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36 posts from March 2013

March 15, 2013

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.

SATURDAY: ISLANDERS AT PANTHERS
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.

GRAPHIC COURTESY NHL

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

March 14, 2013

BUST IN BOSTON: Panthers Stay with Bruins, Give up Two Late in 4-1 Loss ... Versteeg Latest Out for Season ... Jovo Back Soon?

BRUINS 4, PANTHERS 1

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

BOSTON -- Dale Tallon walked into the TD Garden on Thursday with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. Only the Panthers' general manager figured he was in for a long night.

The undermanned Panthers held their own for much of the game against the top-end Bruins yet gave up a pair of goals in the final seven minutes to fall 4-1.

The Panthers, with eight regulars on the shelf, have lost five straight and eight of nine as they remain stuck in last place with 20 points. The Bruins, meanwhile, are a point out of first in the Eastern Conference.

"We have to find some puck luck and get that first goal,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "Just keep on searching for the answers. Obviously there's a lot of try out there right now. I think these guys are pushing as hard as they can.''

On Wednesday, the Panthers found out star forward Kris Versteeg needs season-ending surgery on his right knee -- knocking two-thirds of Florida's top line from last season out for the rest of the year.

The Panthers' injury list is so deep and so long the Bruins massive scoreboard came close to running out of room listing it before the game.

Although Dineen has refused to make excuses regarding Florida's Santa-sized injury report, Tallon is realistic and knows it's hard for an NHL team to compete missing "our starting goalie, three of our top defensemen and four of our top nine forwards.''

Florida currently has $23 million of salary (according to last year's non-lockout figures) on the sidelines "Look at all the 20-goal scorers we're missing,'' Tallon said.

Thursday, the Panthers rag-tag bunch came out flying and put pressure on Tuukka Rask by taking the first five shots. Yet Boston took the 1-0 lead when Zdeno Chara scored off a 30-foot slap shot on Boston's second shot of the night.

About 11 minutes later, Patrice Bergeron scored his first of the game to make it 2-0. Clemmensen faced 16 shots in the opening period alone and ended with 28 saves.

The Panthers have surrendered the initial lead in nine of 11 games and have allowed the opening goal within the first three shots of a game in five straight.

Florida cut its deficit in half in the second when Shawn Matthias had another spectacular goal. This one came thanks to a combination of hustle and skill as he beat Dougie Hamilton to the puck as both dove to the ice.

Matthias was able to hop up, corral the puck and deke out Rask to make it 2-1 -- all while the Panthers were killing a penalty.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, that's all they could get past Rask as he stopped 29 shots.

"It was a lucky goal,'' Matthias said. "The important thing is we need more of them. We have to bear down, win some games.''

Florida gave Boston all it could handle from there on out but the Bruins put the finishing touches on things when Shawn Thornton pounced on a loose puck -- off his own shot -- when the Panthers' defense broke down in front of the net.

Clemmensen and three other Florida players chased the puck; only it bounced back to Thornton as he slammed it into the empty net.

With a minute left, the Panthers vacated the net on purpose and the Bruins' scored their final goal with Clemmensen on the bench.

"Give their goalie a little credit because we started the way we wanted to,'' said Drew Shore, who took three of Florida's 30 shots. "Then we put ourselves in a hole which is tough to do against a team like this. Give them two goals and it's tough to come back. It's pretty frustrating.''

Said Matthias: "The work ethic was there, we were right with them .-.-. but here we are again, another frustrating loss.''

BACK AND FORTH

Although Versteeg is done for the season after hurting his right knee in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Lightning, defenseman Ed Jovanovski hopes to be back in the lineup soon.

Jovanovski traveled to Boston and worked out Thursday morning. Jovanovski says if he feels good on Friday, he may play Saturday against the Islanders. Jovanovski has been out since Jan. 29 with a lower body ailment.

"I feel all right, feeling better,'' Jovanovski said. "It's nice to be back in a team setting, get on the road and get a skate in. We'll see what happens for Saturday. I'm cautious. It's one of those things where I see where I'm at in the morning after a skate. There's been a lot of down days.''

-- Tallon and Jovanovski said they both felt for Versteeg for his latest setback.

Versteeg spent the summer rehabbing after having offseason hip surgery. Once the lockout ended, Vertseeg was sidelined by a groin injury. Seven games into his season. Vertseeg was run over by Alex Ovechkin and missed 12 more games with a chest injury.

Sunday, after being back for three games, he suffered the knee injury. Vertseeg signed a new four-year deal with the Panthers last summer.

"I feel bad for him, our players and our fans,'' Tallon said. "He's an exciting player to watch.''

March 12, 2013

PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Vertseeg Hurt in Loss to Lightning ... Nothing Yet on Kovalev

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The worst news out of Tuesday could come in the following days when Kris Vertseeg's right knee is evaluated.

Versteeg -- who scored Florida's first goal 13 ticks into the second -- went sprawling after making contact with Radko Gudas and stayed on the ice in pain for a few minutes before being helped into the locker room.

"Sometimes when it rains it pours,'' said Jack Skille. "That's the nature of the game. You have to battle through it.''

-- Mike Santos said there has been no resolution to the Alex Kovalev situation. Kovalev is on the Panthers roster but is no longer with the team and is free to find another team.

Kovalev, 40, could also retire.

"I’m thinking that there will be something really soon, though,'' Santos said. "We’re not pushing him. He deserves the respect after the career he’s had to make up his own mind and do the things that he needs to do.”

