November 15, 2015

TWO FOR TAMPA: Panthers get Sasha Barkov back for Lightning rematch

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- Panthers' coach Gerard Gallant said top-line center Sasha Barkov is ready to play and is expected to return to the lineup for Monday's rematch with the Lightning.
Barkov broke a bone in his hand while blocking a shot during Florida's loss in Chicago on Oct. 22.
"He looks great, ready to go,'' Gallant said Sunday afternoon. "Unless something happens Monday, he'll be playing."
With Barkov back in, the Panthers will have a little different look in their second game against the Lightning in a span of three days.
Gallant is expected to put his top line of Barkov, Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau back together on Monday.
Nick Bjugstad, who slid up to play on the top line, will go back to centering the second. Which player moves from center is in question, however, as Vincent Trocheck has been playing well but could go back to being a winger.
Florida will also have to sit an additional forward once Barkov is activated off the injured list.
Garrett Wilson sat out Saturday and Shawn Thornton, who went after Tampa's J.T. Brown after he leveled Dmitry Kulikov in the second period, could be an option to sit out.
Thornton and Brown had a few skirmishes in Florida's 5-4 shootout win with both sent to the locker room in the third period after receiving game misconducts.
Saturday's game was filled with little altercations as it's apparent these two teams do not like each other a whole lot.
"They are a close rival,'' Thornton said afterward.
-- Saturday's win was Florida's first in overtime this season as it improves to 1-3. The Panthers are 1-1 in shootouts.
Brandon Pirri, who scored on a penalty shot in the second, netted the only goal of the shootout.
-- Roberto Luongo is expected to be back in net after giving up four goals to the Lightning on Saturday.
Luongo joked about the second goal allowed in which his skate caught a rut in the ice as he was sliding into position, lost his footing and plopped on his backside just before Vladislav Namestnikov took a shot into what was now an empty net.
"It's obviously easier to digest after a win,'' Luongo said. "I thought the rivalry out there was between me and the puck."
Monday: Lightning at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, 1210 WMNA
Series: Florida leads 59-49-10
Scouting report: Florida won its first game in Tampa since the final game of the 2013 lockout-shortened season, snapping a four-game losing streak in Tampa. Florida was 1-1 against the Lightning in Sunrise last year.




November 14, 2015

WILD NIGHT IN TAMPA: Panthers tie up Lightning late, top Bolts 5-4 in shootout ... Aaron Ekblad ties it with 37.9 left ... Brandon Pirri beats Ben Bishop twice (PK, SO) ... Roberto Luongo stands tall at the end

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
TAMPA -- It looked like the Panthers were going to lose another game on Tampa Bay ice Saturday night before Aaron Ekblad changed the dynamic.
Florida, which trailed for big chunks of final period, tied the score on a 55-foot blast from Ekblad with just 37.9 seconds left before beating the Lightning 5-4 in a shootout.
The Panthers hadn't won in Tampa since 2013 -- a run of four consecutive losses.
The two rivals, who had their fair share of skirmishes during the 65-plus minute game, square off again Monday in Sunrise.
"That was just awesome,'' Ekblad said. "Guys are excited after a win like that. Confidence is what it's all about. It's a good rivalry, the Battle of Florida. Sometimes that gets overlooked.''
The two teams were tied at 3 after a wild session early in the second period when they both alternated goals on two occasions.
The first one, which gave the Lightning a 2-1 lead 1:02 into the period, came when Roberto Luongo caught something on his skate trying to slide into position.
Luongo landed on his backside and watched helplessly as Vladislav Namestinikov put the puck in the back of the net.
"I caught an edge, and couldn't really recover,'' Luongo said. "As I was going down, I saw the guy with the puck. I've had a lot of [embarassing] goals but this one is right up there. You guys are going to see it a lot.''
While Luongo didn't have his best night in making 24 saves, he did make some great ones in keeping the Panthers in it.
"This was definitely one of the craziest games I've ever played,'' Luongo said. "It was a good character win for the boys. We stuck with it, tied it at the end. It's nice to be rewarded.''
In overtime, Steven Stamkos was pulled down driving the net by Dave Bolland and was awarded a penalty shot. Luongo stopped that and gave the Panthers another shot.
Brandon Pirri led off the shootout with a goal on old pal Ben Bishop and that was all Florida needed as Luongo stopped three Tampa Bay shooters to send the Panthers south with a victory.
"I played Bishop a lot in the minors so it was kind of a thinking match,'' said Pirri, who beat Bishop in the second period on a penalty shot of his own to give Florida a 3-2 lead.
"We practice these all the time. When I got here, Luongo told me he was bad at this. But since I've been here, he stops more than he lets in. He gives us a chance every night.''
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead on a Jussi Jokinen goal as he tapped in a loose puck off a Vincent Trocheck shot.
Florida tied the score at 2 when Nick Bjugstad blew through the Tampa Bay defense and beat Bishop with a sharp wrister.
After Pirri's goal, the Panthers didn't get another until Ekblad wound up and fired off a power play face off.
Moments before, Pirri was robbed by an improbable blind kicksave by Bishop which would have tied things.
"It was exciting, a lot of open ice, a lot of chances,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We battled hard, very happy with the win obviously.''
-- The Panthers played down a defenseman for much of Saturday's game as Dmitry Kulikov was hurt after being hit along the boards by J.T. Brown.
Kulikov left the game after his lone shift of the second and didn't come back. Kulikov had been nursing a sore ankle.
-- Sasha Barkov once again skated with the Panthers before Saturday's game but didn't play.
Barkov, who broke a bone in his hand Oct. 22, could return Monday.


