BY BILL VAN SMITH
Florida Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom has been splitting time between living in San Antonio and South Florida.
No offense, San Antonio, but Markstrom would just love to settle down in South Florida.
“Absolutely,” Markstrom said. “Florida, that’s the NHL. I would much rather be in Florida than in Texas.”
Markstrom has been a hockey-playing yo-yo this season, three times going between San Antonio, the Panthers’ AHL affiliate, and the big leagues of hockey in South Florida. Wherever he plays, nobody doubts his abilities.
On the surface, it might appear Markstrom – or the entire team, for that matter – played poorly Friday night in a 5-2 road loss to New Jersey. While Markstrom was in, Florida gave up three of those five goals, but two of them came on empty-netters.
In fact, Panthers assistant coach Gord Murphy had praise for Markstrom’s performance against the Devils after Florida concluded a short practice session Saturday at their Coral Springs training center.
“Markie [Markstrom] came in and played very well,” Murphy said. “He gave us a chance to win the game and made some huge saves for us. He looked very confident and comfortable in the net. We have a lot of confidence in him.”
Markstrom, 21 and a 6-6, 196-pounder, was called up from San Antonio earlier this week as goalie Jose Theodore has been sitting out with a knee injury.
That leaves Scott Clemmensen, 34, and Markstrom sharing goalie time, and Clemmensen had nothing but praise for his teammate.
“He’s a good kid, and he works hard at it,” Clemmensen said. “He was here when I was hurt earlier this year. The goalies have a good rapport with each other, all three of us, as well as the other goalies in the system. It’s important goalies support each other, and it’s good to see him get opportunities here.
“He’s a big prospect for the organization.”
Markstrom vows to take advantage of any and all opportunities and rack up a few less frequent-flyer miles between San Antonio and South Florida.
“I feel good,” he said. “I want to make the most of this.”
Is he learning tricks of the goalie trade in the big leagues?
Markstrom smiled and said, “I’ll be in a learning process my whole life.”
Newly acquired John Madden, the oldest player on the roster at 38, got playing time against the Devils and received favorable reviews.
“Excellent,” Murphy said. “He’s a veteran player that has won [Madden has three Stanley Cup championship rings]. You see his intelligence on the ice. He manages the game well and plays his position well. He looks like he’s in midseason form.”
TURNING IT AROUND?
The Panthers, who have lost three of their past four games, have two tough opponents coming up. The good news: they are both at home. On Monday, the Panthers play Vancouver, the Northwest Division leader, followed by Atlantic Division contender Pittsburgh on Friday.
Does the mini-slump concern the Panthers?
“No, it’s the halfway point of the season,” Murphy said. “We’re focusing on the positive now -- where we are at in the standings, where we are at in the division and conference. It’s a real positive what the guys have accomplished.”