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2 posts from February 7, 2013

February 07, 2013

THURSDAY'S PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Gudbranson Makes Season Debut, Kovalev Sits ... Dineen Sees Season Speeding By


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

PHILADELPHIA -- Instead of starting in October as scheduled, Erik Gudbranson played his first hockey game of the season last Friday night with the Panthers' minor league affiliate in San Antonio.

Less than a week later, Gudbranson made his season debut with the Panthers.

The Panthers recalled Gudbranson after two games in the minors although he didn't play after a long travel day to Winnipeg on Tuesday.

"Everything is ready to go. I'm in the best shape I could possibly be in to play a game right now,'' said Gudbranson, who was in Florida's lineup Thursday. "I'm definitely very excited to get back in there.''

Gudbranson had a strong rookie year for the Panthers last year and the organization planned on him spending the lockout in San Antonio. Only Gudbranson snapped his shoulder wakeboarding in Canada, an injury that required surgery.

Instead of playing in the minors, Gudbranson had to rehab the shoulder -- on his own, as the Panthers suspended him. Not only didn't he get paid, but he had to find his own medical treatment.

Gudbranson pushed through and rejoined his locked out teammates for informal workouts before the lockout ended. The Panthers finally cleared him to play in games last week and his suspension was over.

To get back into the flow of things, Gudbranson logged heavy minutes in his two games with the Rampage. On Thursday, he was on Florida's top defensive pairing with 2012 All-Star Brian Campbell.

"I needed to get some time in,'' Gudbranson said. "Going to San Antonio was very beneficial. I got to play a lot of quality minutes.''

-- Coach Kevin Dineen mixed things up Thursday, moving Peter Mueller (four goals in the previous five games) up to the top line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann.

Kris Versteeg moved to play with Drew Shore and Jonathan Huberdeau.

"We're always looking to experiment and today is a different day,'' Dineen said. "

Dineen also sat veteran forward Alex Kovalev for the first time this season. "He's brought some good energy,'' said Dineen, who put Jack Skille back in the lineup after sitting him the past two games.

"I have to have composure out there and play good hockey,'' said Skille, who was paired with Tomas Kopecky and Marcel Goc. "It's a good opportunity for me to play with guys like that.''

-- Dineen says it feels strange to be this soon into a season at this time on the calendar. After Thursday, the Panthers had completed 10 games in this 48-game schedule (21 percent).

"Our last game against Philadelphia - what, nine days ago? - seems like a long time ago,'' Dineen said.

"Things are happening. Pitchers and catchers are going to spring training. I saw a commercial for the Masters the other day. My clock is all messed up. Things are happening fast and furious. You have to react to things day by day.''

FLYING HIGH IN PHILLY: Panthers Win Again, Top Flyers 3-2 in Shootout ... Huberdeau, Mueller Get SO Goals ... Weiss' First Goal is a Biggun


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

PHILADELPHIA -- The Panthers hope the low moment of the 2013 season came early on, one in which they lost at home to the Flyers by six goals.

If that indeed was Florida's bottom point, the Panthers bruised egos have rebounded quite nicely.

Thursday, the Panthers tied the score in the third before beating those same Flyers 3-2 in a shootout. Florida has now won three of four -- and have a point in each of those games.

"There's no doubt we were flat that night and that happens. They took it to us on a bad night,'' said Stephen Weiss, whose power play goal tied the game midway through the third period.

"It's not about payback. It's about competing, having a better effort. We need the points. It wasn't about what they did to us. It's about climbing back into the playoff race. We didn't have the start we wanted but we're starting to build something.''

Florida, now 4-5-1 and three points back of division-leading Tampa Bay, came into the third period down 2-1 after the Flyers scored the lone goal of the second.

The Panthers had been 0-for-3 on the power play before Dmitry Kulikov saved a puck and slid it to Tomas Fleischmann who found Weiss in the slot. Weiss popped the puck past Ilya Bryzgalov at 8:35 of the third to even things up.

From then on, it was the Jose Theodore show.

The Florida goalie, who was mercifully pulled by coach Kevin Dineen back on Jan. 26 when the Flyers stomped the Panthers 7-1, stopped everything he saw.

Theodore made 10 official saves in the third and overtime periods before blanking the Flyers on their two shootout shots.

"It was a good game by both teams. In overtime they had a few chances but we didn't panic,'' said Theodore, who ended with 30 saves to earn top star honors. "It was a good win. That was a little payback for last time.''

Said Dineen: "He just decides that he's going to stand up and be a difference maker. He did a heck of a job. The overtime as well as the shootout, that was a big-league game by a starting goaltender.''

As Theodore was standing on his head, the Panthers incredibly went 2-for-2 in the shootout. Rookie Jonathan Huberdeau opened things by deking out Bryzgalov on his first NHL shootout shot.

Huberdeau was 10-for-12 in shootout shots over the past three years in junior and said he went with the same shot that he used back in the Quebec league -- leading Dineen to joke that the Flyers probably hadn't gone back that far in their scouting.

"I was really nervous,'' Huberdeau said. "When I got up there, I was shaking a little bit. But I wasn't nervous once I took the puck.''

Florida wasn't very good in shootouts last season so to start this one off 1-0 felt pretty good.

After Huberdeau shot, Peter Mueller put one past Bryzgalov to really put the pressure on Theodore. He easily stopped Claude Giroux to give the Panthers the extra point.

Last year, the Panthers' 11 shootout losses were second only to Montreal. Florida, 2-for-2 on shots Thursday, connected on just 22 percent of shootout shots last year.

"This is a time where you can steal a point,'' Mueller said. "It was nice for us to get two points to bail out [Theodore] after OT.''

The Panthers locker room was much more jovial Thursday than it was a few weeks ago after the Flyers embarrassed them.

It's obvious these aren't the same Panthers as that team was without key components such as Weiss, Kris Versteeg, Marcel Goc and Erik Gudbranson.

In that loss last month, the Panthers looked not only slow but meager as well. Thursday, Florida was flying -- and not afraid to put someone into the boards. These were two completely different teams.

"It was no fun to get spanked that badly at home,'' Dineen said. "It seemed like a long time ago because the schedule has been so frantic. .-.-.

"You can see us traveling as a team now and not individuals. Really, they are starting to play as a team. A coach can't sell that enough.''