Scott Timmins Arrested in San Antonio, Charged with Misdemeanor

Panthers prospect/minor league forward Scott Timmins was arrested and charged with criminal trespass -- a misdemeanor -- Sunday morning in San Antonio after allegedly being found inside a house he did not own.

Timmins told police he had been drinking with teammates at a nearby bar after being discovered in the home of Benjamin Garza whose unidentified wife heard the family dogs barking at 3:30 a.m. Timmins, she said, was on the couch.

The woman escaped the home with her two children and called her husband -- who wasn't home at the time -- and the police. When the police arrived, Timmins was asleep on the couch and needed help out of the house.

According to the San Antonio Express, Timmins - who has played in 14 games with the Panthers over the past three seasons -- lives about a mile away from the house he was found in.

Benjamin Garza told KENS-5 in San Antonio that when he came home, he told Timmins he was lucky it was his wife who found him on the couch. "I would've put a bullet between your eyes and it would've been over for you," Garza reportedly said.

Panthers assistant general manager Mike Santos, who serves as GM of Florida's AHL team in San Antonio, said the Panthers were still gathering "more information" on the situation.

Santos, who said Timmins practiced with the Rampage on Tuesday, added whether Timmins played Wednesday was up to coach Chuck Weber.

"I’ve talked to Scott. He’s OK,'' Santos said. "We’re just going to let the process go .-.-. I’m sure he’s embarrassed, but at this point I don’t have any more information than you do.”

SNAKEBIT?: Lightning Get Outshot Big, Get Ones that Count in 3-2 Win over Panthers

LIGHTNING 3, PANTHERS 2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Even though the Panthers' scoreboard Tuesday was malfunctioning to the point the team's president took to Twitter to apologize, the lopsided numbers in Florida's favor were correct.

Unfortunately for the Panthers, the actual score was right as well -- and it went against them. That's how this dreadful season has gone.

Even though Florida dominated the visiting Lightning for much of the night, Tampa Bay's star forwards came through with opportunistic goals to leave BB&T Center with a 3-2 victory over the NHL's last-place Panthers.

The Panthers ended up with a 39-13 advantage on the shot clock yet have lost 14 of the past 17.

"For the last two weeks, you're really beating up on your guys,'' coach Kevin Dineen lammented. "[Tuesday] is no different. Our fans go home unhappy, our players are upset as well. Snakebit? I don't know. But things aren't working in a positive way for us right now.''

Despite being grossly outshot (30-6 after two), Tampa Bay got quality in what few snipes it took.

Vinny Lecavalier scored on the Lightning's opening shot with Martin St. Louis scoring on No. 3. Steven Stamkos got the game-winner on Tampa's eighth shot of the night -- which didn't come until 5:30 into the third. In the first period, Florida outshot the Lightning 17-3 yet trailed 2-0.

"You get St. Louis, Stamkos and Lecavalier scoring,'' Dineen said, "and that's a pretty good formula they have there.''

Florida found itself down first for the eighth time in 10 games as rookie goalie Jacob Markstrom has surrendered a goal on the first official shot of the game in three of the past four. Montreal scored on its third shot Sunday.

The Lightning made it 1-0 on the opening shot when Lecavalier scored off a feed from St. Louis. About 16 minutes later, St. Louis made it 2-0 on the Lightning's third shot. Florida was ahead 16-3 in shots at that point.

Vertseeg got the Panthers on the working scoreboard by knocking a Marcel Goc delivery through just as the second started. Ten minutes later, Tomas Kopecky tied the score with his 11th of the season by knocking a Jack Skille pass between Lindback's skates.

Yet the Lightning got one power play chance in the third and buried it when Stamkos fired off an odd-angled shot from that hit Markstrom's stick and ricocheted between his skates and into the net.

The Lightning, which had lost seven of eight, is 3-0 against the Panthers this year with two left in Tampa.

"We had maybe two minutes when we took off and it's a good league. It bites you,'' Kopecky said. "I like the way we battled. It was something we were missing the past few games. But sometimes it's a tough one.''

March 10, 2013

HAMMERED AT HOME: Canadiens Get Cozy in Sunrise, Roll Panthers 5-2 ... Cats Have Fallen Behind in 7 of 9, Lost 13 of 16

CANADIENS 5, PANTHERS 2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Jacob Markstrom's most memorable win in his young career came early last season in Montreal.

In just his third start, Markstrom made 40 saves against the Canadiens for what was one of many victories for the Panthers that year.

These aren't the same two teams they were back then. Not even close.

On Sunday, the much-improved Canadiens scored twice in the first and took a four-goal lead before beating the reeling Panthers 5-2 at BB&T Center.

Montreal has won four of five and sit atop the Eastern Conference; Florida has lost 13 of 16 and are dead last in the entire league.

With Sunday's loss, the Panthers failed to beat Montreal during a season for the first time in franchise history. Montreal won all three meetings between the two in this shortened season. The all-time series is also now tied.

"This is unacceptable. We've been through this before and it's not fun. I'm sick of losing,'' said Shawn Matthias, who scored his fourth goal in six games to make it a 4-2 game in the third.

"We need to change things, turn this ship around. It's frustrating and it has gone on long enough. They were ripe for the picking and we didn't take advantage of it.''

Despite playing without Brandon Prust, who separated a shoulder Saturday in Tampa, jumped all over the Panthers early on and scored twice in the opening two periods.

The Canadiens looked to be losing their legs in the third, but just as the Panthers pulled to within striking range, Kris Versteeg took a penalty and the Canadiens' power play came back up to the plate.

Michael Ryder, acquired in a deal with Dallas last month, deflected a P.K. Subban shot past Markstrom with 4:17 remaining. Those two hooked up for a similar goal on a Marcel Goc penalty midway through the first.

