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.”
With the NHLPA's rejection, a labor war with the league this summer is expected as the CBA expires after this season.
The Winnipeg Jets, formerly of Atlanta, will remain in the Southeast Division with the Panthers for a second season. If there is a season.
“We weren't given enough information [from the NHL],'' said defenseman Mike Weaver, Florida's union rep.
“How can you make an educated decision without the information? We asked and were upfront with them. We weren't provided anything. They weren't open for discussion. The PA is looking out for us. Travel is an important thing. .-.-. I think we're being fair with them. They don't want to divulge anything to us.''
When asked if Weaver thought this was the first arrow flung in what could be a contentious labor dispute, he said he hoped not. He added that he hoped the NHL and NHLPA can resolve their differences quickly and quietly -- as what happened recently in baseball.
Of course, Donald Fehr -- the new director of the NHLPA -- ran the baseball union back in 1994 and was working on hockey matters when baseball and its union ratified their CBA last month. The new baseball deal keeps the peace through 2016.
And we all remember what happened in 1994, right? Well, fans in Cleveland and Montreal certainly do.
"Lets just be fair with each other,'' Weaver said. "We're all fighting for the same game. Look at baseball; they figured it out. They did it so quiet, you didn't even hear about it in the media. Hopefully we come to a solution soon.''
HERE'S THE COMPLETE STATEMENT FROM DONALD FEHR:
“On the evening of December 5, 2011, the NHL informed the NHLPA that they proposed to put in place a four-conference format beginning with the 2012-13 season. As realignment affects Players’ terms and conditions of employment, the CBA requires the League to obtain the NHLPA’s consent before implementation. Over the last month, we have had several discussions with the League and extensive dialogue with Players, most recently on an Executive Board conference call on January 1. Two substantial Player concerns emerged: (1) whether the new structure would result in increased and more onerous travel; and (2) the disparity in chances of making the playoffs between the smaller and larger divisions. In order to evaluate the effect on travel of the proposed new structure, we requested a draft or sample 2012-13 schedule, showing travel per team.
"We were advised it was not possible for the League to do that. We also suggested reaching an agreement on scheduling conditions to somewhat alleviate Player travel concerns (e.g., the scheduling of more back-to-back games, more difficult and lengthier road trips, number of border crossings, etc.), but the League did not want to enter into such a dialogue.
"The travel estimation data we received from the League indicates that many of the current Pacific and Central teams, that have demanding travel schedules under the current format, could see their travel become even more difficult. On the playoff qualification matter, we suggested discussing ways to eliminate the inherent differences in the proposed realignment, but the League was not willing to do so.
"The League set a deadline of January 6, 2012 for the NHLPA to provide its consent to the NHL’s proposal. Players’ questions about travel and concerns about the playoff format have not been sufficiently addressed; as such, we are not able to provide our consent to the proposal at this time. We continue to be ready and willing to have further discussions should the League be willing to do so.”
Florida coach Kevin Dineen put center John Madden in the starting lineup for his Panthers debut against his former team. Later, it was Patrik Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk helping lead the Devils to a 5-2 win at Prudential Center.
Madden, who signed with the Panthers on Wednesday, spent a decade playing for the Devils and won two of his three Stanley Cups here.
Elias, playing in his 1,000th NHL game – all with Jersey – scored his 22nd goal in 50 games against the Panthers in the second period. Kovalchuk got his 34th in 56 games against Florida with 8:30 remaining to win it. Most of Kovalchuk's damage against the Panthers came when he was playing for Atlanta.
“Their top-end, top-paid players definitely produced,'' Dineen said.
The Panthers picked up just one of four points during a two-night stretch in the New York area, losing in overtime to the Rangers on Thursday. Florida has lost a season-high six straight road games, getting points in three.
New Jersey only led by one when Kovalchuk scored his second of the night into an empty net with 59.3 seconds remaining.
“We had an answer for them when they scored the first couple of times,'' Dineen said. “I liked the play of some of our players, but it was not a complete game for us. .-.-. It was a tough road game for us, but for the most part, the effort was there.''
Florida remains atop the Southeast Division and leads idle Washington by four as the Panthers hit their midseason point. The Panthers, who haven't been in first this late in a season since March 2000, never led Friday and have lost two of three to the Devils.
The Panthers 48 points at midseason are fourth-highest in franchise history and most since getting 54 in 1999-2000. An extra point for winning shootouts didn't come into play in the NHL until 2005.
