there, but we're a far way away from where we were four or five days ago. We need to address that and soon. .-.-. We got outworked in our home building and that has some sting to it. It's the first time for a lot of us who are new here. It's got to stop right now.''

Florida was missing a few parts on Thursday as Ed Jovanovski didn't play because of a sore hip, Sean Bergenheim missed his second straight game because of what is being called 'soreness,' and Shawn Matthias has a stomach ailment. 

Even though the Panthers got things going in their offensive zone, they couldn't solve Miller. Of his 23 career shutouts, two have come against Florida. 
The Panthers biggest problem on Thursday was their lack of being able to clear out the puck around the net. 

On Buffalo's first goal, Thomas Vanek redirected a shot from Jason Pominville after the Panthers gave up the puck in their own zone. Vanek's goal, the game-winner, came 2:33 into the second period.
Pominville, Buffalo's captain, made it 2-0 late in the period when he knocked in a nice feed from Ville Leino – a player the Panthers pursued when the free agency market opened July 1. Vanek scored his second of the night on a power play with 2:29 left.

Florida's Jose Theodore made 35 saves in the loss as he lost for the first time as a member of the Panthers on home ice. He won his Sunrise debut with the Panthers last Saturday as Florida beat the Lightning 3-2 in a shootout. 

The Panthers were 2-for-3 killing penalties and went 0-for-1 on the power play. In the past two losses, Florida has had just three power play opportunities.

“We have to keep it out of the net on the penalty kill,'' said Kris Versteeg. “Jose stood on his head at times for us.''

October 18, 2011

Tomas Vokoun Brings It, Florida Panthers Don't ... Vokoun Pitches Shutout vs. Old Mates as Caps Roll Cats 3-0

Vokun12CAPITALS 3, PANTHERS 0

WASHINGTON – Tomas Vokoun said playing his former team didn't hold much meaning to him.

The new goalie of the Washington Capitals explained that since the Panthers had gone through so many changes, Tuesday would be just another game.

Although the names may have changed, Vokoun recognized the Panthers on Tuesday. He's seen many a game like this.

The Panthers offered up little challenge to the Capitals, taking just two shots in the opening period and struggled to do anything with the puck. Vokoun earned one of his easiest shutouts of his career, stopping 20 shots as the Capitals downed the Panthers 3-0 at Verizon Center. 

Vokoun's last game with the Panthers marked his previous shutout, coincidentally, against the Capitals. Vokoun's shutout on Tuesday was the 45th of his career and was his fourth victory in as many starts for the Capitals this season as Washington is 5-0 for the first time in franchise history. Vokoun's shutout against Washington last season was his 23rd with the Panthers. 

“It's my old team so you want to win, you want to play good,'' Vokoun said afterward. “It wasn't like I was looking at the game saying 'I've got to win.' But I'd by lying if I said I wasn't happy. Any time you win, you're happy. I was as happy as when we beat Ottawa or Pittsburgh.''

The Panthers looked nothing like the team that scored seven goals in a rousing victory the night before in Tampa. Washington dominated play throughout and had it not been for some outstanding play by rookie Jacob Markstrom in net, the Panthers would have limped out of the district with a much more lopsided defeat.

“We liked [Monday's] team a heck of a lot better,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “The energy wasn't there. We have made a promise to ourselves that we're not going to make excuses. We know what it is and will prepare ourselves to give our best. But the Capitals didn't see our best tonight.''

Markstom, making his first NHL start, gave up a soft goal to Marcus Johansson 4:24 into the game as the puck slipped between his legs and crept toward the line. Markstrom then jumped at the puck and helped push it across himself.

That was one of the few mistakes the 21-year-old from Sweden made as he took the best the talented Capitals had to offer and stood tall.
This loss isn't on Markstrom.

“He had a good, solid game and really gave us a chance to win,'' Dineen said. “That's not the way you want your debut debut to go, but he worked as hard as he could and didn't get a heck of a lot of support.''

Markstrom, who made his NHL debut last year when Vokoun missed a game because of injury, got introduced to the Capitals in a hurry as Washington crashed him early and often. 

Florida only trailed 1-0 going into the third period, a very fortunate turn based on its play. Washington finally broke things open early in the third when Alexander Semin pushed the puck past Ed Jovanovski and put it past Markstrom to make it 2-0. 

And that was about it. Of the 20 saves Vokoun was credited with, only a handful had him on his toes. 
Markstrom had a much tougher night of it. But it's an experience he'll grow from. Washington's third goal came in the final minute as Jason Chimera scored into an empty net.