November 13, 2015

BACK TO TAMPA: Panthers aren't panicking as they open home-and-home series with Lightning ... Sasha Barkov could return against Bolts

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
It was hard to tell the Panthers have lost six of their past seven games based on the end of practice Friday afternoon.
The team laughed and seemed to enjoy their final moments on the ice before heading back to the locker room to pack their gear and head to the airport for a quick flight to Tampa.
"We're a game under .500, we're not happy about losing [Thursday] but it was a good, hard game and sometimes you don't win those,'' said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team is coming off a 3-2 loss to Buffalo.
"You have to wake up the next morning and start working it back up. You can't stay down, you have to have some fun and work hard."
Florida has a pair of games against the rival Lightning coming up with a home-and-home series starting Saturday at Amalie Arena and concluding Monday night in Sunrise.
The Panthers' recent rough patch is no reason for panic, players and coaches say, although they are well aware this is a pivotal stretch to their season.
"There's a difference between panic and a sense of urgency,'' goalie Roberto Luongo said.
"There's a lot of hockey left, but every game is important. You want to fall too far back because it's hard to come back. We have a good stretch of games against good teams, but we're at home. We need to get some swagger back into our game. We know we can beat anyone on any night.''
Gallant switched up some of his line combinations after a lethargic first period.
The move seemed to work as Florida dominated the second period on the ice, although a late Buffalo goal gave them a 2-1 lead heading into the third.
"We had a very good practice and I think we played good [Thursday] even though we lost,'' Jaromir Jagr said. "We did a lot of good things, cycled the puck, had a lot of scoring chances. We just didn't score. We just need to start winning. We need to regroup.''
On Friday, Gallant's line changes were back in effect as Jagr remains on the second line with Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen. Reilly Smith took Jagr's slot beside Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau.
"I just wanted to switch it up, we were just a little blah,'' Gallant said. "I thought we played a little better. Sometimes you have to change things up to change momentum. I thought it worked.''
The Panthers came into Friday four points back of the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference but only three points behind Tampa Bay and third place (and a playoff spot) in the Atlantic Division.
Expect quite a battle for the four points available to both Tampa Bay and Florida in the coming days.
"We're not happy with the results the past few games,'' Gallant said. "You have to keep playing, get back in the race. Do what you can do."
-- Center Sasha Barkov apparently met with the team doctor Thursday as Gallant was told he was cleared for full practice Friday.
Barkov worked as an extra on Florida's third line and could be back in the coming days.
There is a chance Barkov could return from a hand injury suffered Oct. 22 in one of the games against Tampa Bay.
"I'm not expecting him Saturday,'' Gallant said, adding Barkov would likely go back to centering Jagr and Huberdeau.
"We're looking at Monday, although I can't say he's not playing Saturday because I don't know.''
-- Gallant has been very successful on his coach's challenges this season and won Thursday's video review in which Tyler Ennis's goal was taken off the board after it was determined he was offside coming into the Florida zone.
"We get the information from our video coach Tommy Cruz and he relays it to our goalie coach Robb Tallas,'' Gallant said. "They look at it quickly and give you the best opinion they have. They've been pretty good with it. It's not easy because it happens real quick. We're confident they'll make the right calls.''
Saturday: Panthers at Lightning
When, where: 7 p.m.; Amalie Arena, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSFL; 1490 WMBM, 640 WMEN
Series: Florida leads 58-49-10
Scouting report: This is the first of five meetings between the cross-state, divisional rivals with two games in a span of three days. Florida is trying to win its first in Tampa since 2013. The Lightning has won seven of the past 10 against the Panthers on home ice.