The Devils opened the scoring when rookie Adam Henrique backhanded one top shelf past Panthers rookie Jacob Markstrom 3:53 into the game. Florida matched the goal when Mikael Samuelsson powered a puck left by linemate Marcel Goc from 45 feet out past backup Johan Hedberg less than four minutes later.
Then it was Elias' turn to score, with Florida tying it up again when Krys Barch picked up his first of the season by skipping it through. Barch, suspended for Thursday's game for an 'inappropriate comment' said he would trade that goal for a Panthers win.
“You want the two points at the end of the night,'' Barch said. “It's kind of bittersweet. We still lost in the end and that's tough. You look at both conferences and it's so tight.''
Barch's shot would be the end of the Panthers scoring with Kovalchuk making it 3-2 past the midway point of the third. With 2:52 left, Zach Parise got called for a delay penalty and the Panthers eventually sat Markstrom and went with two extra skaters. Despite some chances, Florida couldn't put it past Hedberg with Kovalchuk and Parise depositing pucks into an empty net.
“I'm not crazy about pulling a goalie early,'' Dineen said. “We had 40 seconds left and you have to win those battles.''
-- Madden confirmed Friday that his hold up in signing with the Panthers had to do with obtaining a U.S. work visa. Madden, who is from Ontario but had been working out in the Minneapolis area, had his visa expire after the Minnesota Wild didn't resign him after last season.
Madden left South Florida after his physical last week and returned to Canada to get the paperwork done. “There were a few days of holidays so it took a little while,'' he said.
Clinton, who showed off his souvenir while getting a standing ovation during the third, is believed to be the first former or sitting U.S. President to watch a Panthers game in person.
Clinton stayed for the entire game and was seen on the big screen clapping and cheering (while sipping on a Diet Coke) after the Rangers pulled off a 3-2 overtime win against the Panthers.
Clinton sat behind Scott Clemmensen during the second period, although Clemmensen said he didn't know the former president was there until it was announced in the third.
We'll see if he makes the trip with the Panthers to Newark tomorrow.
Florida trailed off a Ryan Callahan goal in the third period yet answered on Mike Santorelli's shot 36 seconds later. That goal, and some stout play in net by Scott Clemmensen, helped the Panthers force overtime and pick up a point in a 3-2 loss.
The Panthers had been outscored 10-2 in their previous two losses to the Rangers including last Friday's 4-1 defeat in Sunrise.
The Rangers got their eighth win in their past nine games when Marian Gaborik's slap shot beat Clemmensen on New York's 41st shot of the night with 1:31 left in overtime.
Florida continues its Metro New York road trip by visiting the Devils in Newark, N.J., on Friday.
“We have to find a way to make sure we keep getting points and don't fall back. We have to keep pushing ahead,'' said Stephen Weiss. “It's nice [to be leading the division], it's a place we want to be. But it's a tough stretch here, but an exciting stretch. We're going to find where our team is. For real.''
The Panthers may have caught the Rangers napping a bit after New York's emotional win over the Flyers in Monday's Winter Classic and with a big game in Pittsburgh on Friday. The Rangers didn't look too enthused to be playing, yet woke up when Marcel Goc snapped a shot past backup goalie Martin Biron to make it 1-0 at 4:16 of the first.
Goc scored on his first shift since being knocked out of Florida's win in Dallas on Nov. 15 with a concussion.
He was assisted by Mikael Samuelsson, who was playing in his first game since being knocked on his behind and suffering a bruised tailbone Dec. 20. Goc hadn't scored since Oct. 29.
“They played well, had plenty of rest time,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “You could say there's rust, but they came out with some jump and created some things. They were probably our most solid line.''
The Rangers, as expected, bounced back and tied it on Anton Stralman's shot late in the first. Florida got called for its first too-many-men penalty early in the third, with Brad Richards' slap shot hitting Callahan and skipping past Clemmensen for New York's first lead of the night.
The struggling Santorelli picked the Panthers spirits right up, however, as he followed Goc's lead and went high on Giron as well to tie things up with 15 minutes remaining. Santorelli hadn't scored in his past 12 games.
“Nice goal,'' Dineen said. “He played a solid game, played a little wing. When he uses that hard shot, he's pretty effective. It was nice to see him get one. A little confidence could be big for him.''