"They are one of the top teams in the league -- and look like it,'' coach Kevin Dineen said.

"They went from one of the worst teams to one of the best and basically it's because they're working hard. That's a page of their book we need to take.''

Roles have been reversed among the two squads as the Panthers won the Southeast Division last season and were the No. 3 seed in the east all while the Canadiens finished last for the first time in their storied history.

This year, Montreal -- with part-time South Florida resident Michel Therrien behind the bench -- has shot to the top of the east with 38 points in 26 games. Florida has just 20 points.

Sunday, the Canadiens did what they wanted against the Panthers as they kept the puck in the Florida zone for much of the night and outshot the Panthers 38-16 -- and an embarrassing 25-9 in the final 40 minutes.

Markstrom ended up with 33 saves after facing 38 shots on goal. Montreal backup Peter Budaj only faced 16 shots all night and gave up one of Florida's goals to his own teammate as Francis Bouillon didn't clear a puck down low -- instead he put it into the net for the Panthers' first goal to make it 4-1.

Tomas Kopecky was credited with the phantom goal. Matthias later pulled Florida within two and it looked like the Panthers may have something cooking.

Florida's third period comeback was too little and too late as the Panthers have a bad habit of falling behind early all season.

The Panthers have trailed from the start in seven of its past nine games. The Panthers won just one of those contests as they have been behind by an average of 3-0 in those games in which they have initially trailed.

"We need better starts,'' rookie Jonathan Huberdeau said. "It's always 2-0 after five minutes and it's hard to come back in those kind of games.''

-- Versteeg in the lineup for the second straight night after missing 12 games with a chest injury, the Panthers sent winger Jon Rheault back to their AHL affiliate in San Antonio. Rheault, 26, made his NHL debut last week for the Panthers against Winnipeg and appeared in three games.

March 09, 2013

ALEX KOVALEV: Future Remains Up in Air ... Time with Florida Panthers is Over

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Although Alex Kovalev remains on the Panthers active roster and is technically listed as a scratch each night, he's no longer with the team and continues to look at other options.

If Kovalev were to find a team who wanted him, the Panthers would accommodate him.

Florida expects the situation to be cleared up this week with Kovalev -- who spent parts of five seasons with the Canadiens -- possibly announcing his retirement.

Kovalev is the eighth active 40-year-old player in the NHL -- although he hasn't played in a game since turning 40 on Feb. 24. He is also the last remaining active player from the Rangers' 1994 Stanley Cup championship team.

Because the Panthers management has so much respect for Kovalev, waivers isn't an option just yet.

The Panthers hope this situation comes to a tidy conclusion without any ugliness.

I was told the Panthers were very happy with Kovalev's professionalism in his short stint with Florida.

PHOTO: JOE RIMKUS JR./Miami Herald Staff

ALEX KOVALEV: Future Remains Up in Air ... Time with Florida Panthers is Over

ED JOVANOVSKI: Back at Practice but No Timetable on Return to Lineup

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Florida captain Ed Jovanovski took part in practice for the first time since leaving the Panthers' game in Tampa Bay on Jan. 29 with what was originally believed to be a knee injury.

Jovanovski was vague about his "lower body" injury saying it's something that has been bothering him for some time.

"It's given me a lot of headaches," he said, "a lot of grief.''

Jovanovski, 36, has missed games in the past with hip problems.

Although Jovanovski says he has skated with Panthers training staff "six or seven times" since being hurt, he says he continues to feel pain and hasn't been able to skate more than three consecutive days. Therefore, there is no timetable for his return.

"It's difficult sitting back and watching,'' Jovanovski said. "You want to be out there contributing. And you can't do that when you're not playing. It's been a tough year, a grind. .-.-. At the end of the day, it's my decision on how I feel. I don't want to be coming in and coming out.''

Said Dineen: "He's excited to be back out there with the group. We'll see how he feels and hopefully it's a real progression back into the lineup.''

PHOTO COURTESY OF KELSEY HINDS/Special to On Frozen Pond

ED JOVANOVSKI: Back at Practice but No Timetable on Return to Lineup

SHAWN MATTHIAS: Opening Some Eyes in Return at Center

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Shawn Matthias may only be 25 but it seems like he's been around the Panthers forever.

Matthias made his debut with the Panthers in 2008 and on Friday, was the only Florida player on the ice to have played alongside Winnipeg's Olli Jokinen during his time as Panthers' captain.

"I'm really trying to show my stuff this year, run with the ball,'' said Matthias, who was an emergency call-up from his junior team in 2008 and scored his first NHL goal after Jokinen redirected Matthias' shot toward the goal with his backside.

With Stephen Weiss out for the season with a wrist injury which will require surgery on Tuesday, coach Kevin Dineen said he's asked more of Matthias.

No longer playing wing on Florida's third or fourth line, Matthias is back to his natural position of center. On Friday, he scored his second goal since Weiss went on the injured list and third in the past five games.

Dineen says it has been good seeing Matthias playing with the speed and strength he sometimes hasn't during his time with the Panthers.

"He looks better in the middle,'' Dineen said. "He's had a couple strong games at center. He's getting confidence in the amount of ice time he's getting. It's increased. The loss of Stephen Weiss has increased his responsibility. He's playing quality minutes and he's proving that he's deserving to be relied upon.''

Said Matthias: "There's obviously a door open for someone to come in. I'm trying to make the most of it. I worked extremely hard during the summer and lockout to have a great season. I've worked too hard not to play well.''

