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27 posts from February 2013

February 08, 2013

PANTHERS TRADE ELLERBY: Defenseman Goes to Kings for Fifth-Round Pick ... News, Notes from Washington

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

WASHINGTON -- The Panthers have had a number of their top draft picks coming up through the system over the past few weeks. On Friday, Florida gave one of its former first round picks away.

Defenseman Keaton Ellerby, the 10th overall selection in 2007, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings early Friday in exchange for a fifth round selection in the upcoming draft.

Ellerby left the Panthers team hotel in Washington early Friday morning to join his new team in Detroit. Ellerby could make his debut with the defending Stanley Cup champions against the Red Wings in a nationally televised game Sunday.

A healthy scratch Thursday in Philadelphia, Ellerby ended up playing in 125 games over four seasons with the Panthers. Ellerby scored two goals with 15 assists.

"Defensemen take time to development and sometimes a change of scenery helps someone,'' coach Kevin Dineen said after Friday's afternoon workout in northern Virginia.

"When someone leaves your organization, you always wish them well. He was a good serving Panther and we hope he takes the full-time step he couldn't make here. Last year we couldn't find a full-time place for him. He's still a young guy. He has a lot of hockey left in him.''

Assistant general manager Mike Santos said Friday that Ellerby was a casualty of a numbers crunch. The Panthers will have seven defensemen back once Ed Jovanovski returns from a knee injury as Ellerby had found playing time in Florida scarce over the past few seasons.

"We're getting healthier and had to make some sort of roster move and expose a player to waivers,'' Santos said. "At some point we will have too many bodies. This was a player another team an had interest in so we felt we had to make a move.''

Santos said the Panthers will go into Saturday's game against the Capitals with the six defensemen they played with Thursday in Philadelphia.

-- The Capitals may be off to a rough start but don't expect the Panthers to take them lightly on Saturday night.

Washington, which has won just twice all season, won all three home meetings between the two teams last year as Florida edged the Capitals by two points for the Southeast Division title.

The Panthers have lost eight of the past nine games held at Verizon Center.

"We're not trying to stoke the fire because we didn't have any success in here last year,'' Dineen said. "That stings a little bit.''

-- According to the Panthers, Thursday's shootout victory was Florida's first in just two rounds.

On Thursday, Jose Theodore stopped both of Philadelphia's shots while teammates Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller scored. There was no need for a third shot since Florida had an insurmountable 2-0 lead.

-- Huberdeau's backhand-to-forehand move during his shootout was slick enough to earn No. 6 on ESPN's top 10 plays of the night.

"I’ve been working on those moves with those guys quite a bit out there,'' Dineen joked after the game.

-- Stephen Weiss' first goal of the season came at a good time Thursday as he tied the score at 2 midway through the third. Even though Weiss hadn't been scoring, Dineen said he had been doing enough to help the Panthers.

"Weiss is a really important piece of our puzzle,'' Dineen said, "and I had him out there quite a bit in those penalty kills out there in the end, and he scores a big goal for us to tie things up for us. It’s the little things, the face offs, the little board battles, when you’re trying to kill a penalty at the end of the game, that’s what makes him a special player.''

-- Dineen said he and Alex Kovalev spoke before the season started about his wanting the 39-year-old forward to take some games off. Kovalev was Florida's healthy scratch Thursday as Jack Skille returned to the lineup after sitting the previous two games.

Skille scored Florida's initial goal Thursday so Dineen most definitely has a decision to make for Saturday's game.

"That's a good thing for a coach,'' Dineen said. "Sometimes we're looking for energy, sometimes we're looking for skill. Alex can bring both.''

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Verizon Center, Washington
TV/Radio: FSF; WQAM-560
The series: Capitals lead 52-43-9
The game: Florida lost four of six to the Capitals last season yet still had two more points in the standings and edged Washington for the first division title in franchise history. The Panthers have won three of the past four games and have a four-game point streak going. The Capitals are coming off a 5-2 home loss to the Penguins.

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.''

February 04, 2013

STEEGER AND THE JETS: Panthers' Kris Versteeg Loves Playing Winnipeg ... Erik Gudbranson on Way Back to Bigs

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- Kris Versteeg doesn't like talking about Winnipeg. Nothing against the city, but he always knows when he gets asked about it, the conversation usually leads to his success against the Jets.