Clemmensen was terrific for much of the night as he has now put up a pair of strong performances since Dineen yanked him in the second period of last Friday's loss to the Rangers after he surrendered thre goals on 14 shots. Clemmensen came in relief of Jose Theodore last Saturday when Theodore left with a knee injury, stopping 17 of 18 shots in a 3-2 win over Montreal.
The 38 saves were Clemmensen's most since making 40 in an overtime loss against Boston on Dec. 28, 2010.
“We got a point but you're obviously disappointed when you don't win,'' Clemmensen said. “We're disappointed even though this is a top team and we're playing in their building. We're not satisfied with that. We want to beat everyone every night. This was a tough test for us.''
The Rangers and Panthers traded scoring chances in the overtime period, but the Rangers skated off triumphantly when Derek Stephan left the puck 30 feet out for Gaborik to tee off on. The goal was Gaborik's 23rd this season, tied for second most in the league.
AROUND THE RINK
Newly signed center John Madden and suspended forward Krys Barch wore orange jerseys at Thursday's morning skate at Chelsea Piers although neither are injured. Madden, 38, could make his debut with the Panthers Friday against his former team in New Jersey.
On Thursday, Dineen said he wouldn't rule out sending Madden to AHL San Antonio for a game or two of conditioning.
Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup champion who won the title twice with the Devils, hasn't played since April 2 while with Minnesota.
NEW YORK – Florida Panthers forward Krys Barch was suspended one game by the National Hockey League for using “inappropriate language” in last Saturday's 3-2 win over visiting Montreal.
Barch, Florida's top enforcer, will miss Thursday night's game against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Linesman Darren Gibbs overheard Barch yell something at Montreal's P.K. Subban, who is black, as Subban skated off the ice after a fight with Florida's Erik Gudbranson.
Barch was given a 10 minute misconduct and ejected from the game as an NHL official told The Miami Herald it was for a racial slur.
The NHL held a hearing on the matter Thursday morning. Barch was joined on the conference call by coach Kevin Dineen as well as NHLPA representation.
“I stated my case; I know myself and what I said. It may have been inappropriate but it was nowhere near a racial slur nor that intent,'' Barch said after Florida's morning practice at Chelsea Piers.
“The things I said were pretty explicit and maybe not for kids' ears, so that's why I can't repeat it. My grandma wouldn't want to hear it, lets put it that way.''
Said Dineen: “At the end of it, we respect the decision and move on from here. .-.-. I tell the team, like the other 800 players, coaches and staff in the NHL, how proud we are to be part of the most diverse league in all professional sports. We're extremely proud of that and it's an area that we make sure we are aware that comments can be taken in many different ways. It's important you always conduct yourself in a proper matter.''
Although Barch nor the Panthers will divulge what Barch said, two sources told The Herald that, aside from various expletives, Barch basically asked Subban if he “slipped on a banana peel” after his legs went out from under him after being punched by Gudbranson.
“There is no debate over what was said,'' Dineen said. “The content or the context of the comment can and should be debated over what the intent of the comments were. I have a lot of respect for Krys Barch and how he's handled himself the past five days. This has been extremely tough on him.
"At the end of the day, all the information was laid out there. We respect the league's decision and move on.''
Scott Norton, Barch's agent, said last Sunday that Barch meant nothing racial by his comment and said that it was all just a misunderstanding. Barch said he was told by NHL vice president Colin Campbell that if the NHL thought Barch used a racial slur, his suspension would be between five and 10 games.
Barch said he called Subban on Sunday to explain himself. Subban claims he didn't hear anything said and Barch told him. “I'd rather him hear it from me,'' Barch said. Barch also spoke to Montreal's Erik Cole who also heard what was said from the Florida bench.
“What me and my family have been through, the way my dad brought me up,'' an emotional Barch said, “we live in southern Ontario, one of the most mulit-cultural places in North America if not the world. There are so many players in this league representing so many countries, we are very diverse. I would never want to touch people in that way.
“My intent, for my sake and my families sake, I never said anything racially driven or used a slur. I've looked on the internet and there are 700 related articles that say I said I used a racial slur. I have to deal with it, my wife has to deal with it walking the dog down the street, my dad. It's nice that's over with, things came out. I do feel bad for the team. There's been a cloud hanging over us the past few days.''
The Panthers are said to be standing behind Barch and he is not expected to be sanctioned by the team aside from Thursday's suspension.
As one unnamed member of the team said, “he used a bad choice of words, no doubt. But it did look like Subban slipped on something. Barchy is a great guy. He didn't mean what it sounded like that night. We'll put this behind us.''