“You try to do your best all the time and stop every puck,'' said Markstrom, named the third star of the game. “When we were down 1-0, you just hope to score a goal. .-.-. Back-to-back wins would have felt very good.''

ELLERBY IN

The Panthers played seven defensemen on Tuesday after Sean Bergenheim complained of what assistant general manager Mike Santos said was “soreness” after the pregame skate. With Bergenheim out of the lineup for a night, defenseman Keaton Ellerby was inserted for the first time this season.

Ellerby had been a healthy scratch for Florida's first four games. 

“It was the first game in a while, but no excuses. I have to battle through it,'' Ellerby said afterward.

“They have a solid team over there. It's good to get in one. I'm going to keep working in practice and hope to get in a few more.''

-- Florida scored a franchise-tying five power play goals in Monday's 7-4 win over the Lighting and the Panthers came into the game with the top-ranked power play in the league with eight goals.

The Panthers went 0-2 on the power play on Tuesday, the second time in five games this season they struck out with the advantage. Florida was 0-for-5 in its second game against the Penguins. 

 

October 17, 2011

UP NEXT: Florida Panthers at Tomas Vokoun's Washington Capitals, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

VokouncapsThe Panthers will face an old friend on Tuesday as Tomas Vokoun makes his fourth start for the Capitals. Vokoun spent four seasons with the Panthers but left after rejecting the team's offer of three seasons worth more than $8 million.

Vokoun signed a one-year deal with the Caps worth $1.5 million and is 3-0 so far. 

On Monday, Vokoun told The Washington Post that Tuesday's game wasn't all that special to him since the Panthers have changed so much. Of the 20 players who suited up for Florida's season opener, 14 were not there for the 2010-11 opener in Edmonton. 

“It’s not the team I played for,” Vokoun told The Post. “There’s only a few guys left. .-.-. Obviously I wish them the best, except for when we play them. That’s normal.”

-- The Panthers won three of six against Washington in 2010-11, including a 1-0 decision in the season finale.

That was Vokoun's final shutout as a member of the Panthers and Pete DeBoer's final game as coach.

CapstagTUESDAY: PANTHERS AT CAPITALS

Where, When: Verizon Center, Washington; 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

Series: Capitals lead 48-41-9

The game: This is the 99th meeting between the PantherstagSoutheast Division rivals. Former Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun will be in net for the Caps; Jacob Markstrom is expected to get his first NHL start for the Panthers. Defenseman Keaton Ellerby could also see his first game action of the 2011-12 season as well. 

 

Florida Panthers Tie Franchise Record with Five Power Play Goals in 7-4 Win over Lightning

TAMPA – After having the worst power play in franchise history last year, there was little doubt the Panthers would be better with a man advantage going into this season. 

Did anyone see this coming though?

The Panthers tied a franchise record with five power play goals and added a much-needed one while short handed as Florida spoiled Tampa Bay's home opener with a 7-4 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum on Monday night. 

Last year, Florida scored just 35 power play goals – fewest in a full season. The Panthers have scored eight power play goals in their first four games this season including seven in the past two games against the Lightning. Tampa Bay came into Saturday's game against the Panthers in Sunrise without surrendering a power play goal in its previous four games. 

Compare and contrast: It took the Panthers 23 games to get eight power play goals last season; it took them just 13 periods to do it in 2011-12. Florida got its seventh power play goal on Dec. 1 at Anaheim in 2010. In 2011, Kris Versteeg did it 25 seconds into the third period of the fourth game.

Florida, now 3-1-0, has scored five power play goals in a single game three times, the last coming in 1998 against Ottawa – 963 games ago. Florida's other five power play goal game came against the Rangers in 1996.

“We moved it around really well, were crisp and shot the puck when we had the chance. And they went in,'' said center Stephen Weiss, whose power play goal in the first period Monday tied the game at 2. 

When asked about the night-and-day power play from last year, Weiss just grinned. 

“I don't think I have to say much about that,'' he said. “It's obviously a lot of different personnel.''

Florida, which has won six of the past eight against its cross-state divisional rival, took a 1-0 lead when Tomas Kopecky's shot skipped off goalie Dwayne Roloson and hit the back of the net. The Lightning came right back, however, getting a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead with six minutes left in the period. Weiss' goal from the right circle tied things up and gave the Panthers a little momentum.

The Panthers owned the second period, with Versteeg getting his first of the night 2:35 in when he one-timed a shot from the left side on Florida's 13th shot of the night. About 10 minutes later, Dmitry Kulikov went to the penalty box for holding, but the all the Lightning power play did was cough up the puck and allow Sean Bergenheim to get loose and beat Roloson on a breakaway.