November 12, 2015

BUFFALO SWEEP: The Sabres continue winning ways, end slide against Roberto Luongo and Florida Panthers ... Jonathan Huberdeau nets first of the season ... Sasha Barkov returns to practice

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
After years at the bottom of the NHL standings, the Buffalo Sabres appear ready to start moving up.
Thursday, the youthful and improving Sabres completed a rare (for them) Sunshine State sweep by finally beating Roberto Luongo and the Panthers 3-2 at BB&T Center.
"This one is one me, the guys worked hard in front of me and I need to be better,'' Luongo said. "The boys deserved a better fate. I didn't do my job. It's disappointing for me."
Buffalo, fresh off Tuesday's 4-1 win in Tampa, hadn't put a loss beside Luongo's name in quite some time as he came into the night riding a seven-game personal winning streak against Buffalo.
The Sabres had not handed Luongo a loss since Feb. 11, 2006 -- during Luongo's first stint with the Panthers. Buffalo did score three on Luongo in a no-decision back in 2012.
"It's going to happen, you can't have a team's number forever,'' said Luongo, who made 15 saves. "This was an important game for our team.''
Florida, meanwhile, won four of five against Buffalo last season and had gleaned at least a point out of the Sabres in nine consecutive matchups before Thursday.
The Sabres, with the two points taken from Sunrise, hopped Florida and Boston in the standings with 16 points and sit three points back of the final wild card spot.
The Panthers head to Tampa with losses in six of the past seven.
"I didn't like losing but we outshot them 2-to-1 so there wasn't a lot I didn't like,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We played pretty well, just didn't put the puck in the net. It is disappointing to lose. We gave up some bad goals at the wrong time."
Florida trailed 1-0 going into the second before Jonathan Huberdeau tied the score with his first goal of the season in game No. 16.
Huberdeau, Florida's leading scorer last season, celebrated by looking straight into the sky and sending his palms skyward although the Sabres tried dousing his celebration by challenging the goal.
Florida, after all, got Tyler Ennis' goal (which would have made it 2-0) overturned as Ennis was offside as he came into the Florida zone.
Huberdeau's goal stood as it appeared he was shoved into rookie goalie Linus Ullmark -- who was terrific for much of the night and ended with 36 saves.
"We had a lot of shots and lots of missed opportunities,'' Huberdeau said.
Buffalo finally got its second goal in the final 1:07 of the second after a marathon shift in which Cody Franson scored.
Down 3-1 in the third, Florida pulled within one when Vincent Trocheck deflected an Aaron Ekblad shot with four minutes remaining.
A last-ditch effort by the Panthers in the final minute came up without a goal, however.
-- Center Sasha Barkov returned to team activities Thursday as he took part in the morning skate.
Barkov, who broke a bone in his hand Oct. 22, took a number of shots and appeared to take in the full workout.
"I've tried to learn watching the games and be ready as soon as possible,'' Barkov said. "It's getting better every day; I can shoot more, shoot harder. I just need to get get into game shape.''
-- Jaromir Jagr, who had the secondary assist on Huberdeau's goal, played in his 1,564th NHL game tying him with Nicklas Lidstrom for 10th all time.


November 11, 2015

CLOSE TO RETURN: Sasha Barkov to resume practicing Thursday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Vincent Trocheck has been centering Florida's second line with Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen but he could be going back on the wing soon.
Coach Gerard Gallant said center Sasha Barkov is expected to return to practice Thursday after missing the past three weeks with a broken bone in his hand.
Barkov could return to center Florida's top line of Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau in the coming week or so.
"He's real good,'' Gallant said. "Not to get too far ahead, but everything is on schedule. They said 3-4 weeks and it will be three weeks [Thursday]. It will be day-to-day after that. I can't say he'll play this weekend or next weekend, but things are looking good. It will be nice to have him out there.''


