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Florida Panthers Head Into Second Half of Season ... What Went Right? What Went Wrong?

CelebrationThe Panthers have passed the midway point of this season and go into Monday's home game against Vancouver atop their division this late in a season for the first time since 2000.

Stephen Weiss has been with the franchise since being the fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft held in Sunrise. 

He's seen some bad hockey over this past decade, and Weissdrafthas seen many of his friends leave the organization – mostly through trades. Weiss has also witnessed the organization change direction time and again.

This past summer, general manager Dale Tallon went on a shopping spree and made wholesale changes. 

On opening night against the Islanders, Florida had 14 different players dressed than opened the 2010-11 season in Edmonton. The team has meshed quicker than anyone figured they could and a lot of credit goes to first-year coach Kevin Dineen.

“We're making strides. It was a good first half,'' he FLAtallonsaid. “With all the uncertainty at the beginning of the year, it was a great start. We just need to keep going and not take our foot off the gas.''

Florida ended the first half of the season 20-13-8 and have been atop the Southeast Division since November 19.

The Panthers had an eight point lead in the division not too long ago, but their cushion has been pared away. Winnipeg goes into Monday just three points back. Washington, which lost Saturday in San Jose, is four points back.

The Panthers have lost three of their past four games and six of the past eight. They know this upcoming stretch is vitally important to them making the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

Florida's postseason drought of 11 years and 10 seasons is longest in NHL history.

They're ready for it to end. Now.

Panthershootoutwin“We need this to be a big month for us,'' Weiss said. “There are no excuses. Our guys have really come together and have bought into the system. There is such a care level for this team and wanting to get things turned around here. These guys may be new here, but they want to stop the trend of what's gone on. That's good to see.''

WHAT HAS GONE RIGHT

() The Top Trio: The line of Weiss centering FLAfleischnewcomers Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg was a instant hit as the three all spent time – together – in the league's top 20 in scoring. Weiss was last year's top scorer – tied for 99th in the league. 

() Scoring from the Back: Florida's defensemen have scored at a rapid clip with Brian Campbell tied for third in the league FLAdmenwith 30 assists and Jason Garrison's career-high 11 goals leading all NHL d-men. 

() Goalie: When Tomas Vokoun bolted for free agency, the Panthers quickly landed Jose Theodore. He came with a lot of question marks but has relished the chance to be a starter again and has thrived. Theodore, Scott Clemmensen and rookie Jacob Markstrom have given the Panthers a chance to win almost every night.

WHAT HAS GONE WRONG

() Road Weary: Early on, it looked like the Panthers loved the road and had the most road wins in the league. But that has changed of late as Florida has lost six straight away from Sunrise.

() Overtime Woes: The Panthers have never been good in shootouts and that's been the case again this year. Florida has won just two of six shootout games and are 3-8 in overtime games this season.

() Battle Scars: The Panthers had seven forwards on the injured list at one point. Florida currently has FLAtheofive hurt players – including Theodore – and has lost 158 man games to injury.

UP NEXT

() Tough Teams: If the Panthers are indeed an elite team in the Eastern Conference, well, they'll have plenty of chances to prove it. Starting Monday, the Panthers play some of the top teams in the league as Vancouver, Pittsburgh and Boston come to Sunrise. Florida has four games left against each of their main southeast challengers in Washington and Winnipeg.

() Top Line: As good as Weiss, Fleischmann and Versteeg have been, they have hit a wall. In the first 25 games they played together, the three combined for an average of 1.32 goals and almost two assists per game. In the past 15 games – Weiss missed two with a rib injury – they have averaged less than a goal and assist per night. 

() Buyers: For the first time in years, the Panthers are expected to be buyers at the trade deadline next month. Although Tallon isn't expected to go crazy, at least he won't be dumping salary like last year. Of course, Tallon's actions last February helped get the Panthers where they are today.

MONDAY: CANUCKS AT PANTHERS

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

BallardTV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Vancouver leads 11-5-6

The game: The defending Western Conference champs have the second-most points in the league (55) after Saturday's impressive 4-3 win at Boston. Former Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo is expected to start, although David Booth – traded to Vancouver on Oct. 22 – will miss the game with a knee injury. Florida's Jacob Markstrom missed Sunday's practice with a minor knee injury so Scott Clemmensen is expected to start for the Panthers. 

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