In Tuesday's 4-1 win over the Jets, Matthias had about as pretty a goal as one will find as he powered his way up the ice and went right around defenseman Mark Stuart before firing a wrister past Ondrej Pavelec.

“I’ve seen that play out of Shawn before,'' Dineen said. "I know he has that in his bag of tricks.''

Matthias said afterward "I hope my buddies see that on SportsCenter." They did. Matthias joked Saturday that his phone exploded with text messages after ESPN made it a top 10 highlight. And although he said he's not thinking about the future, Matthias knows he is in the final year of a two-year contract. Matthias is a restricted free agent come July 1.

"I have to make the most of this, not look back and say 'I wish I did this or that','' said Matthias, who is four goals shy of tying last year's career-high of 10. "I'm playing as hard as I can. I'm trying to open some eyes.''

SUNDAY: CANADIENS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 6 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Florida leads 34-33-6
The game: The Canadiens have won both meetings against the Panthers as the two play for the final time this season. The Panthers have beaten the Canadiens at least once each season. Florida has lost two straight; Montreal played in Tampa Bay on Saturday.

March 08, 2013

OT BITES PANTHERS AGAIN: Panthers Rally from 2-0 Deficit, Lose to Jets 3-2 in Overtime

JETS 3, PANTHERS 2 (OT)

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Kevin Dineen said the Panthers' Achilles Heel during the first half of the season was the team's inability to win games in overtime.

So far it's a problem in the second half as well.

The Panthers rallied from a two-goal deficit on Friday night yet watched Dustin Byfuglien wrist a shot past Jacob Markstrom with 40.5 seconds left in overtime to lift Winnipeg to a 3-2 win at BB&T Center.

Florida, now 5-7-6 since beating the Jets here on Jan. 31, is 1-6 in overtime games this season and has lost five straight since beating the host Flyers in a shootout on Feb. 7.

The Panthers have suffered five of their six overtime losses on home ice. Florida's lone road overtime loss came in Winnipeg.

"Losing five overtime points at home is tough. It leaves a little sting,'' Dineen said. "You lose five games at home in overtime is disappointing for our players and for our fanbase. The game had some tempo to it. Not to finish it and push it to the next level is disappointing.''

The Panthers, which officially began the second half of this abbreviated 2013 season on Friday, got a league-low 19 points in the first half yet somehow remain within shouting distance of the playoff race.

With the point earned Friday, Florida is seven points back of Southeast Division leading Carolina.

"We played hard and battled back,'' said Shawn Matthias, who tied the score at 2 with 14:10 left in the third. "It's getting frustrating and we've been through this before. We need to turn this ship around, stop talking about it and do it. We can't keep losing like this.''

Goalie Jacob Markstrom was back in net for the Panthers one night after being yanked in Washington. Markstrom, whom Dineen said "wasn't ready to play," had given up two goals on the first two shots of Thursday's game.

Friday, Winnipeg scored on its first shot of the night -- although Markstrom stayed put.

The Jets took a 1-0 lead when Andrew Ladd drove in and fired a shot Markstrom got a piece of but let trickle through at 2:35 of the first.

Later in the period, Blake Wheeler worked his way into the Florida zone and had a clean shooting lane after freezing Markstrom. Wheeler fired and on Winnipeg's sixth shot of the night, it was 2-0.

"They got a goal right away and that's not how you want to start the game,'' Markstrom said. "I felt better as the game went one. The guys did a hell of a job in the third to tie it up.''

The Panthers were able to grab a sliver of momentum late in the first when Jonathan Huberdeau kept his hot streak against the Jets going as he scored his fourth goal in as many games against Winnipeg.

Huberdeau got his 12th goal -- which leads all NHL rookies as well as Florida teammates -- by batting in a loose puck in front of Ondrej Pavelec with 14.8 seconds left before the break.

For a team fresh off a 7-1 loss in Washington, getting back in Friday's game was important.

"We had pretty good momentum but missed a lot of chances,'' Huberdeau said. "We didn't get the two points but it could have gone either way. We played pretty good.''

Florida created many chances Friday against Ondrej Pavelec but only scored twice. Pavelec made 38 saves.

"We had some good offensive opportunities,'' Dineen said. "We looked like a team that got in at 3 in the morning. We looked better once we got our legs going. We started to push and created some opportunities. That's how we have to play.''

VERSTEEG RETURNS

Kris Versteeg was back on the ice Friday after missing the previous 12 games with a chest injury. Versteeg was hurt in Florida's 6-5 overtime loss to Washington on Feb. 12.

Verteeg has had his way with the Jets in the past, scoring six goals with four assists against Winnipeg in the past two seasons. On Friday, Versteeg was held off the scoresheet.

"He's been missed, been out for a long time,'' Dineen said. "He's a guy who's been working hard and in a back-to-back, can give you a jolt of energy. That's an energy you can really take advantage of. He was a big piece of our puzzle last year.''

With Versteeg back in the lineup, Jerred Smithson was Florida's healthy scratch.

-- Defenseman Tyson Strachan wasn't disciplined from the league for a big open-ice hit on Washington's Jason Chimera on Thursday and played Friday night.

March 07, 2013

ROLLED OUT OF THE CAPITAL: Washington Continues Capital Domination of Panthers with 7-1 Win ... Markstrom Pulled Early, Strachan Faces Shanahan

CAPITALS 7, PANTHERS 1

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

WASHINGTON -- To avoid problems landing in the nation's capital, the Panthers left South Florida on their charter plane a few hours early on Wednesday.

On Thursday, they checked out of their game in Washington early as well.

Washington chased goalie Jacob Markstrom to the bench with two goals on two shots then kept the party going by beating down the Panthers 7-1 at Verizon Center.