CELEBRATE TONIGHT: Vincent Trocheck enjoying true breakout season with Florida Panthers ... Roberto Luongo digs Buffalo

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Vincent Trocheck got more attention from a goal he didn't score Tuesday than the one he did.
Trocheck gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead in an eventual 4-3 win over Calgary yet that was overshadowed by a premature goal celebration that almost came back to bite the Panthers.
With 6:25 left in the game, Trocheck backhanded a shot through the legs of Calgary goalie Karri Ramo.
Trocheck lifted his stick high in the air with his right arm as he celebrated with the crowd, only the puck careened off the post and back into play.
By the time Trocheck realized what happened, Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau was rushing up the ice, his breakaway thwarted by an Erik Gudbranson pokecheck.
Trocheck got back in the play with goalie Roberto Luongo making a terrific glove save on Kris Russell's slap shot to help save Florida's lead and prevent a Calgary comeback.
Although because of the timing of it, Nick Bjugstad said the Panthers couldn't give Trocheck too much grief at the time, they have definitely joked about it since.
"They haven't given it to me too bad, but I've heard a little,'' Trocheck said.
"I've given it to my self after that. Not much you can do. I thought it was in the net, the light was on. Little did I know by the time I turned around the puck was at the red line. I just busted my butt to get back. They had a couple good chances right there."
Trocheck figured he scored based on Ramo's reaction (he sprawled on the ice and cursed very loudly) as well as the goal light going off and the reaction from fans behind the net.
By the time he realized he was the only one not back in the Florida end of the ice, it was almost too late.
Trocheck got going as fast as he could and desperately got back on defense, diving to try and block Russell's shot.
"He likes to celebrate, doesn't he?'' coach Gerard Gallant said with a smile.
"It would have been on every highlight if they would have scored, that's for sure. He thought it was in, what do you do? It's one of those funny situations but fortunately Louie made the glove save."
Added Luongo: "Thank God it didn't end up in the back of our net. That would have been a pretty tough way to get scored on.''
Trocheck's play this season has been getting plenty of attention around the Panthers.
Now a full-time NHL player, Trocheck has solidified his spot on the roster and after his goal Tuesday, briefly led the Panthers in scoring with 11 points.
Jaromir Jagr, Florida's leading scorer since the second game of the season, retook his spot with a goal and assist on Tuesday.
"Playing a full season last year, getting 20 games before that, means I'm inching my way forward and gives me more confidence,'' Trocheck said.
Thursday: Sabres at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, 1210 WNMA
Series: Buffalo leads 45-36-4
Scouting report: Roberto Luongo seems to love playing Buffalo. Luongo, who beat the Sabres here 3-2 last month, has won eight of nine against the Sabres and seven straight. Buffalo has just seven goals in the past five games against Luongo as he has shutout the Sabres four times since 2013.


November 10, 2015

CLOSED DOOR WIN: Panthers snap slide with 4-3 win over Flames, team meets to discuss how it happened afterward ... Jagr gets goal, assist

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
After dropping five straight games, the Panthers were in desperate need of a win Tuesday night.
Florida's losing streak dated to Jaromir Jagr's first game out of the lineup due to injury. It's probably no coincidence the slide came to an end with the reemergence of Jagr on the scoresheet.
Jagr scored what was the go-ahead and game-winning goal midway through the third leading the Panthers to a hard-fought 4-3 win at BB&T Center.
Before Jagr fed Aaron Ekblad with a sweet cross-ice pass for Florida's third goal of the night, Jagr hadn't registered a point in over two weeks.
"I'm glad we won because sometimes when you've lost five straight, things snowball,'' said Jagr, who gave the Panthers a 4-3 lead with his first goal since Oct. 24 in Dallas.
"Everyone was looking for the first one; now we have to make sure we get the next one and the next one to get back in the race.''
Florida, which had been winless in five with two points taken away from the losses, weren't very happy with just winning a game.
Afterward, the team held a lengthy closed-door meeting to talk about their shortcomings of late.
Winning, goalie Roberto Luongo stated, is great but Florida won't get many more playing like that.
"We have some tough tests ahead and we need to play better if we want to win,'' said Luongo, who made 25 saves.
"We didn't play our best hockey and fortunately, we didn't pay for it. Different circumstances and we probably don't win. We're happy with the win, no doubt, but we need to be better."
The Panthers jumped all over Calgary goalie Karri Ramo and took a 3-1 lead early in the second off Ekblad's easy (thanks to Jagr) goal.
The Flames, a second-round playoff team in a rough Western Conference last year, battled back and scored back-to-back goals to tie the score going into the third.
"We made some mistakes that cost us a 3-1 lead but overall we played pretty well,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
Said Jagr: "That was a strange game. Two of the goals, we gave them."
The Panthers started putting the heat back on the Flames in the third and retook the lead when Jagr pulled the puck in as he slipped through the slot and slid a shot that found its way past Ramo.
"We need that from our guys,'' Gallant said. "It wasn't a perfect game, but one we fought for and really needed.''
The Panthers, who hadn't beaten the Flames in Sunrise since 2011, kicked off a stretch of eight consecutive games either at home or in Tampa.
Florida needs to pick up quite a few of those 16 available points to stay in the playoff conversation.
"We won, and that's a good thing, but we don't feel like we played our best,'' Jagr said. "Those seven home games, we need to play our best hockey and put some wins together. We should play a little better."
-- To commemorate Veterans Day, the Panthers wore (and later auctioned off) camouflage jerseys during warmups as well as honored retired U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Raymond T. Odierno.
Odierno, who retired in August, spoke to the Panthers in their locker room following morning skate and dropped the ceremonial first puck prior to the game.
The team also made a $50,000 donation to veterans' charity Operation Lift Hope during the game.
-- Connor Brickley was sent to Florida's AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine, after being a healthy scratch in three straight games.