Bergenheim was promptly booed by the Tampa Bay faithful who watched him score nine postseason goals for the Lightning last season. He wasn't alone however. By the end of the game, the Tampa fans were sarcastically cheering Roloson for making a routine save. 

“We just worked on it. It took us a couple of games to figure out where everyone was, what are mistakes were,'' said Brian Campbell, who had four assists and leads the team in points based on seven helpers. “We have two units that can go and can do some damage.''

Vinny Lecavalier scored late in the second period, but with former Panthers center Dominic Moore in the box, Versteeg opened the third with Florida's fourth power play goal of the game. Steven Stamkos' goal midway through the third made things interesting, but Weiss got his second of the night with 4:32 left when he whipped a shot from Versteeg into the top corner. 

“We've been slowly picking away and tonight it exploded,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “We'd like to take credit for all our schemes, but there was a lot of high-end talent taking shots. They weren't pretty plays, but we were getting the puck at the net.''

 

 

 

October 16, 2011

Road Trip to Tampa: Does Jacob Markstrom Get First NHL Start? ... Gudbranson-Downie II Forthcoming?

RoadtripJacob Markstrom's parents are in town from Sweden. They will get a little taste of Florida on Monday morning as they pack up the car and drive across the state to watch the Panthers play Tampa Bay later that night. 

Will they get to see their son get his first NHL start?

Markstrom, 21, is expected to be in net for one of the Panthers next two games, either Monday in Tampa or Tuesday in Washington.

Coach Kevin Dineen wouldn't tip his hand on Sunday afternoon, saying he likes to ride a hot goalie – meaning starter Jose Theodore (2-1-0) – but left the door open for Markstrom by saying it might be nice for Theodore to start against his former teammates on Tuesday.

“We'll do what's best for the team,'' Dineen said.
With the quick turnaround of back-to-back games – and four games this week – there's little doubt Theodore is going to get a night off pretty soon.

One thing Dineen made clear: He has plenty of confidence in Markstrom.

“I was confident in him literally since his last exhibition game,'' Dineen said. “He played very well for us.''

Markstrom made his NHL debut with the Panthers last season, replacing Scott Clemmensen in the second period of an eventual loss at New Jersey. Those two periods of play represent Markstrom's entire NHL resume. 

With Clemmensen injured in training camp, Markstrom was promoted to a backup role with the Panthers. It's a position he's not used to, but seems to be making the most of.

Markstrom seems to understand the beneficial nature of being able to learn on the job, and isn't taking it for granted. When Clemmensen comes back off the injured list, Markstrom will likely be headed back to the minors. 

For now, however, Markstrom wants to help out the Panthers when given the green light. 

“Of course I want to play,'' he said. “The team is playing good, we're 2-1, and we have a lot of games coming up. I feel I had a great summer, a good camp and I've been helping out. I can't wait to play, but when I'm not, I'm going to work as hard as I can to help the team out.''

GUDBRANSON BRAWLS

Rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson stands 6-foot-4 and has a massive wingspan. When he fought Tampa Bay's Steve Downie on Saturday, Gudbranson held him at arm's length and was able to land some formidable punches. 

Although Gudbranson says he tries to limit his dancing partners to those 6-foot and taller, he made an exception with the yappy Downie (listed at 5-11) on Saturday. 

When Downie started messing with line partner Ed Jovanovski, Gudbranson jumped into the fray. Both Downie and Gudbranson spent considerable time off the ice for their second period fight, with both being charged with different infractions. Downie got 17 minutes, Gudbranson 19.

Tampa Bay and the Panthers meet again Monday night – meaning we could have Downie-Gudbranson II: Battle on the Bay.

“It's part of hockey. He got in Jovo's face, he's a competitive guy. It was just a heat of the moment thing,'' Gudbranson said on Sunday. “I'm not saying I'm looking [for a rematch] because I don't think I need to. But if it's there, I've never been shy to do it.''

NEWS, NOTES

Monday's game will not be televised locally in South Florida as Fox Sports Florida decided not to broadcast it. Sun Sports, which covers the Lighting, will broadcast the game although it will be blacked out in South Florida. 

The game will be available locally through the NHL's Center Ice package and will be shown at local sports bars – such as Ale House, Bru's Room, Duffy's – which have purchased the package. Fox Florida will broadcast Florida's game at Washington on Tuesday. 

- Jovanovski’s power play goal in the first period Saturday was his 30th goal with the Panthers and first since scoring on Jan. 1, 1999 vs. Carolina. That is a span of 12 years, nine months and 14 days.

