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45 posts from October 2013

October 03, 2013

PANTHERS WIN THRILLER IN DALLAS: Thomas Strong as Cats Top Stars 4-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DALLAS -- Tim Thomas said his custom painted mask won't be ready for another few weeks so he has been playing in a plain white model it looks like he just purchased from the local pro shop.


Hey, whatever works.

 

If Thomas continues to get the results like he did Thursday night, the Panthers wouldn't care if he wore a Halloween mask in games.

Thomas did everything his new team hoped he would Thursday in making 25 saves to lead Florida to a 4-2 opening night win over the Stars at AmericanAirlines Center.

"I said after the first, 'how good is Thomas?'," Florida's Scottie Upshall said afterward. "He makes the saves, catches the puck. He's the backbone of this team.''

Florida, which has won its past three season openers under coach Kevin Dineen, looks for its second win in 2013-14 on Saturday when their four-game road trip continues in St. Louis. The trip continues with stops in Philadelphia and Tampa before the home opener Oct. 11 against Pittsburgh.

The Panthers trailed 2-1 midway through the third period when Aleksander Barkov got his first NHL goal when he continued to play a puck through traffic at the foot of the goal. Barkov was able to seize control of the puck, spin and slip it through a large crowd of players from both teams.

Barkov, the second overall pick of a draft held four months ago, was credited with his initial NHL goal on his third NHL shot.

"That was a huge goal for us,'' Thomas said. "The character these guys are showing is awesome. This was a very important game for us to win. Guys made the sacrifices.''

Florida took its second and final lead of the night when Marcel Goc fired a sweet feed from linemate Tomas Fleischmann past Kari Lehtonen with 4:55 left. Goc's goal came on the Panthers' 37th shot of the night and came not long after Erik Gudbranson blocked a point-blank shot by going down to the ice.

"My ribs hurt when I saw that shot,'' Dineen said. "That's a sign of what we're trying to establish here: You are playing for the team. There's no better example than that one.''

Goc got his second goal of the night with 1:19 left in the game when he picked off a loose puck and fired it into an empty net.

A five-time All-Star and two-time winner of the league's top goalie award, Thomas was sharp and kept Florida in Thursday's game. Both of Dallas' goals came when Thomas was down on the ice and out of position to make a stop.

Dallas broke a 1-1 tie with 12:28 left in the third off a shorthanded rush. Thomas stopped the initial shot from Antoine Roussel but the rebound was knocked into the net by Brenden Dillon off Dallas' 25th shot of the night.

Thomas kept the Panthers going after a slow start in which Dallas was skating circles around its opposition following a rousing opening ceremony.

Florida didn't get its first shot of the night off until Shawn Matthias had a great scoring chance stopped by Kari Lehtonen almost eight minutes into the game.

"I try to stop every puck,''Thomas said. "I don't look at it as keeping my team in it. My job is to stop them all.''

The Panthers showed signs of life a few minutes later when defenseman Mike Weaver jumped Roussel for messing with Thomas.

During Weaver's fight, Dmitry Kulikov and Ryan Garbutt slugged it out. By starting a second fight, both players were thrown out meaning the Panthers played one defenseman down.

Scott Gomez, who signed with the Panthers after a short stint in San Jose, scored Florida's first goal of the season when he popped a loose puck off a Scottie Upshall shot over Lehtonen's head and into the net with 2:19 left in the first.

Thomas, who led Boston to the Stanley Cup championship in 2011, continued to look sharp and kept the Stars off the board until he got wrapped up with new teammate Tom Gilbert.

Thomas was playing the right post before he and Gilbert collided. Thomas unsuccessfully dove at Alex Chaisson's shot which went into a vacated net 7:25 into the second.

 

SCOTT CLEMMENSEN TO SAN ANTONIO: Length of Stay in Minors Not Known for Panthers Goalie

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DALLAS -- Scott Clemmensen skated onto the ice with his teammates for Thursday's morning skate but watched most of the workout from the bench.

When Clemmensen rejoins his team is not known.

Clemmensen is currently on the injured list after having minor knee surgery last week. Clemmensen cleared waivers at 11 a.m. local time and coach Kevin Dineen said Clemmensen would stay behind in Texas to get a rehabilitation stint with Florida's AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Dineen said the plan is for Clemmensen to get not only a few starts with the Rampage but also full practice time, something he hasn't been able to do with two other goalies with the Panthers.

Clemmensen, who began practicing with the Panthers this week, should get his first start since last April on Saturday when the Rampage play host to the Rockford, Ill., Icehogs.

"He's going to get a game this weekend and one next weekend as well,'' Dineen said. "He's also going to get five days of practice and have the net to himself.

"Getting into games is really important for his rehabilitation. He's been fully cleared to play. That's where he's going to start and we'll revaluate the situation. For the short term, he passed through waivers and he's going to get to play some hockey in San Antonio.''

Whether Clemmensen stays in San Antonio after his allotted rehab time will be determined later.

After signing Tim Thomas last week, the Panthers helped their depth at the position but also created a glut with either Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom needing to go to San Antonio.