The Panthers, who played their final game in Washington as a division rival for some time Thursday, found themselves down 4-0 before the midway point of the first.

By the time Alex Ovechkin scored to make it 5-0 in the second, well, it meant little more than to pad his stats.

"You give up two goals on two shots,'' said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen, whose team's 19 points are fewest in the entire league.

"I don't like to leave anyone out to dry but obviously I don't think Jacob Markstrom was ready to play tonight and the ball started to roll. For us, we need to be firing on all cylinders to have success and that wasn't the case,''

Said Markstrom: "I felt like I let the team down. I didn't stop pucks. It wasn't good enough.''

The Panthers are probably happy to get away from Washington when the league reconfigures its divisions next year. Florida has lost seven straight in Washington and six straight to the Caps overall.

In the five losses in D.C. since last season, the Panthers have been outscored a whopping 23-3. Florida, shut out here three times since last season, have been outscored here 12-1 in the past few weeks alone.

"They're a good team in their building,'' said Jack Skille, who ended Braden Holtby's shutout bid with 9:11 left. That made it only 6-1.

The Capitals got the only two goals they would need 3:10 in.

Markstrom gave up his first goal 1:58 when John Erskine whipped a shot from inside the blueline that caught Markstrom's right armpit. When Markstrom adjusted, the puck sank into the back of the net.

Just over a minute later, Wojtek Wolski -- acquired by the Panthers for their playoff run last spring -- shoved a puck past Markstrom to make it 2-0.

"I think they smell blood when we come in here and they can get a couple early,'' Dineen said. "We can talk about pushback, but we got spanked 7-1. It's unacceptable.''

Scott Clemmensen was brought in and didn't fare much better. On Washington's sixth shot, John Carlson fired a long-range missle that skipped though. Mike Ribeiro made it 4-0 two shots later.

The biggest news could come Friday when it will be determined whether the league takes disciplinary action against defenseman Tyson Strachan for his open-ice hit on Jason Chimura.

Chimura hit the ice hard after Strachan's hit and stayed down on the ice before returning. Strachan was hit with a major penalty and an ejection. Ovechkin scored 20 seconds after Strachan headed to the visitor's locker room for a 5-0 lead.

The Panthers defensive depth is tapped as they have already used 11 different defensemen this season. Brendon Nash, who played in two games with Montreal last season, has likely been summoned to Sunrise.

Strachan declined to comment after the game.

"I'll have to take a good look at it,'' Dineen said. "It's a moot point whatever the coach says because that's going to be handled on a different level. I have a strong amount of respect when the league makes those decisions. We'll see how it plays out.''

REALIGNMENT

The days of the Panthers and Capitals battling it out for the Southeast Division title are probably over -- since this is the last season the two will share the same division at least for the next two years.

The NHLPA approved the NHL's realignment plan, one that puts the Panthers in a new division with the Lightning and six other (all north of New York City) teams.

Florida's new division 'rivals': Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Boston, Toronto, Montreal and Detroit. With the realignment comes a playoff format change with teams within the division playing each other in the postseason.

The new divisions -- the other three teams in the Southeast (Winnipeg, Washington and Carolina) are moving elsewhere -- go into effect next season with the setup being examined after two seasons.

"This is the hand we've been dealt and there's nothing we can do about it,'' Skille said. "This was the league's choice and we just have to win some games in that division. There's a lot of Canadian people who live in Florida so we'll have the barn packed.''

FRIDAY: JETS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Jets lead 41-31-5
The game: Florida snapped a three-game losing streak by beating the Jets on Tuesday. Winnipeg has spent the week in the Sunshine State and played Tampa Bay on Thursday. Florida is expected to have Jacob Markstrom back in net after he was pulled Thursday in Washington. Markstrom made 30 saves against the Jets.

STEPHEN WEISS: Wrist Surgery Only Option ... Realizes Sunday May Have Been Last Game with #FlaPanthers, Welcomes Return

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Panthers center Stephen Weiss said Wednesday morning the pain in his right wrist was so severe he wasn't helping himself or his team.

After consulting with specialists at the Cleveland Clinic on Monday, Weiss made the decision to have season-ending surgery.

"It doesn't make sense to keep playing like this,'' he said. "I have to get it fixed. .-.-. You can't fake your way through this league. It's too good.''

Weiss said the procedure, which he had once before at the end of the 2008-09 season, would be done in Cleveland on Tuesday by Dr. Thomas Graham. Weiss also had surgery on his left wrist in 2006. He has been told he would be able to shoot pucks again in three months.

Weiss said he has had pain in the wrist for over a year and had an MRI done last year that showed he had a problem. Weiss said not properly taping it during NHL lockout workouts and the repetitiveness of taking shot after shot likely contributed to the deterioration.

"This surgery was the last resort. I didn't want to have a second one done,'' said Weiss, who had just one goal off 19 shots in 17 games this season. Weiss averaged 2.12 shots per game and 23 goals per year over the past three seasons.

"As this season went on, it became evident I couldn't play the way I need to be effective and help the team win games and be the player I need to be. I need to get this thing fixed once and for all and get a fresh start with a healthy wrist when I'm ready to go again.''

Weiss is the first to admit this isn't the best time to have a wrist problem.

A pending free agent, Weiss may have played his final game with the Panthers after more than a decade with the team. Drafted fourth overall at the 2001 draft held at the Panthers' arena in Sunrise, Weiss is in his 11th season with Florida.

Weiss said "he wouldn't have written" that Sunday's forgettable loss to Carolina would be his last with the Panthers. Yet, that may have been it for Weiss. And it is something that has crossed his mind.