MONDAY: PANTHERS AT LIGHTNING

Where, When: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa; 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: No local TV; WQAM-560

Series: Panthers lead 54-35-10

The game: This is the 100th meeting between the two in-state rivals. The Lightning joined the league in 1992 with the Panthers following suit the next season. .-.-. Florida has won five of the past seven meetings between the two. .-.-. Tampa Bay is expected to start Dwayne Roloson in net on Monday. .-.-. Marc-Andre Bergeron scored both of Tampa's goals in Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to the Panthers. 

 

October 15, 2011

Florida Panthers Face Old Demons, Get New Results in 3-2 SO Victory over Tampa Bay Lightning

The Panthers have long had a problem of giving up third period leads. 

That old standard came up again on Saturday as the new-look Panthers gave way to an old look as the visiting Lightning came back from a one-goal deficit on two different occasions in Florida's home opener. 

The Lightning forced overtime after tying the score 39 seconds after Kris Versteeg gave Florida its second lead of the third period, but the Panthers came back to win the game 3-2 on Marcel Goc's shootout goal.

The Panthers announced the opening crowd at 18,352 – less than capacity at the BankAtlantic Center. 

Florida has won two of its first three games of the season but now moves on for a tough two-game stretch as the Panthers will be the guests for Tampa Bay's home opener on Monday. Florida then visits Washington the following night. Tampa Bay finishes its season-opening five game road trip 1-2-2.

“I would be worried if this wasn't opening night and we didn't find a way to win,'' assistant general manager Mike Santos said afterward. “That may be a big difference from this year's team compared to last year.''

After Tuesday's loss to the Penguins, coach Kevin Dineen bemoaned his team's 'cute' play as a big reason for the defeat. 

Well, he couldn't say that on Saturday as the Lightning and Panthers reintroduced themselves in Florida's home opener as the game featured big checks and a nice fight. 

Rookie Erik Gudbranson, with his family in the stands from Canada to watch, got into a slugfest with Lightning tough Steve Downie and sure didn't look like an inexperienced 19-year-old just playing in his third NHL game. No, Gudbranson has this fighting thing down as he walloped Downie with one shot after another. 

Gudbranson tossed his elbow guards to the ice pro-wrestling style. Gudbranson and Downie had plenty of time to calm down – although Downie did go after Florida's Ed Jovanovski after taking his shots to the head – as the duo both were assessed multiple penalties. 

The fight came in the second period; Florida led 1-0 in the first as Jovanovski scored his first goal of his new season with the Panthers. Jovanovski, the first pick of the 1994 draft by the Panthers, was playing in his first home game in Sunrise since 1999. 

Jovanovski's goal came on the power play. The lead held up until the third when Marc-Andre Bergeron scored on Jose Theodore with 10:17 left in regulation.

Florida made it 2-1 on Kris Versteeg's pretty power play goal, the sniper who came to Florida via a trade with Philadelphia, lighting up the net while shooting while on bended knee. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Bergeron wasn't done as he scored a mere 39 seconds later to tie things once more.

“We found a way and that's a good sign,'' Jovanovski said. “No one wants to give that one up with 2 ½ minutes left, but it happens sometimes. It is a little learning lesson but shows that we can persevere and win games like that.''

Added Versteeg: “We haven't played many games together, so not that there's any excuses, but we had our chances. Give their goalie credit, he didn't give us much at times. We have to take positives from this game. If you let a goal in, we have to have a good shift. Things happen in hockey and it all depends on how you react. You have to rise to the occasion. This is a good two points.''

Unlike past seasons, the Panthers didn't crumble despite the pressure from the Lightning. Tampa Bay outshot the Panthers 5-0 in overtime and 14-9 in the final 25 minutes but couldn't put the game-winner past Theodore. 

Florida went 1-for-3 on the shootout, with Goc being the only player to score. 

“I told him that I hated playing against him all these years,'' Versteeg said of the former Nashville center. “We had a great rivalry when I was in Chicago. Guys just hate playing against him.''

 

Florida Panthers Notebook: Keaton Ellerby Hanging In ... BankAtlantic Center Sees Red, Hears Music

As has been the case through the first week of the season, Panthers defenseman Keaton Ellerby watched Saturday's game while wearing a suit. 

Saturday was a little more awkward for the 22-year-old defenseman, however, as he was the first player introduced as the Panthers celebrated their home opener. 

Ellerby, who has been a healthy scratch the past three games as rookie Erik Gudbranson has played, is taking it all in stride. 