Added Barch: “I got into this league through hard work and that's how I'm going to leave it. Something like this isn't what I'm about.''
FROM THE NHL:
The National Hockey League announced today that Florida Panthers forward Krystofer Barch has been suspended onegame as a result of an inappropriate comment directed at P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens at the end of the first period of Game 559 in Florida, December 31, 2011.
Mr. Barch will miss tonight’s game in New York against the Rangers.
"Mr. Barch has admitted making the remark, but denies that thecomment was racially motivated,” said Colin Campbell, Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations.
“While we accept Mr. Barch’s assertion, as a player in the National Hockey League, he must be held accountable formaking a comment that, in the context in which it was made, and in light of the entirety of the circumstances, was offensive and unacceptable.”
-- With Barch out, the Panthers will bring back injured forwards Marcel Goc (concussion) and Mikael Samuelsson (bruised tailbone) against the Rangers.
Center John Madden, who signed on Wednesday, practiced but will not play Thursday. Dineen said it's possible that the 38-year-old would be sent to AHL San Antonio to get in a couple of games before he plays for the Panthers.
Madden hasn't played in a game since April 2.
Barch is expected to talk to NHL Senior Executive Vice President Colin Campbell on Tuesday regarding his ejection from Saturday's game for allegedly using racially charged language toward Montreal's P.K. Subban.
Scott Norton, Barch's agent, said Sunday that he believes his client will be cleared by the league for what he calls an misunderstanding. Numerous sources from around the Panthers say Barch didn't use a specific racial slur, but what he did say is up for interpretation. Subban is black.
The Panthers expect the matter to be resolved on Tuesday; the league was in no hurry to take care of the matter because of Monday's Winter Classic in Philadelphia and that the Panthers don't play until Thursday.
Barch was not made available for comment.
“This is something we're all very sensitive to,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. “Whenever you're under league review, you respect that process and that's where we are. We needed a good skate, got a good two points the other night. .-.-.
"The Winter Classic is [Monday] and that needs to take center stage. The league will take care of its business [Tuesday]. It's inappropriate for me to make any comments before they make their due diligence.''
-- Barch inadvertently hit teammate Tomas Kopecky to the ice during practice on Monday, with Kopecky staying down while being treated by Florida's medical staff.
After a few minutes on the bench, Kopecky was back working in drills.
Because of a knee injury to Jose Theodore, Florida's Scott Clemmensen was able to get right back at it.
Clemmensen was pulled after giving up three goals to the Rangers on Friday, only to come back in the following night. Clemmensen stopped 17 of 18 shots to help the Panthers beat visiting Montreal 3-2.
This has been a trying season for Clemmensen who missed the first six weeks because of knee surgery before being slowed by a subsequent going injury following his first start of the season in Dallas on Nov. 15. Clemmensen gave up a total of 11 goals in three games prior to Saturday.
“Injuries are part of the game. I know that,'' Clemmensen said. “I want to get going. We're near the halfway point, past Christmas. Jose has deserved the majority of starts this season. You have to play well when you get the opportunity. This is the best league in the world. Hopefully this is an opportunity for me to get some starts and get some consistency going.''
On Monday, coach Kevin Dineen said he hoped Theodore's injury wasn't too serious although he will miss the next two games. “We have our fingers crossed,'' Dineen said. The Panthers are waiting for the swelling to go down in Theodore's knee before it is known whether or not he'll need surgery.
“We'll be without him for a little stretch although I don't really have a timetable,'' Dineen said.
Florida recalled Brian Foster from their ECHL team in Cincinnati, but it is going to be a short-term gig for Foster. Jacob Markstrom will join the team in New York or beforehand; Markstrom's AHL San Antonio Rampage is in Charlotte for games Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I wasn't really expecting it, but I'm real happy to be here,'' said Foster, 7-1-0 for the Cincinnati Cyclones this season. “I'm excited to play with these guys and try to get better. It's not a disappointment [not playing] because I'm going to get better being here. Just practicing, I'm happy with that. It's a good chance to work with [goalie coach Robb Tallas] because I don't see him that much. It's a good opportunity.''
-- Center Marcel Goc (concussion) and Mikael Samuelsson (tailbone) both wore non-contact jerseys but took part in Monday's lengthy practice.
Dineen said both would travel on the upcoming two-game trip to the New York metro area. Samuelsson is expected to play in at least one of the games.