"It kind of burns at me that is how I could be going out,'' Weiss said. "But that's life sometimes. You have to deal with the cards you're dealt. This is not an easy decision for myself or the team, but it's something that needs to be done. If it is the last game, it's the last game. I just hope everyone understands why I made this decision. It's been a good ride.''

Weiss, who turns 30 next month, hasn't ruled out a return to the Panthers, saying "it would be awesome to finish my career here.''

The reality is Weiss' agent and the organization haven't spoken about a new deal and the Panthers will likely want to see how this surgery goes before a new long-term deal is talked about.

Weiss said he would welcome a return to the Panthers and said he hopes to chat with the team "in the not-too distant future.''

"I started my career here and you don't see that too often, guys staying for one team,'' Weiss said. "That would be great. But they have to want me back. If they do, those will be decisions I have to make at some point. I'm going to look at all the options and see what's best for me moving forward.''

Weiss said during the lockout he wouldn't negotiate with the Panthers during the season as he didn't want it to be a distraction. Even though that isn't a concern now, general manager Dale Tallon said there is no rush to get something done.

Weiss' contract, signed six years ago and worth $3.1 million per season, expires July 1.

"He couldn't perform up to his capabilities, in his opinion, and he wanted to get it fixed," Tallon said. "It was difficult for him and for all of us. Stephen cares and he feels badly about it, but he's got to do what's best for him, too. This is a big year for him as well."

And although the Panthers haven't fully moved on without Weiss, Mike Santorelli has already taken over his long-time locker stall inside the BB&T Center. Prime real estate, that.

Coincidence Santorelli scored his first goal of the season in Tuesday's 4-1 win over the Jets?

"Maybe it brought me a little luck,'' Santorelli said.

PHOTOS BY JOE RIMKUS JR./Miami Herald Staff

STEPHEN WEISS: Wrist Surgery Only Option ... Realizes Sunday May Have Been Last Game with #FlaPanthers, Welcomes Return

STEPHEN WEISS: Wrist Surgery Only Option ... Realizes Sunday May Have Been Last Game with #FlaPanthers, Welcomes Return

STEPHEN WEISS: Wrist Surgery Only Option ... Realizes Sunday May Have Been Last Game with #FlaPanthers, Welcomes Return

March 06, 2013

STEPHEN WEISS: Wrist Surgery Only Option ... Realizes Sunday May Have Been Last Game with #FlaPanthers, Welcomes Return

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Panthers center Stephen Weiss said Wednesday morning the pain in his right wrist was so severe he wasn't helping himself or his team.

After consulting with specialists at the Cleveland Clinic on Monday, Weiss made the decision to have season-ending surgery.

"It doesn't make sense to keep playing like this,'' he said. "I have to get it fixed. .-.-. You can't fake your way through this league. It's too good.''

Weiss said the procedure, which he had once before at the end of the 2008-09 season, would be done in Cleveland on Tuesday by Dr. Thomas Graham. Weiss also had surgery on his left wrist in 2006. He has been told he would be able to shoot pucks again in three months.

Weiss said he has had pain in the wrist for over a year and had an MRI done last year that showed he had a problem. Weiss said not properly taping it during NHL lockout workouts and the repetitiveness of taking shot after shot likely contributed to the deterioration.

"This surgery was the last resort. I didn't want to have a second one done,'' said Weiss, who had just one goal off 19 shots in 17 games this season. Weiss averaged 2.12 shots per game and 23 goals per year over the past three seasons.

"As this season went on, it became evident I couldn't play the way I need to be effective and help the team win games and be the player I need to be. I need to get this thing fixed once and for all and get a fresh start with a healthy wrist when I'm ready to go again.''

Weiss is the first to admit this isn't the best time to have a wrist problem.

A pending free agent, Weiss may have played his final game with the Panthers after more than a decade with the team. Drafted fourth overall at the 2001 draft held at the Panthers' arena in Sunrise, Weiss is in his 11th season with Florida.

Weiss said "he wouldn't have written" that Sunday's forgettable loss to Carolina would be his last with the Panthers. Yet, that may have been it for Weiss. And it is something that has crossed his mind.

"It kind of burns at me that is how I could be going out,'' Weiss said. "But that's life sometimes. You have to deal with the cards you're dealt. This is not an easy decision for myself or the team, but it's something that needs to be done. If it is the last game, it's the last game. I just hope everyone understands why I made this decision. It's been a good ride.''

Weiss, who turns 30 next month, hasn't ruled out a return to the Panthers, saying "it would be awesome to finish my career here.''

The reality is Weiss' agent and the organization haven't spoken about a new deal and the Panthers will likely want to see how this surgery goes before a new long-term deal is talked about.

Weiss said he would welcome a return to the Panthers and said he hopes to chat with the team "in the not-too distant future.''

"I started my career here and you don't see that too often, guys staying for one team,'' Weiss said. "That would be great. But they have to want me back. If they do, those will be decisions I have to make at some point. I'm going to look at all the options and see what's best for me moving forward.''

Weiss said during the lockout he wouldn't negotiate with the Panthers during the season as he didn't want it to be a distraction. Even though that isn't a concern now, general manager Dale Tallon said there is no rush to get something done.

Weiss' contract, signed six years ago and worth $3.1 million per season, expires July 1.

"He couldn't perform up to his capabilities, in his opinion, and he wanted to get it fixed," Tallon said. "It was difficult for him and for all of us. Stephen cares and he feels badly about it, but he's got to do what's best for him, too. This is a big year for him as well."