“It's tough because you want to play, but there are seven [defensemen] here,'' said Ellerby, who played in 54 games for the Panthers in his first full NHL season last year. “I'm going to keep practicing and take advantage when I get my shot. I'm going to run with it.''

The Panthers have taken notice of Ellerby's good attitude and strong work ethic despite the disappointment of not playing. A few years ago, even Ellerby admits he would have treated this situation differently. But he's not sulking or pouting.

Ellerby is still upbeat and spends his time after morning skates wisely, working with assistant coach Gord Murphy and trying to keep roommate Jacob Markstrom sharp in net. 

“He's in every discussion each day,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “There are players in San Antonio who are going to help us this year, and Keaton is going to help us although he's not in the lineup right now. He's going to find his way in there. I know by the way he's practicing and his character that he'll be ready when given the tap.''

Ellerby is expected to play this week, either Monday at Tampa Bay or Tuesday in Washington. He says he'll be ready – and won't have any rust.

“It sucks not playing, but it's part of the game and the learning experience,'' he said. “I'm behind the team and will do anything I can to help the team win whether it's on or off the ice. I'm getting the bag skates in and am probably in better shape now because of it.''

SEEING RED

The Panthers officially unveiled their upgraded arena and new uniform at Saturday's home opener. Florida tweaked its white road jersey – the vertical and horizontal piping was removed – but its home jersey is new.

For the first time since the early 2000s, the Panthers will wear a red jersey primarily at home. 

Florida has to wear its light blue alternate jerseys 13 times this season because of contractual obligations to the league. Those jerseys are expected to be retired after this season.

The Panthers also reupholstered the lower bowl of the BankAtlantic Center, going from green seats to red; the scoreboard was repainted red as were many walls throughout the arena. A second LED video ribbon was added to the 400 level facade and a third staggered ribbon was added to the various lower bowl entrances.

The team also added an organist, something that had been missing from the arena for almost a decade.

“The place just looks great,'' said assistant general manager Mike Santos, adding that he has purposely avoided going into the bowl of the arena so he could take it in on opening night.

-- Center Mike Santorelli took part in Saturday's morning skate but still has not been cleared for contact. He is not expected to join the team on its upcoming road trip.

-- Brian Skrudland, the Panthers original captain in 1993, joined team founder Bill Torrey in dropping the ceremonial first puck on Saturday. Skrudland is currently the Panthers director of player development.

OnFrozenPhone: A Quick Look at the 'new' BankAtlantic Center

Gave my iPhone video/publish function a try today and I have to say, that worked out OK.

Sure, the video and the subjects are pedestrian, but it's nice to know it works so quickly.

Anyway, prepare to see some red.

 

October 14, 2011

Florida Panthers Looking for More Success from New Top Line ... Weiss, Versteeg and Fleischmann Clicking

The Panthers top line hasn't played together for a long time.

It just looks that way.

The trio of center Stephen Weiss with wingers Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg didn't play together much in the preseason, with Florida's season opener against the Islanders being the first time they lined up together in game action. 

Through the opening two games, the trio have contributed two of Florida's four goals. While that isn't earth shattering by any means, it is a start.

“Yeah, it's only two games in so we're just trying to keep it simple,'' said Weiss, who scored Florida's first goal of the season and assisted on Fleischmann's goal in Tuesday's loss in Pittsburgh. “It's not real difficult playing with guys like that. They are very smart, can skate and they see the ice very well. They do everything right. We're trying to get better at filling the net.''

Fleischmann and Versteeg are new to the Panthers, both coming to South Florida during Florida's shopping spree on July 1. Both are being asked to put up offensive numbers, something they are used to doing. Like Weiss, both Fleischmann and Versteeg are former 20 goal scorers. 

Aside from the 'Sunrise Express' days when Weiss played alongside David Booth and Nathan Horton, the Panthers haven't had a top line with as much potential as this one.

“They are great players and it's real easy playing with them out there,'' said Fleischmann, who has scored 23 points in his past 24 games. “We know we always have a chance to score out there. We played a good team game in the opener, then we got off the rails a little bit in the second. We know what we have to do. We know what it takes to win these games.''

Coach Kevin Dineen penciled these three playing together almost from the start, figuring their talents complement one another. The three – along with defenseman Brian Campbell – are all tied for the team lead with two points apiece.

“You get a line with a lot of skill like that, you need production. They haven't disappointed,'' Dineen said. “They have to be hard to play against on a consistent basis. I like to go skill-vs.-skill sometimes, so not only do they need to score, but they need to be strong defensively. They are off to a good start for us.''

