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3 posts from March 16, 2013

March 16, 2013

DALE TALLON: Times Are Tough, Panthers Will Be Smart at Deadline

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When asked if he could pick out what has exactly gone wrong with his team this year, Panthers general manager Dale Tallon sits back in his chair and closes his eyes.

His answer?

Tallon doesn't really have one.

"We had a pretty good team last year,'' Tallon said, literally wringing his hands. "To have this happen is frustrating. I'm actually confused. I can't figure out for the life of me how this happened. But it did and we have to deal with it and get better.''

The Panthers hoped to compete for a second straight division championship this season, but those plans unraveled not long after Florida's opening night dismantling of the visiting Hurricanes.

Florida had a bunch of players hurt coming out of the lockout -- and many of those who weren't injured came in out of shape. The Panthers lost five straight following a 5-1 win over Carolina and were treading water from then on.

The Panthers came into Saturday's game -- a sixth straight loss -- with seven regulars on the shelf as Ed Jovanovski returned after missing six weeks.

Florida may spin off some players by the April 3 trade deadline, although Tallon says he's not going to do anything crazy despite reports to the north saying otherwise. A fire sale, Tallon says, isn't forthcoming.

Friday, Tallon made an addition by acquiring defenseman TJ Brennan from Buffalo for the fifth round pick the Panthers got from Los Angeles for Keaton Ellerby.

"I'm listening to everything there is, but there's a lot of vultures out there,'' Tallon said. "Guys want to pluck our top players. I'm not going to do anything emotionally, anything to disrupt the future of this team for a band-aid for this year.''

-- The Panthers had a familiar face in the lineup Saturday as Jovanovski, Florida's captain, returned after missing 21 games. Jovanovski had been out since Jan. 29 with a 'lower body' injury.

"That's a heck of an addition, having our captain back,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "He's been sorely missed. He makes a big difference with our group.''

Jovanovski was reunited on Florida's blue line with Erik Gudbranson as those two paired up last year for much of Gudbranson's rookie season.

Gudbranson, who was named an alternate captain Thursday in Boston, said he was glad to see Jovanovski -- the top pick of the 1994 draft by the Panthers -- back on the ice.

"It's really good to have him back and we're all excited about it,'' Gudbranson said. "He's been around for so long, he really understands the game. He knows how to get a team fired up. We need him to bring our confidence back.''

Jovanovski's return was short lived, however, as he left Saturday's game in the second period and didn't return.

Dineen said he would update Jovanovski's condition on Monday.

-- Jovanovski said he felt for Kris Versteeg as he will have season-ending knee surgery likely in the coming week. Versteeg spent last summer rehabbing after hip surgery and spent most of this season in the training room with one injury or another.

"He's going to be rehabbing for like three summers in a row. You feel for him,'' Jovanovski said. "But he'll come back stronger than ever. But it's a grind, that's for sure. He has to dig deep and find it.''

PANTHERS FIND NO LUCK IN SUNRISE: Cats Rally from 3-0 Deficit, Still Lose Sixth Straight ... Jovanovski, Parros Leave Game


TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It doesn't seem to matter what Kevin Dineen does in trying to change the Panthers' fortune, nothing seems to work.

Dineen has changed goalies, practice venues, offensive lines and defensive pairings. Even wearing his lucky green tie with embroidered shamrocks didn't help things Saturday night, although for a bit, it looked like it might.

The Panthers fell into a 3-0 hole only to rally and tie the score in near-record time Saturday. Yet the visiting Islanders scored with seven minutes left and handed Florida its sixth straight loss with a 4-3 victory at BB&T Center.

"I've had it almost a dozen years,'' Dineen said, his dark green tie still knotted tight. "Unfortunately my record took a little beating.''

Saturday's game was Florida's last at home for some time as the Panthers -- riding a season-long winless streak -- embark on a season-long five-game road trip with games against playoff challengers Carolina, the Rangers, Devils, Maple Leafs and these Islanders.

Yes, believe it or not, but the Islanders are three points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Florida, meanwhile, remains in last place in the entire league and if that holds, it would mark the first time the Panthers have finished at the bottom of the NHL.

With such a finish comes perks as potentially having their pick of the litter at the upcoming draft. Although adding another bluechip prospect to a deep stable of can't-miss-kids will be fun for the Panthers come June, things are quite painful right now.

Florida has not only lost six straight, but it has dropped nine of the past 10. And 11 of the past 13. And 16 of 19. Saturday's loss leaves the Panthers 4-8-5 on home ice.

"We all want to win in here, so from that standpoint, it's getting frustrating,'' Jack Skille said. "Everyone wants it in here. We all say the right things between periods, we have a lot of character in this room.''

The Islanders, who have five of seven, scored twice in the opening period as Scott Clemmensen -- getting his second straight start -- surrendered goals on consecutive shots within a span of 2:33.

New York quickly made it 3-0 when Brad Boyes scored 33 seconds into the second period -- giving the Isles three goals on four shots against Clemmensen.