Versteeg doesn't know why he scores so much against the Jets. He just hope it continues. Versteeg gets a chance to add to his goal totals against Winnipeg Tuesday night.

"I honestly have no idea why it's like that and everyone just keeps bringing it up,'' Versteeg said Monday after the Panthers' light practice at First Niagara Center. The Panthers left for Winnipeg soon afterward.

"It's one of those things I guess. I would love it worked like that against every team. I don't know if I'm riding anything, but you get bounces and things like that. I hope it keeps up.''

Versteeg lit up the Jets last year, scoring seven goals with three assists in five games. Actually, Versteeg was held off the scoresheet in the first meeting between the two. So, Versteeg got 10 points in four games against Winnipeg.

Slowed by a groin injury, Versteeg played in his third game on Sunday against the Sabres. He has a goal and an assist this season. Guess who he scored them against?

"Sure, guys have a favorite team they like playing against and there really is no reason for it,'' said linemate Tomas Fleischmann. "Maybe it's the system they play. But Steeger has great games against Winnipeg. We expect big things from him when we play them.''

Coach Kevin Dineen has seen certain players do well against other teams and says, like Vertseeg, that he doesn't want to talk too much about it. You never want to jinx these kind of things.

"There's a little something there, but I don't know what it is,'' said Dineen, who has won four of seven meetings against the Jets heading into Tuesday's game.

"I don't like talking about it for obvious reasons. I'm glad he's hot against a divisional foe you see all the time and not a team like Vancouver or something.''


The Panthers expect to have defenseman Erik Gudbranson back with the team on Tuesday although they are unsure whether he will play.

Gudbranson needed shoulder surgery in September after being injured in a wakeboarding accident in Canada. He was suspended during the lockout and was assigned to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Gudbranson was expected to play in his second AHL game on Monday night in Houston before flying to Winnipeg on Tuesday.

"He's accomplishing everything we want,'' Dineen said. "I haven't made the final decision on if he plays or not. He's been out for seven months. We're finally getting guys back, getting into the groove of playing. He's still working his way through it.''

Florida practiced with five defensemen on Monday as Mike Weaver sat out with a hip injury that doesn't appear to be serious. Dineen said he didn't practice just as a precaution and could be back Tuesday.

"It's a nice luxury to have seven defensemen, but we need them,'' Dineen said. "We need the depth.''

-- Peter Mueller came into Florida's game against the Flyers on Jan. 26 with no goals; he scored that night and has been on a roll since, scoring a goal in each of the past four games.

Mueller's previous high had been scoring in three straight games.

"He's got the hot stick going,'' Dineen said.

When, Where: 8 p.m.; MTS Center, Winnipeg
TV/Radio: FSF; WQAM-560
The series: Jets lead 40-30-5
The game: Florida snapped its five game losing streak by beating the Jets 6-3 in Sunrise last Thursday. The Panthers have won four of seven against the Jets since the franchise relocated from Atlanta following the 2010-11 season. Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen scored his second goal of the season against Florida last week. The Panthers have won two straight; the Jets have lost three straight but haven't played since getting rolled 8-3 by the Lightning last Friday.

February 03, 2013

PANTHERS WIN: Cats Get First Road Win of 2013, Drop Host Sabres 4-3


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- Brian Campbell was put in charge of organizing the Panthers' Super Bowl watch party on Sunday night since he spent eight seasons playing for the Sabres.

Beforehand, he said he wanted the team to really be able to enjoy Sunday night by taking care of business that afternoon.

Campbell stuck to his word as his power play goal midway through the third gave the Panthers their first lead of the day as Florida held on for a 4-3 win over the struggling Sabres at First Niagara Center.

Florida had trailed 3-1 midway through the second before mounting a second comeback in as many games.

"You wait for power play chances and we took advantage of it,'' said Campbell, who held the team's shindig in downtown Buffalo.

"We battled. We're coming together as a team and starting to have more faith in each other to be able to come back. We didn't have that earlier. You're starting to see our team develop. With some pieces back, we can start doing what we did last year.''