November 09, 2015

READY TO TURN ON THE FAUCET: Jonathan Huberdeau without a goal in first 14 games, says Game 15 a good time to get started ... Dave Bolland back for Flames on Tuesday

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Jaromir Jagr fired off a slap shot Monday morning that caught Jonathan Huberdeau in the left skate and bounced into the back of the net.
Huberdeau raised his stick in the air to signify the goal even though there was no goalie to defend it, nor a single defenseman to challenge Jagr's shot.
After going the first 14 games to start this season without a goal, Huberdeau will take what he can.
"The positives are I'm getting chances, but I really want a goal to get that confidence back," said Huberdeau, Florida's leading scorer last season who goes into Tuesday's game against Calgary with six assists.
"I know once the first one goes in, it will be much easier. I just need that first one and hopefully it comes soon. I just can't overthink it.''
There is no lack of Huberdeau supporters in the Florida locker room nor a bigger fan of his than coach Gerard Gallant.
Gallant coached Huberdeau in the Canadian juniors both before and after the Panthers made him the third overall selection in 2011.
Huberdeau lit up the Quebec junior league from 2010-13, scoring 89 goals in his final 134 games.
With the Panthers, Huberdeau hasn't found that sort of scoring success with 38 goals in 210 games.
Last year, Huberdeau scored a career-high 15 goals -- with six coming in his final 17 games.
"I really like the way he's playing and even though he doesn't have a goal, the past four or five games he's competing, battling and getting scoring chances,'' Gallant said.
"He's creating chances. I talked to him [Monday] and told him 'I know it's frustrating but keep working hard, they'll come.' If Jonathan was on the outside and not creating stuff, this would be a different issue. He's playing a hard game, making plays around the net. They'll go in sooner than later.''
Huberdeau is getting his share of scoring chances leading to the old snake-bit adage. Losing center Sasha Barkov to a hand injury hasn't helped either.
"I know from a personal perspective, if you're not scoring, you try not to dwell on it but it's still in the back of your head,'' linemate Nick Bjugstad said.
"You have to find ways to get by it. It's a tough thing in sports, but every athlete goes through it. He's doing other things, setting up plays, playing along the walls. Eventually it's going to come.''
The Panthers have continued to give Huberdeau the opportunity to play his way out of his slump. Last year, Gallant kept Huberdeau among his top six despite droughts of 10, 11 and 18 games.
Again this year, Huberdeau has stayed on Florida's top line and his six assists do lead the team.
"I know I'm going to score at least one this year,'' Huberdeau said with a grin.
For the Panthers to end their five-game losing streak and start making some serious noise in the east, they need Huberdeau to start putting some pucks in the net.
Like Monday morning, any way he can.
"We're losing right now and I'm not really helping offensively,'' Huberdeau said.
"I know what I need to do, know I can do it. I've been telling myself to shoot more and it's going to go in. Game 15 sounds like a good time for it."
-- Rookie Connor Brickley has been scratched the past three games after a strong start to his season.
"You obviously want to be in the lineup, do anything it takes to help the team win,'' Brickley said. "I haven't cracked the line the next three games but I just have to stay positive, keep working hard in practice. Hopefully I'll get a chance.''
Said Gallant: "He took some penalties we didn't like in prior games ... He just has to stay with it, compete hard. He needs to pick it up, get it going again.''
-- Center Dave Bolland was back centering his line Monday and is expected to play Tuesday.
Bolland hurt his hand and missed two games after taking Ryan Kesler's shot off it in the final seconds of Wednesday's loss at Anaheim.
Tuesday: Flames at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, 1210 WNMA
Series: Calgary leads 13-9-3
Scouting report: The Panthers kick off a span of playing seven of the next eight at home with all of those games within the state of Florida. Calgary, which has a league-worst 21-goal differential, has won its past two and three of four.