Markstrom, 23, is considered Florida's goalie-in-waiting and one of the reason general manager Dale Tallon said he brought Thomas in was to help mentor Markstrom. Markstrom took over the starting role in Florida last season when Jose Theodore was injured in March.

If Clemmensen is sent to the minors, Florida will continue to pay his NHL salary of $1.3 million. Clemmensen hasn't played in the minors since 2009.

"To me this is a good thing,'' Dineen said of Clemmensen going to San Antonio. "It's no fun for Scott to have to go down, but at the end of it, we have stability in goal. You can't have enough of that.

"As of next Monday, our management staff will sit down and talk about what's best for our team. We expect our goaltending to be a strength this year. But this is all talk. Let's play and let things sort themselves out.''

VEEP VIOLA

Travis Viola, the youngest of owner Vinnie Viola's three sons, officially joined the team's front office Thursday as Vice President of Hockey Operations and Special Projects.

The 25-year-old Viola, whom his dad credited with getting him involved in buying an NHL team, is a graduate of Fordham University and lives in South Florida.

 

October 02, 2013

NEW LIFE FOR PANTHERS: Florida Kicks off Season With Renewed Hope After Tallon's Moves

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

When training camp opened last month, the lack of enthusiasm surrounding the Florida Panthers was quite noticeable.

Picked by most pundits to repeat last season's last-place finish, the Panthers didn't seem to have much life.


In the three weeks from the start of camp until Thursday night's season opener, however, there has been a most definite change.

The Panthers may still finish near the bottom of the standings, only now they feel they have a chance to do more. General manager Dale Tallon was able to bring in NHL veterans to supplant a supposed youth (meaning much more inexpensive) moveme

"That's a good thing. We have a better pace because guys are working harder. They know we have others who can take their jobs. We had opportunities and then we added veteran guys on one-year contracts. They are playing to prove something. That allows our kids to develop, play a little longer in San Antonio. That's a good thing.''

As the team was in the process of being sold to New York investor Vinnie Viola, Tallon was under orders to keep costs down.

Coming into camp, the biggest offseason moves the Panthers made were letting Stephen Weiss walk away to Detroit without any sense of a fight and bringing in veteran Scott Gomez to replace him -- on the roster, anyway.

Yet as the ownership picture cleared up, so too did the dark skies hovering above the Panthers.

Tallon lured free agent goalie Tim Thomas just before Florida's first preseason game. Thomas, a two-time Vezina winner and a Stanley Cup champion, signed a one-year deal at a base salary of $2.5 million.

The Panthers also brought in free agent winger Brad Boyes -- who has 407 points in 606 NHL games -- as well as veteran defensemen Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney. Enforcer Krys Barch was also brought back in a deal with New Jersey.

"I think there are a lot of guys here with a lot to prove,'' Whitney said. "I think we're going to be ready to play, ready to surprise some people. We play in a tough division but it's going to be up to us to be successful.''

Although Tallon didn't break the bank with any of these signings -- aside from Thomas, no one will top the $1 million mark -- he greatly helped the team's depth by taking advantage of the lowered salary cap by finding bargains once camps opened.

And now, instead of going into games with a lineup of fresh-faced youngsters, the Panthers now go into the fight with players who have been there before.

Florida will still go into the season with a trio of kids in Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Erik Gudbranson, although the talent those three possess is hard to dismiss.

Aside from those three, Florida is a veteran laden team, something that wasn't expected when September began.

All told, Tallon added over $5 million to the Panthers' payroll in the past few weeks -- a number that could increase if Thomas reaches a series of incentives.

"A player on a one-year contract is a motivated player,'' coach Kevin Dineen said. "They want to make an impression. We expect good things out of those. We have good people. At the end of it, our new ownership has made a statement that they are willing to fill some holes. Dale has done a wonderful job of finding players who fit within our team and our budget.''

Florida goes into the opener in Dallas with the chance to have nine players who weren't in last year's lineup. The Panthers suffered through the lockout-shortened 2013 season by finishing last in the league for the first time in franchise history.

The Panthers were beset by injury in 2013, with a dozen players missing significant time as the team limped to the finish line with eight regulars out of the lineup in the final weeks because of various injuries.

"We're better than we were,'' Tallon said. "We have more tools, more depth and more assets available than we did last year. We'll see how it all fits. We want to compete for a playoff spot, compete for a division like we did two years ago.''

This training camp has been good to the Panthers as only three players -- Nick Bjugstad (concussion), Steve Pinizzotto (hip) and Scott Clemmensen (knee) -- unexpectedly joined the injured list.

When the Panthers start the season Thursday in Dallas, they do so with pretty much the lineup they expect to have throughout the year.

By going into a much tougher division, the Panthers need all the help they can get. Florida is considered to be outside the playoff picture with the likes of new divisional rivals Detroit, Boston, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa fighting for those positions. Florida is also joined in the new Atlantic Division by Tampa Bay and Buffalo.

"There's no hiding. We'll be what we are,'' Dineen said. "We'll be ready to start on Thursday and go from there. I'm not big on 'me against the world.' Sometimes the dog on top has just as much fun as the underdog.''