DADONOV DEMOTED

Winger Evgeny Dadonov may have been Florida's lone representative at last year's All-Star weekend, but a mediocre training camp led to his demotion to the American Hockey League on Thursday. 

Dadonov, who scored eight goals with nine assists in 36 games for the Panthers last season, was a healthy scratch for Florida's first two games this season.

“I look at Dads as a very effective player, he can play a lot of different roles in the lineup,'' Dineen said.

“He hasn't been in the lineup lately. He just needs to play and I didn't foresee him getting a chance to play this weekend and felt he will get to San Antonio and play some games. He didn't have a great training camp but we respect his talent and his skill. He'll help us as the season progresses.''

-- Center Mike Santorelli says his injured shoulder is healing and that he is feeling good. Santorelli hasn't been cleared to practice yet, but he says he's practicing on his own. Dineen said when Santorelli was hurt that he could be back before Halloween. 

-- The Panthers will play their home opener on Saturday night with Dineen saying he doesn't expect to change up the lineup he's used for the first two games of the season. Backup goalie Jacob Markstrom could find himself making his first NHL start either Monday in Tampa or Tuesday against the host Capitals.

-- The Panthers will wear their new red home jerseys for the first time on Saturday and those jerseys will be available for purchase at BankAtlantic Center for the first time as well. 

SATURDAY: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS

Where, When: BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise; 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560

Series: Panthers lead 53-35-10

The game: The Lightning, which lost four of six to the Panthers last season, are in the final game of a five game road trip to start the season. Tampa Bay has won one of its opening four games and are coming off  a 5-1 loss to the Islanders on Thursday. Mathieu Garon is expected to be in net for the Lightning; Jose Theodore will start Florida's home opener in goal.

 

The House That Howard Built: Howard Schnellenberger Helps Open FAU's New Football Stadium

FauhelmetHoward Schnellenberger didn't weld any of the beams at FAU's new on-campus football stadium, nor did he bolt in any of the 30,000 seats.

He didn't even help those workers being paid overtime lay down sod on the day before the stadium opens, nor help finish a parking lot behind the press tower.

Yet the FAU Stadium isn't a reality if not for Schnellenberger.

When students walk into the stadium for Saturday's inaugural game against Western Kentucky around the scheduled 4 p.m. start, they'll do so wearing blue t-shirts that read: “The House that Howard Built.''

It's an obvious take on Babe Ruth and Yankee FauseatsStadium. In this case, it definitely works.

“The stadium is the essence of being enough for anyone who has been here 'X' number of years,'' Schnellenberger said as ribbon-cutting ceremonies went on behind him on Friday afternoon at FAU's main campus in Boca Raton. “That's for the players, the coaches, the students. Right now, the students are unreal in their love for this place. They think it's really going to do something for their personal lives and their social lives. And it will.''

Schnellenberger has been selling the notion of 'football in paradise' since he first arrived on the scene in 1998 to help get the program off the ground.

FauscoreHis dream stadium has a Tommy Bahama feel to it as palm trees and beach sand – as well as an eastward-facing press tower for the view of the Atlantic – abound. The large scoreboard features a pair of metal palm trees as well.

Best known as the offensive coordinator of the 1972 perfect season Dolphins and the coach of the 1983 national champion Hurricanes, Schnellenberger has been the only coach FAU has ever known. That changes next year as Schnellenberger retires after this season.

That doesn't mean Schnellenberger is ready to hang 'em up. Before the big ceremony, wife Beverlee as well as other family members gathered in a courtyard in an end zone. Underneath a row of palm trees and towering over that beach sand stood a bronze 7-foot Schnellstatuetall version of Schnellenberger, his hair eternally perfect, his arms forever folded.

“I thought when the students gave me the t-shirts, that was going to be it. Which would have been more than enough,'' Schnellenberger said. “I think the statue is flattering. That's a 65-year-old version.''

The 77-year-old coach didn't know about the statue and wasn't there for its unveiling as he remained on the field, chastising his field goal kicking unit.
The Owls are 0-5 as they head into their first home game of the year.

It's obvious Schnellenberger is more than ready for the bleeding to stop.

Instead of staying for the many speeches prior to the official ribbon cutting, Schnellenberger gathered his team and loaded them on charter buses for their night in a hotel. Then he followed suit.

Whether it was building a football program from scratch in a cramped trailer or literally standing on a tree stump in the middle of a crowded college Schnellscafeteria to drum up support, Schnellenberger has always put the game first.