Jack Skille (shoulder), Scottie Upshall (hip) and Sean Bergenheim (groin) skated before the practice.
-- The Panthers will not practice Tuesday but return to their training facility Wednesday at 10 a.m.
BY GEORGE RICHARDS
The agent for Florida Panthers forward Krys Barch said his client has been talking to the NHL player's association regarding his ejection from Saturday night's game for an alleged racial slur but had yet to talk to the league.
Scott Norton, who has known Barch since he was a 15-year-old junior player in Canada, said that Barch is “upset and concerned for his family.” He added the comment directed toward Montreal's P.K. Subban from the Panthers bench was misconstrued and “didn't have any racial undertones nor was a slur. It may have been a misunderstanding or taken out of context” by linesman Darren Gibbs.
A league official told The Miami Herald on Saturday that Barch was ejected for using racially charged language.
Barch was given a game misconduct late in the first intermission after Gibbs heard Barch yell something at Subban as he was skating off the ice after fighting Florida defenseman Erik Gudbranson. Both Subban and Gudbranson were hit with two penalties for slashing and roughing at the end of the first period.
Video replays show Gibbs standing at center ice between the two benches. As Subban skates by, Gibbs turns around and skates right to Barch at the bench.
“Krys' commentary to me is that he did say something,'' Norton said. “At the end of the day, we're confident there will be no further punishment and he will be cleared of wrong doing and his name will be cleared. Krys is a family man with kids, his whole family is in Canada and are hearing this everywhere. It's tough on all of them.
“He hopes there is an understanding that there was no ill intent on his part. It was a misunderstanding. He wants his record to be clean when all this is over.''
Norton said it his his understanding that Gibbs reported the incident to the head official and a game misconduct was given late, apparently after the officials conferred with someone “outside the arena for a rule interpretation.''
NHL.com reported Sunday that NHL Senior Executive Vice President Colin Campbell is investigating “the details of the penalty.'' Campbell is a former coach of the Rangers and is the father of former Panthers winger Gregory Campbell. Norton didn't know whether Barch would talk to Campbell over the phone or would have a face-to-face meeting.
“Personally I didn’t hear anything,'' Subban said after the game. “I don’t even know what happened, really. A couple of guys on the ice told me that something was said. I don’t know what was said, I didn’t hear it. As far as I’m concerned it’s really out of my hands, so I don’t really know too much about it.”
Teammate Erik Cole said the comment may have been made about Subban's Jamaican-born parents.
The Panthers have been very quiet on the subject, with coach Kevin Dineen saying after the game that Barch was “broken up” about the allegations and that it was now a league matter.
Owner Cliff Viner told The Miami Herald when informed why Barch was ejected that “you play hard, you fight hard. But that's not part of any competition.''
Panthers center Shawn Matthias didn't want to talk about the situation, but felt he needed to stand up for his teammate not long after Florida's 3-2 win on Saturday. Kris Versteeg said it's “stupid stuff is what it comes down to, just blown up. .-.-. He's a good guy who means no harm.''
Others declined comment on the matter. Barch's stall, which sits next to Versteeg, was empty on Saturday although his name plate was still up and he remains with the team.
“I'm not sure what happened,'' Matthias said. “You never want to see that, but I know [Barch] and I don't think he's the kind of guy who would do something of that nature.''
-- The Panthers have had some of their largest crowds in franchise history when the Montreal Candiens come to town, with Saturday's announced attendance of 20,098 was the second-largest of the season – and the week. The Panthers had three straight games with more than 20,000 for the first time in franchise history.
A franchise-record 20,741 attended a Canadiens game on Dec. 29, 2008. Still, team president Michael Yormark tweeted before the game that he “heard the fans” and this would be the final New Year's Eve game against the Canadiens.
Florida has played its past three New Year's Eve games against Montreal.
Dineen said beforehand that he didn't mind all the visiting fans in the arena as it made for a festive atmosphere. Montreal will be back in Sunrise on Feb. 26 and will visit three times each season starting in 2012-13 as the Panthers and Canadiens are in the same division/conference.
“We invite all the great people of Montreal to come on down for a game,'' Dineen said. “It may be cheaper to get a plane ticket and a ticket here than it is to get a game ticket for the Canadiens. Rivalries happen and we look at Tampa as our natural rival. But the more you see a team, the more a rivalry will build. I think it will be enjoyable for years to come.''
-- The Panthers will practice at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs on Monday at 10:30 a.m. The workout is open to the public.