SEASON OPENER -- THURSDAY: PANTHERS AT STARS

When, Where: 8 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Center, Dallas

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Tied 11-11-3

Scouting report: The Stars have an all-new look from their snazzy new jerseys and logo to former Buffalo Lindy Ruff and general manager Jim Nill. The Stars made a big splash in the offseason by acquiring Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff. Florida last won in Dallas on Nov. 15, 2011. The Panthers are 9-7-2 (one tie) all-time in season openers and have won three of their past four.

 

October 01, 2013

PANTHERS NOTEBOOK: Whitney Arrives in Town; Opening Night Roster Set

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Ryan Whitney admitted he had a stressful few days after being released from his professional try out by St. Louis last week.

After returning home, Whitney wondered how long he would be out of work. The wait wasn't long at all. Whitney and the Panthers worked out a deal on Sunday.

Whitney, no relation to former Florida winger Ray Whitney, brings plenty of experience to Florida's blue line as he has played in almost 500 NHL games.

"This is a fresh start for me. I'm excited,'' Whitney said. "This is a place I want to be. I'm thrilled.''

-- There were no surprises as the Panthers' released their 23-man roster on Tuesday. Florida, which will carry two extra forwards and an additional defenseman, placed five players on the injured list.

Coach Kevin Dineen said it's possible all five could be on this upcoming road trip to start the season and possibly play soon after their one week stint on the IR is over.

The players on the IR closest to return include Ed Jovanovski, Scott Clemmensen and Sean Bergenheim.

-- The Panthers plan to practice Wednesday at the Iceplex at 10:30 a.m. before leaving for Dallas.

As always, the workout is free and open to the public.

 

'UNLIMITED POTENTIAL:' Barkov and Huberdeau Give a Glimpse into Florida Panthers Future

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

It's not known how long they will stay together, at least initially.

Yet Panthers general manager Dale Tallon sure liked what he saw Tuesday as Aleksander Barkov worked at center, feeding pucks to Jonathan Huberdeau on the wing.

The thought of having exactly that combo not only this season but for years to come is something Tallon envisioned when he took Barkov with the second overall at the NHL draft last June. Huberdeau was the third overall pick in 2010. Neither can legally purchase alcohol in the state of Florida.

"It's exciting to see that,'' said Tallon, the Panthers' general manager. "Lets give it a shot. Why not? They are the cornerstones of our franchise moving down the road. It would be nice if they could hit it off and I think they will. We're going to see them for a long time.''

Regardless of who he plays with, Barkov will make his NHL debut on Thursday in Dallas less than three months after the Panthers selected him in the draft.

"I'm not nervous but I am very excited. This will be the best day in my life,'' Barkov said. "I've always dreamed about playing in the NHL and now it's coming true.''

The Panthers are expecting Huberdeau and Barkov to create some offense either together -- as they may be in Thursday's opener -- or apart.

Barkov centered Brad Boyes (who remained his right winger this week in practice) and Kris Versteeg in Saturday's preseason finale.

Versteeg was with center Marcel Goc and left wing Tomas Fleischmann -- Florida's leading scorer in 2013 -- on Tuesday.

"We're continuing to get a feel for how guys are rolling,'' coach Kevin Dineen said.

"To me, Jon has already proved his potential to be a top-tier player in this league. [Barkov] has that potential. But right now, that's a little premature.''

Barkov and Huberdeau playing together seems like a natural fit.

Huberdeau was the third selection in the 2011 draft and stayed behind and played junior hockey that following season. Huberdeau was with the Panthers for the entirety of the lockout-shortened 2013 season, scoring 14 goals and winning the league's rookie of the year award in the process.

Huberdeau, 20, played with a hip condition that required surgery in the offseason, time off Huberdeau used to strengthen his upper body by adding 10 pounds of muscle.

Now healthy, Huberdeau expects to continue being one of Florida's most counted on offensive threats.

"I'm feeling really good but I need to take care of this every day,'' Huberdeau said of the injury. "I'm 100 percent and ready to go Thursday. I know I have some pressure there but it's not coming from me. There wasn't much expectation for me last year, I just wanted to help out. I'm going to do the same thing I did last year.''

Barkov says he feels no pressure to try and follow up Huberdeau's season and win the Panthers a second Calder Trophy.

After spending the past two seasons playing professionally in Finland, the 18-year-old Barkov has struggled in adjusting to the smaller ice surface as well as the biggest and faster players in the NHL.

That, however, is something the Panthers planned on. There is no panic as the organization is fine with the progress Barkov is making as they expect things to come to him sooner rather than later.

There is little question Barkov is an exceptional talent and the Panthers have been impressed with not only his skill, but with his aptitude for the game as well as his work ethic.

"I am playing with some skilled players right now and I have to play well to be able to keep doing that,'' Barkov said. "Jonathan has more experience at this level and I like playing with him. We'll see how it goes. I just want to play how I know how to play.''

Said Dineen: "I think he has unlimited potential."

PHOTO COURTESY KELSEY HINDS/Special to On Frozen Pond