“Our football team needs to get back to the hotel and get ready,'' Schnellenberger said. “They are the ones who will play in there, they're the ones who are going to win there. They are going to be the ones to carry us to the next level and set a standard that the whole athletic department will follow and emulate and make this a great, great program.''

October 13, 2011

Sneak Peek at the BAC: Florida Panthers Jazz Up Arena

BACnewlookHere's a picture of the Panthers' BankAtlantic Center as we get ready for Saturday's Opening Night.

You can see a lot of the improvements here:

All the seats in the lower bowl are red;

A second LED ring was added to the 400 level;

A third LED ring hangs beneath the old scoreboard -- a scoreboard that's been repainted red like many of the walls throughout the arena. 

October 11, 2011

Welcome to BlitzBurgh: Florida Panthers Perfect Season Comes to Close as Pens Are Mightier in 4-2 Win

DolphinsPITTSBURGH – Even with stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup, the Penguins don't make any excuses for their play.

Nor should they.

The Penguins made a charge into the playoffs despite missing their two top forwards for the second half of last season and showed that they are still pretty potent without them on Tuesday.

Thanks to some strong play in net by Marc-Andre Fleury and some timely Florida mistakes, the Penguins won their home opener over the Panthers 4-2 at Consol Energy Center. 

“We had our moments, but we need more consistency to our game,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “It wasn't a complete game for us.''

Since the Panthers don't have players with the skill nor pedigree of Crosby or Malkin to begin with, the way the Penguins play as a team without them is something Florida would really like to emulate. And the Panthers aren't alone. 

The Penguins, who never trailed the Panthers, have now won eight of the past nine meetings between the two and five straight dating to Nov. 22, 2010. 

“They play together as a team and we did so in spurts during the game,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said.

“They make every little play count. That's why they've had so much success in the league. That's what we strive to get to.''

Florida was hoping to come home for its Sunrise opener 2-0 for the first time since 2005 but found itself on the losing end as Jose Theodore couldn't match the shutout performance of Saturday's season-opening 2-0 win against the host Islanders. 

The Panthers had a few scoring chances in the opening period, although it was the Penguins who went into the first break holding a 1-0 lead. 
Pittsburgh looked to take the initial lead when Tyler Kennedy's hard shot bounced off the left post during a power play chance. A few minutes later, the puck did find its way to the net when a Pascal Dupuis pounced on a rebound and knocked it through. 

Theodore started the season with a scoreless stretch that hit 74 minutes 52 seconds. 

Stephen Weiss almost slipped one past the Pittsburgh goalie as his backhanded shot hit Fleury in the helmet and skipped back, the puck fluttering around the line. The puck was eventually secured just before it crossed over, however. 

In the second period, the Penguins took advantage of Florida miscues to build a two goal advantage. Not long after Florida's Shawn Matthias had two good scoring chances – one of his shots hit the goal cage – Matt Cooke made it 2-0 midway through the period when he knocked in a pass from Joe Vitale after the Panthers were caught in a shift change. 

Florida got its first goal of the night soon afterward, with former Nashville center Marcel Goc banging home a shot top shelf just 27 seconds after Cooke's goal.

Tomas Fleischmann misplayed a puck behind the net that Richard Park jumped on, his slap shot going between Theodore's legs and off the post. The puck then hit a hard charging Kulikov as he tried to clear it and went into the net for a 3-1 advantage. 

“It was a game I felt we could have got something out of it,'' Campbell said. “We made too many mistakes. They have a good team no matter who is in the lineup. We just made casual mistakes that cost us.''

Fleischmann made amends for his poor clearing pass when he scored Florida's second goal of the night on a swift slap shot assisted by Stephen Weiss and rookie Erik Gudbranson. 

Gudbranson fired off a shot from deep that Weiss picked up. Weiss' nifty backhanded pass found Fleischmann in the right circle and the winger who now has 23 points in his past 24 games played put it home. 

The Panthers couldn't get any closer. Not long after Fleischmann's goal, Jordan Staal let a soft shot go in front that Florida's Scottie Upshall failed to clear. James Neal was in position on the left side of the net to knock the loose puck into the empty cage. 

“We need to bear down,'' Dineen said. “Those were key moments in the game and the puck is sitting right around that crease. They scored three or four around there and those are ones you really can't hang on Theodore. There's a real possibility you get those out. We didn't and ugly things happened. They caught us.''

Fleury, now 7-6-0 against the Panthers, stopped 32 shots to remain unbeaten this season. The Penguins have won three of four games this season, with backup Brent Johnson suffering a shootout loss in Edmonton on Sunday. 

