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#FlaPanthers Looking for Better Starts

How does one figure out the Panthers these days?

When the team was able to score goals early, they struggled to hold the lead. These days, the Panthers are falling behind only to storm back at the end.

Florida hasn’t scored in the first period in its past three games, falling behind 1-0 on Saturday at Buffalo, 2-0 against Winnipeg on Monday and 2-0 Thursday against Chicago.

The big positive: In each of those instances, the Panthers have come back to tie or take the lead in those games. And had it not been for a late goal surrendered in Ottawa, Florida would have taken points in six straight games going into Sunday’s game against the visiting Lightning.

“We have to flip things around and use that gameplan early on,’’ said defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who tipped in a shot from Dmitry Kulikov to tie Thursday’s game with 2:04 left. “Coaches stress what we need to do every game and it’s laid right out in front of us. For some reason we keep getting off to these slow starts. It will eventually catch up to you. You can’t keep spotting teams goals. Hopefully teams are chasing us next time out.’’

Tomas Fleischmann is, like Jovanovski, new to the Panthers. Fleischmann, who scored two goals Monday to bring Florida back from a third period deficit against the Jets, thinks the Panthers are still trying to feel themselves out. That makes it tougher for the team to come out and dictate its own style of play instead of reacting to what the other team does.

In the past three games, at least, the Panthers looked pretty good playing desperate hockey once falling behind.

“It would be nice to have the lead but it hasn’t happened for us the past few games,’’ Fleischmann said. “We are a new team and sometimes you have to find your structure. I think that’s hurting us. We’re waiting to see what the other team will do and it should be us pushing the flow of the game. We have a good team and we know we can come back. We just need to change our minds and decide that we’re going to be the ones taking the lead.’’

Coach Kevin Dineen joked after Thursday’s game that the stress of these games is leading him to the Hair Club for Men. He wouldn’t mind watching his team take control from the start.

“We have kind of proven to ourselves that no lead is insurmountable,’’ Dineen said. “But, you don’t want to be playing with that bullet all the time. We need some consistency in our play, go throughout the game instead of being in desperation mode like we’ve been in late in games.’’

() Matt Bradley left Thursday’s game after getting into a quick fight with Chicago’s Jamal Mayers. Dineen said Bradley wasn’t benched – “he did a good job and didn’t have much choice” – but taken out of the game for medical precaution.

Bradley didn’t participate in Friday’s optional skate, but Dineen said he would play Sunday against the Lightning.
() Dineen said Erik Gudbranson was a healthy scratch on Thursday because he felt the 19-year-old defenseman was “ready for a break” after playing in each of Florida’s first 11 games. Gudbranson admitted stepping back and watching the game from the press box was a good perspective, admitting that he has been pressing lately.

“He’s seen a lot of hockey,’’ Dineen said. “Everything is so new to him and he has so much on his plate, I thought it was good for him to step back and watch the game from a new perspective.’’

() The Panthers will hold an open practice at the Coral Springs Iceplex on Saturday at 10 a.m. with a free goalie clinic featuring Jacob Markstrom and coach Robb Tallas beginning at noon as part of the national ‘Try Hockey for Free’ initiative. For more information, call the Iceplex at (954) 341-9956.