The Panthers have been down this road a lot lately, as they have surrendered the initial goal in 10 of their past 12 games. All of those games in which the Panthers fell behind, not coincidentally, were losses.

Florida bounced back to life in the third, finally beating Evgeni Nabokov when T.J. Brennan -- acquired in a Friday night deal with the Sabres -- scored in his Florida debut by banging in a loose puck from the slot.

He didn't know what he would start.

Brennan's goal kickstarted a three-goal outburst from the offensively challenged Panthers as Marcel Goc and Mike Santorelli followed.

"Maybe it's nice to be thrown into the fire, it settles you down a bit,'' Brennan said. "I wasn't trying to do too much. They told me to shoot when I can, if I see opportunities.''

Florida's three-goal tally in 1:43 was third-best in franchise history. The Panthers scored three in a span of 62 seconds at Buffalo in 2009.

"We have highs and lows we need to balance out,'' Dineen said. "When you push as hard as we did to come back, you're proud of them.''

The Panthers couldn't get at least a point out of the rebound, however, as Casey Cizikas dove for a loose puck in front of Shawn Matthias and put it past Clemmensen.

"It has to be a more productive game,'' Dineen said. "We need a more complete game.''

-- The Panthers lost defenseman Ed Jovanovski to an undisclosed injury during the second period. Jovanovski had missed 22 games with a lower body injury before returning Saturday.

Jonathan Huberdeau (hand/wrist) and Peter Mueller (lower body) left during the first period. Both were on the ice to start the second. George Parros (upper body) left after fighting during the first and didn't return.

PANTHERS, LIGHTNING HEADED NORTH: Realignment Doesn't Make Geographical Sense, But...

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- So how did the Panthers fare in the NHL's new alignment, one in which Florida and Tampa Bay leave the sunny south and count the likes of Buffalo, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Detroit as divisional rivals?

Depends on who you ask.

The business side of the organization love the new format, with six of the seven other teams coming from "snowbird" areas in the northeast, Michigan and Canada. The other team in the new and as-yet-unnamed division is a short drive away.

That means a full building many nights as fans of 'original six' teams Toronto, Boston, Montreal and Detroit make their way to Sunrise. The Panthers should also get a boost in television coverage with so many games against high-interest opponents.

“Not only will we maintain and grow our in-state rivalry with the Lightning, but we will also be able to cultivate rivalries with some of the NHL’s most historic clubs,'' Panthers president Michael Yormark said in a statement.

The hockey side of things, however, isn't as thrilled with the change.

The Panthers are currently in the Southeast Division with the closest road game -- aside from Tampa -- being a quick flight to Carolina or Washington.

Now, as coach Kevin Dineen said, the Panthers are going to be "flying over" NHL cities such as Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York to get to new divisional destinations.

The added games against Canadian teams is also going to add to Florida's travel times as trips through customs can be a lengthy process both coming and going. If the NHL factors this into consideration and consolidates as many trips north as possible, it should be only a slight problem.

But if the league doesn't do that, the Panthers and Lightning could find themselves traveling more and spending substantially more money in airfare.

Because of their geographic location, the Panthers and Lightning already travel more than any other teams in the Eastern Conference.

The new format -- one that makes no geographical sense -- could make things even worse. Outside of Tampa, Florida's closest new divisional rival resides in Buffalo, N.Y.

"It's going to be expensive and it's going to be time consuming,'' general manager Dale Tallon said. "Those road trips to and from Canada are going to be rough on Tampa and ourselves. But it's probably best for hockey overall.''

Commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday the league is going to keep the Panthers and Lightning in mind when the schedule is worked out.

"From a business standpoint, I think this is probably really good for both Florida teams,'' Bettman said. "Travel-wise they may have issues. But based on where it is from the geographic standpoint, it wasn’t going be perfect. .-.-. We're going to try and do the best possible job of focusing on the travel needs of the two Florida clubs and the teams in their division and their travel to and from Florida.''

This current alignment will be in place for the following three seasons with the league and its players' association reexamining things after that.

Even though Bettman said there are no plans for relocation or expansion, both are expected. With the probability of expansion teams coming to Quebec and the Toronto area, the divisions may have to be redrawn anyway as there are 16 teams in the east and 14 in the west.

"The travel is more, but hey, we get four of the Original Six teams in our division,'' Tallon said. "This should be good for hockey fans in South Florida."

-- The Panthers will hold their morning skate Saturday at the Saveology.com Iceplex in Coral Springs. The practice is scheduled to start at 10:15 a.m. and is free and open to the public.

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Florida leads 39-31-8
The game: This is the first meeting between the two teams this season with the Panthers going 3-0-1 last year. This is Florida's final home game before kicking off a season-long five-game road trip Tuesday in Carolina. Florida's next home game isn't until March 28.


PANTHERS, LIGHTNING HEADED NORTH: Realignment Doesn't Make Geographical Sense, But...