And although the Panthers haven't fully moved on without Weiss, Mike Santorelli has already taken over his long-time locker stall inside the BB&T Center. Prime real estate, that.

Coincidence Santorelli scored his first goal of the season in Tuesday's 4-1 win over the Jets?

"Maybe it brought me a little luck,'' Santorelli said.

PHOTOS BY JOE RIMKUS JR./Miami Herald Staff

STEPHEN WEISS: Wrist Surgery Only Option ... Realizes Sunday May Have Been Last Game with #FlaPanthers, Welcomes Return

STEPHEN WEISS: Wrist Surgery Only Option ... Realizes Sunday May Have Been Last Game with #FlaPanthers, Welcomes Return

STEPHEN WEISS: Wrist Surgery Only Option ... Realizes Sunday May Have Been Last Game with #FlaPanthers, Welcomes Return

PANTHERS WEDNESDAY NOTEBOOK: Hey, Hey It's Santorelli ... Shawn Matthias' Highlight Goal

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Stephen Weiss' long time home inside the Panthers' arena now has a new occupant as Mike Santorelli has moved in.

Santorelli admits it is strange to be in Weiss' old spot at the front of the locker room at BB&T Center but after scoring his first goal of the season Tuesday, he hopes to put down roots in that location.

"Maybe it brought me a little luck,'' said Santorelli, who notched his first NHL goal of the season Tuesday.

"It's a change, but sometimes change is good right? It's nice to get this first goal, it took a little bit, but it's something I haven't been thinking about. I'm just trying to let the game come to me.''

Santorelli, in the final season of a two-year deal, was placed on waivers after training camp but started the season with the Panthers.

A healthy scratch for three of the first five games, Santorelli was sent to AHL San Antonio where he found his scoring touch with two goals and five points in seven games.

"I had a lot of fun down there, played to my strengths,'' said Santorelli, who has played in seven of eight games since being recalled Feb. 19.

-- Shawn Matthias had about as pretty a goal as there is Tuesday as he used the skating and puckhandling skills everyone raved about when he went strong up the middle and went around defenseman Mark Stuart before firing a wrister past Ondrej Pavelec.

"It was just reaction," Matthias said. "When you play like that, you just let your body take over and hope it works. It did. It felt good.''

Said Dineen: “I’ve seen that play out of Shawn before. I know he has that in his bag of tricks. I like when he explodes outside as well and I think that sets up that move. It was a beautiful goal. It’s a nice way to finish off a very strong game. There was a very nice goal by Shawn Matthias, but he had a very well-rounded game as well.”

-- Dineen said he was happy rookie Jacob Markstrom picked up his first victory of the season. Markstrom, Florida's new starter in net, has given up just seven goals in three NHL starts this year.

“That was good for him to get the win,'' Dineen said. "He was a difference-maker. They pushed at different times and I think he responded very well.”

-- The Panthers had originally planned to practice in Coral Springs on Wednesday but decided to leave for Washington a few hours early because of the massive snow storm in the region.

THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT CAPITALS
When, Where: 7 p.m.; Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Washington leads 51-46-9
The game: Washington has embarrassed the Panthers so far this season as the Capitals won a home-and-home series by outscoring Florida 11-5. Washington rallied from a 5-3 third-period deficit on Feb. 12 to win 6-5 in overtime. The Caps have won two straight and rallied from a 3-0 hole to beat Boston on Tuesday.

March 05, 2013

BANGED-UP PANTHERS ROLL: Cats, Without Weiss and Others, Top Winnipeg 4-1 ... Markstrom Strong in Net

PANTHERS 4, JETS 1

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When general manager Dale Tallon met with the media Tuesday morning to update the Panthers' injury situation, he did so from memory.

Impressive, considering the list seems to be growing by the hour.

Tallon left the biggest news until last: Stephen Weiss, the franchise's all-time leader in games played, will undergo season-ending wrist surgery.

The Panthers may have eight regulars on the shelf but they played a complete game on Tuesday as they ended a three-game losing streak with a 4-1 win over Winnipeg at BB&T Center.

"Things are just day-to-day for us,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "That's the way the season has been. Every day, you have a long-term plan, but you throw some audibles in there. Getting a hard-earned win like this gives you breath for a day. That's a good thing.''

Tallon's bombshell regarding Weiss came hours before rookie Jacob Markstrom took over as Florida's starting goaltender for what the franchise hopes is a very long time.

Markstrom, 23, made 30 saves in his third start of the season and 11th of his brief NHL career. Tuesday's game came with an asterisk, however, as it was his first after being anointed Florida's starter. Markstrom said he didn't treat Tuesday's game differently than any other.

"I'm just going out to play and have as much fun as possible, play as well as I can,' said Markstrom, who has surrendered seven goals in three starts.

Pegged as Florida's 'goalie of the future' since being the 31st overall pick in 2008, the Markstrom Era began a little sooner than the Panthers had hoped. Jose Theodore tore a groin muscle early in Saturday's loss at Carolina and is out indefinitely.

"We were hoping to hold off, but lets go,'' Tallon said Tuesday morning. "Lets see if he can do it. I'm very confident he can.''

Said coach Kevin Dineen: "It's time to stop talking about potential and get to the real deal.''

Markstrom played well in net and got goal support from all over: Tomas Kopecky, Shawn Matthias, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mike Santorelli all scored.

Huberdeau, Florida's rookie of the year candidate, scored his team-leading 11th goal as he became the first in franchise history to score on two penalty shots in the same season. Huberdeau also became the first rookie to do it in over a decade.

"I'm just trying to create my chance and that led to the penalty shot,'' Huberdeau said. "If there was an assist, give it to Peter Mueller. He set me up on both of them.''