Theodore had been strong in his career against the Penguins, winning 19 of 26 starts prior to Tuesday.



October 10, 2011

Florida Panthers Sign Jonathan Huberdeau ... Doubtful He Plays for Panthers This Season

Hubdraft PITTSBURGH -- Center Jonathan Huberdeau signed a three-year entry level deal with the Panthers on Monday, but that doesn't mean Florida will see him any time soon.

Huberdeau, the third overall draft pick in 2011, was sent back to his junior team in Quebec last week; because of that, the Panthers cannot recall him until his Saint John Sea Dogs are eliminated from the postseason. Florida could call him up on an emergency basis, but that is unlikely.

In five preseason games with the Panthers, Huberdeau led the team with three goals. In two games with Saint John this season, he has a goal and five assists. Huberdeau, 18, is 6-foot-1 and 173 pounds. The Panthers sent him down because they didn't feel he was physically strong enough at this time.

“He is a proven winner who leads by example both on and off the ice,'' GM Dale Tallon said in a statement. “He is a great two-way player who shows passion for the game and makes players around him better. Jonathan had an excellent preseason and we look forward to his progress this season with Saint John.”

It's doubtful, but lets say Saint John gets eliminated early (again, this is a loaded, defending Memorial Cup championship team). Florida could choose to bring him up at that point; as long as he doesn't play in more than nine games than the first year of his ELC remains intact.

Saint John's final regular season game is March 17. The Dogs weren't done playing until late May last season. By then, the Panthers had been golfing for six weeks.

Here's the official release from the Panthers:

SUNRISE, Fla. – Florida Panthers Executive Vice President & General Manager Dale Tallon announced today that the club has agreed to terms on an entry-level contract with F Jonathan Huberdeau. 

“We are pleased to have signed Jonathan,” said Tallon. “He is a proven winner who leads by example both on and off the ice. He is a great two-way player who shows passion for the game and makes players around him better. Jonathan had an excellent pre-season and we look forward to his progress this season with Saint John.”

Huberdeau, 18, was drafted by Florida with their first selection (third overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The St-Jerome, Quebec native played in five of the Panthers 2011 pre-season games, finishing tied for the team lead in points and first in goals (3-1-4).

The 6-foot-1, 171-pound forward appeared in 67 games for Saint John (QMJHL) during the 2010-11 season, scoring 43 goals with 62 assists and 88 PIM. Huberdeau garnered QMJHL playoff MVP (16-14-30 in 19 games) and Memorial Cup MVP (4-2-6 in four games) awards last season as Saint John won the CHL Championship.

To date this season, Huberdeau has picked up five points (1-4-5) in two games with the Sea Dogs. For his career in Saint John, Huberdeau has played in 130 contests registering 145 points (59-86-145) and 135 PIM.

Greetings from Blimp City: Florida Panthers Stephen Weiss and David Booth Digging New Mates

Akronblimp AKRON, Ohio – Dale Tallon's makeover of the Panthers has brought plenty of attention to the team since the July 1 spending spree. 

Of the 20 dressed players in Saturday's season opening win against the Islanders, 14 were not with the team when it opened the 2010 season in Edmonton.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle has been returning Panthers such as Stephen Weiss and David Booth. If they had been forgotten, they reintroduced themselves against the Islanders as Weiss scored Florida's first goal of the season and Booth tied Weiss for the team lead with four shots on goalie Al Montoya.

“I sure hadn't forgotten about them,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “I don't think anyone in hockey forgot those two played for the Panthers. They are both very important to our future success here.''

With all the change, Weiss – who started his 10th season with the franchise – and Booth both had new linemates. Weiss' eyes lit up when asked about the play of his new partners as Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg have given the Florida center a talent level he's not used to playing with in Florida. 

“I thought it was very fitting that Weiss scored that first goal of the season,'' assistant coach Gord Murphy said. “He's been through a lot here in Florida, seen a lot of guys come and go. You can tell he's really excited about this.''

Booth also seemed reinvigorated by his new playing partners in Tomas Kopecky and Scottie Upshall. Booth didn't get to play with Upshall for too long as he was ejected from the game after a fight in which his jersey flew up over his head. 

The NHL rulebook says if a player's fight strap isn't connected and the jersey comes up in a fight, a game misconduct must be given.

A player also faces an additional game suspension although Upshall is likely in the clear since his jersey was tied down; it was the girdle underneath his pant covering that failed him as the older piece of equipment tore when the jersey was pulled. 

“There was nothing I could do about it,'' Upshall said after the game.