Said coach Kevin Dineen: "It's a much better Super Bowl party now than it was 10 minutes into the second period.''

The Panthers have now won two straight as Sunday's win avoided the first 0-4 road start in franchise history. The Panthers trailed 3-1 early in the second period and it looked like they were headed down that path.

Then, like in the third period Thursday, the Panthers started putting the puck in the back of the net. First it was enforcer George Parros who drilled a nice pass from Stephen Weiss past Ryan Miller at 10:21 of the second to get things rolling.

Florida tied the score at 3 with 54 seconds left in the second when Peter Mueller scored for the fourth consecutive game by shoveling the puck past Miller after the puck deflected off him from a Drew Shore shot.

"It wasn't on me as [Mike] Weaver made a great play up the middle and Shore did all the work,'' Mueller said. "I was just fortunate it was on my stick at the time. I'm happy for the goal, but more happy for the win. We're building character. You have to build from something.''

The Panthers took advantage of their first power play of the day midway through the third when Campbell rifled a shot from the left side that beat Miller top shelf.

The sellout crowd in Buffalo had seen enough as boos rained down on the Sabres. Sunday's home loss to the Panthers came off a 6-1 loss in Montreal on Saturday afternoon as the Sabres dropped to 3-5-1.

Coach Lindy Ruff, the Sabres' coach since leaving the Panthers bench in 1997, could really start feeling some external pressure.

Of course, that's not the Panthers problem. Florida, now 3-5-0, moved closer to the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

"We didn't want to wait this long to get one on the road,'' Dineen said. "That was a little snapshot of our team, but you're seeing how we need to play to have success. We got down by a couple and responded.''

The Sabres had a lot of jump early on and took a 1-0 lead 2:46 into the game when Thomas Vanek banged in a rebound past Jose Theodore. Florida countered a few minutes later as Jarred Smithson won a faceoff in the Buffalo zone and fed it to Shawn Matthias who ripped it through.

Buffalo made it 2-1 later in the first then scored early in the third when Alexander Sulzer zipped one from beyond the left circle -- a puck Theodore should have stopped.

Theodore was excellent from that point forward, however, although the Sabres looked tired and didn't challenge much in the third. Again, not the Panthers problem.

"Jose has been the guy since I've been the coach here,'' Dineen said. "There's a trust level between on both sides.''

PANTHERS SUNDAY NOTEBOOK: George Parros Comes up Big in Florida's 4-3 Win in Buffalo ... Weiss Comes Back, Sheltered from HNIC Rumors ... Jack Skille Sits


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BUFFALO -- The big guy with the big mustache and the big reputation didn't like sitting. The not fighting part? Somewhat surprisingly, he was OK with that.

On Sunday, George Parros -- a healthy scratch Thursday -- got into his first fight as a member of the Panthers. Seven minutes later. Parros scored his first goal in a Florida sweater.

Had he picked up an assist he would have completed his first Gordie Howe hat trick with Florida -- a fight, goal and a helper.

"Anytime you can contribute it feels good,'' said Parros, who signed with the Panthers in July after six seasons in Anaheim. "I'll take them whenever I can, but it's good to score in a close game and really help out. When you can get your shifts in early, it's a different feeling on the ice. I got my feet moving.''

Parros admits that big enforcers like himself are on less NHL teams.

On Sunday, Parros and Buffalo's 6-foot-8 John Scott rumbled with Parros finding it hard to get leverage. Parros finally got Scott tied up near the glass and delivered a few blows.

"Not many teams have guys like us anymore,'' Parros said. "The fact it took this long doesn't surprise me. I'm not looking to fight all the time anyway. If it's right for the game, I'll do it.''

-- The Panthers had their top line intact for the first time this season as Stephen Weiss came back after missing four games with a sore groin. Kris Versteeg missed the first five games of the season with a similar malady.

"I felt alright being the first game in a while,'' Weiss said. "I can't complain. I have to stay in the lineup, get into a rhythm. You feel a little weird but I have to be patient and keep it simple.''

Weiss, who missed four games, was the topic of conversation during Saturday's Hockey Night in Canada broadcast with one commentators saying Weiss was on the trade block.

The Panthers have denied this although as a pending free agent, this talk will continue through the trade deadline. Weiss said none of his family members nor friends informed him of the Hockey Night talk.

