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2 posts from January 29, 2013

January 29, 2013

LIGHTNING NOTES: Drew Shore, Kris Versteeg Make Their Return in Tampa Bay

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TAMPA -- Drew Shore said he wasn't sure his demotion back to the minor leagues would be short lived until Monday.

Of course, Shore didn't consider a trip to the American Hockey League All-Star Game anything less than an honor. Either way, Shore's trip back to the AHL was short lived.

"I think I've gotten better each game,'' Shore said from inside the visitors' locker room at the Forum after catching a 7 a.m. Southwest non-stop flight from Rhode Island to Tampa.

"I started off and I thought I was solid. By the third game, I really thought I was creating some offense. It would have been nice to have one or two go in.''

Shore and fellow rookie Quinton Howden after Saturday's loss to the Flyers -- although the Panthers always planned to bring back Shore. The Panthers have been happy with his play in the first three games of his NHL career.

In games against Montreal and Ottawa, Shore had big scoring chances taken away thanks to great goaltending. Saturday, Shore seemed to be the only player in a red sweater doing much of anything as he took five shots on goal and won 10 of 12 faceoffs.

Shore, who had a goal and an assist in Monday's All-Star Game, played in his fourth game Tuesday on a line with Peter Mueller and Jonathan Huberdeau.

-- The Panthers had a familiar face back on the ice Saturday as Kris Versteeg made his 2013 season debut.

Due to the lockout and a groin injury that happened a day before the season opener, Versteeg hadn't been in a game situation since Florida's Game 7 loss to New Jersey on April 27.

"I've gone from a coach to a player. It's a bit different,'' said Versteeg, who spent part of the lockout working out at a college in his hometown in Alberta.

"I think it's been nine months since my last game, so it's been a long time. From my surgery to the lockout to being set back another few games, it's been tough a bit mentally. But that's why you are professional. You have to be ready when you are fit to go.''

With Stephen Weiss (groin) out, Florida's first line still hasn't played together this season. On Tuesday, Tomas Kopecky centered Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann at the start.

-- Fleischmann was one of the Panthers impressed with the Lightning's new $5 million scoreboard -- one that resembles the monster at Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

"This is just for hockey?,'' Fleischmann mused. "Nice.''

-- Mike Santorelli and Tyson Strachan were Tuesday's healthy scratches.

A DOWNWARD SPIRAL: Panthers Lose Fifth Straight, This Time 5-2 to Host Tampa Bay Lightning

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TAMPA -- A large group of scouts from Western Conference teams took in Tuesday night's game at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. They weren't there to watch the host Lightning.

No, they were there to look at Florida's players just in case general manager Dale Tallon decides to start a good old fashioned house cleaning.

They may not have long to wait.

Florida, currently the NHL's worst team, lost its fifth straight Tuesday as the Lightning took a 5-2 victory.

"This is obviously embarrassing, losing five straight,'' defenseman Filip Kuba said. "But it's not the right time to put our heads down and feel sorry for ourselves. We have another game, 40-something more left.''

Florida (1-5-0) has dropped five straight in regulation since beating Carolina in its opener on Jan. 19 and its two points in the standings are fewest among the NHL's 30 teams.

In a related statistical note, the Panthers are tied for last in the league by scoring a 10 goals -- all while surrendering a league-high 24.

This run has not been pretty. Since beating Carolina, the Panthers have been outscored 23-5.

Since scoring four goals in the opening period against Carolina, Florida has scored all of six. When asked if the Panthers were better than what they've shown, coach Kevin Dineen said they were. Yet:

"Our record is fairly accurate of how we've played the past games here,'' Dineen said. "I hate to say it, but we deserve to be where we are right now. I like the idea we have people here who, for a lot of us, this is foreign territory. We have to decide how to deal with it -- and we will.''

The Lightning is not only located on the opposite side of the state but on the NHL spectrum as well as it has won five of its opening six games. The Panthers have 42 games left in this abbreviated 2013 season.

The Panthers previous five game loss without getting a single point came from Feb. 1-17, 2010 -- a slide so bad, then-GM Randy Sexton famously compared the Panthers to the Titanic.

Three years later, here they are, sinking fast again after winning the first division title in franchise history last season.

"The feeling in training camp was one of optimism, that we could connect where we were last year,'' Dineen said. "We talked about that [Monday] and said that's the last we're talking about it. It's time to turn the page and move forward. It's time to connect with this group.''

The Panthers showed plenty of life early on, with defenseman Keaton Ellerby taking umbrage with B.J. Crombeen's knee of Ed Jovanovski and took matters into his own hands as the two had a lengthy bout.

Ellerby ended up on the wrong side of that one as he was charged with 19 minutes of penalties -- including two minutes each for instigating and unsportsmanlike conduct. He also got a 10 minute misconduct.

By the time Ellerby returned midway through the second, the Panthers trailed 3-1 -- with the Lightning getting its first goal off the power play chance Ellerby's penalty created.

Tampa Bay's first goal -- Steven Stamkos got his 14th in 24 games against the Panthers -- gave the Lightning a short-lived 1-0 lead. Peter Mueller tied the score 15 seconds later when he picked up his own loose rebound and tapped it into the net.

That would be as close as the Panthers got to the streaking Lightning this night.

Tampa Bay worked its lead to 4-1 by the second break as the Panthers had a couple of breakdowns but also some unfortunately nice plays by the high-flying Lightning.

Cory Conacher, the 5-foot-8 winger who went undrafted but had four good years at Canisius, got his third of the season (which would lead the Panthers) by taking a long pass from Victor Hedman and splitting Shawn Matthias and Mike Weaver. Despite being pulled to the ice by Weaver, Conacher beat Jose Theodore to make it 2-1.

Tampa Bay scored twice in the second period. The first came 3:18 into the second when Tom Pyatt redirected a shot from Dana Tyrell past Theodore. With 4:21 left, Tyrell got in front of Tomas Kopecky and chopped at a quick pass from Pyatt.

"This is no fun right now,'' Tomas Kopecky said.

With another loss, Thursday's home date with Winnipeg becomes larger for the Panthers.

If Florida loses Thursday, it would embark on a tough four-city trip (Buffalo, Winnipeg, Philadelphia and Washington) riding one of the longest losing streaks in franchise history.

Florida hasn't lost six straight in regulation since dropping seven straight near the end of the 1998-99 season.

How long ago was that? Terry Murray was the coach, Bryan Murray was the general manager and the team's home in Sunrise still had that new-arena smell.

"We're not getting the bounces right now. And we don't deserve them,'' Kopecky said. "Everyone here is fed up. We're not used to this.''