Markstrom's first game as Florida's starter may have been in its first of many without Weiss.

After more than a decade since joining the team and becoming the face of the franchise, Weiss' final game with the Panthers may have been Sunday's forgettable 3-2 loss to Carolina.

A pending free agent, Weiss says he needs wrist surgery after undergoing similar surgery in 2009.

Weiss, in his 11th season, was having his worst statistical season since his rookie season in 2002-03 when he had one goal in his first 32 games as he had one goal on just 19 shots.

"It has not been easy,'' Tallon said. "This was not good news to start the day. But that's part of hockey, part of this condensed season. It's opportunity for others to show their worth.''

It was obvious there was something wrong with Weiss with teammates saying he had trouble gripping the stick. Weiss, who turns 30 on April 3, came into Tuesday's game ranked tied for 736th -- dead last -- in the NHL with a minus-13 rating.

"If he's not able to shoot on the power play then it renders him ineffective,'' Dineen said. "We saw a different player in the past. It obviously affected his game.''

Florida is also down three regular defensemen in Dmitry Kulikov (out a month), Mike Weaver (four-to-six weeks) and Ed Jovanovski (10 days at least). Weiss is one of four forwards out. The others: Sean Bergenheim (season), Kris Versteeg (day-to-day) and Scottie Upshall (week).

Jon Rheault, 26, was the latest to be called up and made his NHL debut Tuesday. He was one of eight in Florida's lineup who had played in the minors this season.

"Give me 18 players and I'm ready to go,'' Dineen said. "You can't worry about or control things until guys are back. The players here know what our situation is now.''

March 02, 2013

PANTHERS LIMP HOME FROM CAROLINA: Theodore, Kulikov Hurt in 6-2 Loss to Hurricanes ... Panthers Recall Jacob Markstrom, Expected to Start in Sunday's Rematch

HURRICANES 6, PANTHERS 2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Panthers lost three players, including goalie Jose Theodore, during Saturday's blowout 6-2 loss to the host Hurricanes and now turn to their minor league team in San Antonio for reinforcement.

Florida plays host to Carolina in Sunday's rematch at 6 p.m. and at least two players -- including probable starting goalie Jacob Markstrom -- will catch early flights to try and help the Panthers stem the proverbial bleeding.

With Saturday's loss, the Panthers slid six points back of the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes.

Coach Kevin Dineen and defenseman Brian Campbell refused to use the injuries as a reason for Saturday's dreadful showing.

"It's a great excuse for as bad as we started that game, as unprepared as we looked,'' said Dineen, whose team also played the third without Stephen Weiss after he was ejected for fighting.

"You can blame it on injuries but that's the ultimate cop out. It was a big game against the divisional leader and we could have reeled them in. We weren't prepared from the drop of the puck. And that leads to injury. If you don't have your game face, well, it's a man's game out there.''

The biggest loss came early when Theodore was helped off the ice after he appeared to re-injure his troublesome right knee. Theodore, playing a Jussi Jokinen slap shot 2:22 in, stayed face down on the ice in obvious pain.

Theodore, who missed parts of last season -- including the playoffs -- with a knee injury, didn't put weight on his right leg as he left the ice. Theodore was seen walking without crutches but with a pronounced limp after the game.

Dineen said Theodore would be out for some time and that Markstrom would be headed to South Florida. Markstrom was held out of Saturday's game in San Antonio as he is expected to start Sunday against Carolina.

Markstrom was 0-2 last month in giving up three goals to both Pittsburgh and Boston. Florida sent him back to San Antonio because it didn't want to carry three goalies as it appeared Scott Clemmensen was out of his early-season rut.

With Theodore out for the foreseeable future, Markstrom is not considered a roster luxury anymore.

Clemmensen replaced Theodore and gave up goals on three consecutive shots in a three-minute span during the first -- although Florida's defense didn't offer much help.

"We made it tough on ourselves,'' said Filip Kuba, who scored his first goal of the season but was part of Carolina's second of the night. "We knew they were going to come out hard, forecheck hard. We didn't respond to that. The whole night was a horrible effort from us.''

Clemmensen was quickly down 3-0 before Shawn Matthias scored to make it 3-1. But the Hurricanes added two more in the second and went into the third up 5-2. Clemmensen, who was pulled in the first period of Thursday's shootout loss to the Sabres, made 27 saves.

After Theodore left the ice, the Panthers' training room at PNC Arena filled up quick.

Florida also lost defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (wrist/hand) after he lost his footing and went down hard onto the ice and into the boards.

Scottie Upshall, playing in his first game since Jan. 31 because of an injured akle, left with an undisclosed lower body injury. Jack Skille (upper) left but returned and played in the third period.

Defenseman Nolan Yonkman, 31, may take Kulikov's spot on Sunday.

"It doesn't matter who is out there, you still have to play,'' Campbell said. "You can't control who is out and who is in. If you want to be a good team, you don't use excuses.''

As far as forwards go, expect Mike Santorelli (scratched Saturday) and could Kris Versteeg (chest injury) in on Sunday.

BERGENHEIM GETS PAID

Assistant general manager Mike Santos said injured winger Sean Bergenheim would come off the suspended list on Monday after Bergenheim won his medical grievance over the Panthers on Friday.

Bergenheim is expected to meet with team doctors to determine the next course of action -- which is believed to be sports hernia surgery which would cost him the remainder of the season. Santos would not confirm that.

Bergenheim, suspended since he was thought to be injured while playing in Finland during the lockout, will be paid his entire salary for this season going back to the lockout.