"This is the first I've heard of it,'' he said. "This is surprising because my buddies all watch the Leafs games. My parents too. Maybe they just wanted to keep my head clear.''

-- Florida is sticking around snowy Buffalo and is scheduled to hold an afternoon practice at the Sabres' arena on Monday. The Panthers will then fly to Winnipeg where they will be hosted by the Jets on Tuesday.

-- With Weiss back in the lineup, Florida still has an extra forward and Jack Skille sat on Sunday.

PANTHERS SUNDAY NOTEBOOK: George Parros Comes up Big in Florida's 4-3 Win in Buffalo ... Weiss Comes Back, Sheltered from HNIC Rumors ... Jack Skille Sits

February 01, 2013

PANTHERS FRIDAY NOTES: Stephen Weiss Set to Return as Scottie Upshall Hits IR ... Buffalo is 'Super' to Panthers ... 'Book Not Closed' on Santorelli

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers merry-go-round of injured players continued Friday as it has since training camp opened.

Florida, which snapped its five-game losing streak Thursday night, will likely have center Stephen Weiss back on the top line Sunday at Buffalo after he missed three games with a groin injury.

Scottie Upshall, however, is going on injured reserve after he twisted his ankle while falling awkwardly during a fight in the third period Thursday.

Upshall, who was helped off the ice, could be out for a month. He was seen at the team training facility on crutches. Upshall was hurt fighting James Wright -- a winger who was waived by the Panthers during training camp and claimed by the Jets.

"He twisted his ankle, it's pretty tender right now, so it's at least a few weeks perhaps a month away,'' coach Kevin Dineen said.

Weiss' return is most welcomed as the Panthers will have their top line intact for the first time this season.

"That gives you options,'' Dineen said. "It's not just the players you're missing, but the players we have are playing out of position to try and fit the square peg into the round hole. This gives us more continuity.''

As Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann started the season, Kris Versteeg got hurt in the final practice of training camp. Versteeg returned Tuesday and scored his first goal Thursday.

"I would love to come back and try and help out, for sure,'' Weiss said. "It's not totally up to me but I got through practice and I'm going on the road. I'm looking to be back as soon as possible.''

Florida is currently without injured defensemen Ed Jovanovski (knee) and Erik Gudbranson (on rehab assignment in minors) as well as wingers Sean Bergenheim and Upshall.

-- Alex Kovalev, who scored the game-winning goal Thursday, missed Friday's practice with what Dineen called a touch of the flu.

-- The Panthers embark on their first real road trip of the season Saturday as the team will visit four cities in a week. The team will spend a lot of time in Buffalo as it will stay over after Sunday's afternoon game.

Defenseman Brian Campbell, who played for the Sabres, has a friend opening up his restaurant -- which is usually closed on Sunday -- so the team can watch the Super Bowl.

"It's always good to do stuff with the guys,'' Campbell said. "Hopefully we get two points and then enjoy ourselves. We need to string some wins together to get into .500 and then move from there.''

The Panthers will then stay in Buffalo and practice there Monday afternoon before flying to Winnipeg to face the Jets on Tuesday. The Panthers will also visit Philadelphia and Washington on the trip. Florida is 0-3-0 on the road this season.

"The Super Bowl has worked into our travel. All the planes are booked Sunday and Monday morning,'' Dineen said.

-- Dineen said "the book isn't closed" on center Mike Santorelli despite his demotion to Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio on Wednesday.

Santorelli, in the final season of a two-year deal with the Panthers, will be paid his full NHL salary (lockout approximate of $960,000 this season) while in the minors.

Santorelli had been Florida's healthy scratch in three of six games. He started the season on Florida's top line (a day after clearing waivers) when Versteeg was hurt but quickly slipped down the lineup.

"I believe Santo is a top six player and his skill set is as a higher-end skilled forward,'' Dineen said. "Right now we don't have that fit for him. So he needs to either diversify his game or get a major dose of confidence. I hope some time in the American League will give him that jolt of ice time he needs to turn things around.''

Santorelli was given his first multi-year, one-way contract after scoring 20 goals for the Panthers in 2010-11. He scored nine goals last year.