November 03, 2015

HELLO, CALIFORNIA: Panthers kickoff three-game California trip Wednesday at Disneyland

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers are west of the Mississippi for the first time this season.
Last year, Florida did well in its three-game swing through California, winning two of three.
The Panthers hope to replicate that sort of success on this week's trip.
Florida, which flew to southern California following Monday's practice, will play three times in the next five days starting Wednesday night in Anaheim.
After facing the Ducks, the Panthers fly to San Jose to take on coach Pete DeBoer and the Sharks on Thursday before heading back south to play host Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon.
"We had a pretty good road trip out there last year and we would like to replicate that this time,'' center Nick Bjugstad said.
"The last couple of games haven't gone the way we wanted, but I think we're playing good, we're creating chances. We just have to find ways to score because we haven't done that. But we're not going to panic. The west teams play a strong defensive game and don't give you much. We have to come in ready to play.''
The Panthers have won five of their first 11 games and are in the playoff conversation after the season's first month.
Florida has won two of its first five away from Sunrise and will be challenged this week.
Although Anaheim is off to a horrific start, the Ducks scored three goals in the first 12 minutes Sunday to beat Nashville (tied for third in the west with 16 points) for their second win of the season.
Los Angeles came into the week leading the Pacific Division with San Jose just two points back.
"Anaheim is a good team, had a rough start obviously, but they're a good hockey team,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
"We just have to make sure we're ready to play.''
Florida's offense, which has just two goals in its past two games, should have leading scorer Jaromir Jagr back Wednesday.
Jagr took part in Florida's practice Monday and is expected to be back with Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau against the Ducks.
"When he's in the lineup, it changes, he really helps our team,'' Bjugstad said.
"If not, we have to find ways to step up. We have the personnel to do it if he isn't in the lineup. But when he is, he does nothing but help us.''
-- Forward Rocco Grimaldi was recalled by the Panthers just in time for their west coast trip.
Grimaldi, 22, grew up in southern California and was called up by the team last year just in time for its game in Los Angeles.
Grimaldi famously played in a morning AHL game in San Antonio on Nov. 18, 2015, before hoping a flight to California and playing for the Panthers later that night at Staples Center.
On this trip, he'll have a little more time to catch up with friends and family.
"I'm very happy, very fortunate that call came,'' Grimaldi said of being recalled over the weekend. "This is an opportunity but it doesn't mean I'm on the team for good. It depends on what I do from now on.''
Wednesday: Panthers at Ducks
When, where:
10:30 p.m.; Honda Center, Anaheim
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
The series: Florida leads 13-11-3
Scouting report: The Ducks, considered the favorites to win the west in the preseason, have won just two of their first 11 games and have scored a league-low 14 goals. The Panthers won both meetings between the two last year by identical 6-2 scores and have won two of the past four in Anaheim.


November 02, 2015

READY TO RUN: Jaromir Jagr completes practice, ready to return in Anaheim

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
As Jaromir Jagr sat at his locker stall in Coral Springs, he was asked whether he felt ready to rejoin the Panthers' lineup Wednesday in Anaheim.
Jagr leaned to his right and knocked on a wooden countertop.
After getting through Florida's skate-intensive practice Monday, Jagr says he plans on returning against the Ducks as the Panthers kick off a three-game California swing.
"It was my goal to get through the practice and I did it,'' Jagr said.
"It's a good step. If I could have, I would have played. I just couldn't. Hopefully things will even get better over the next two days. The first practice is always the hardest. I just don't want to over do anything.''
Jagr's specific injury is hard to pinpoint although he said he has been dealing with something since suffering a hip flexor strain Oct. 13 in Carolina.
By playing through it, Jagr may have overcompensated and brought about hamstring and groin issues. Jagr has even complained about his breathing.
Last Tuesday, Jagr felt he wasn't helping his team and left Florida's win over Colorado late in the first period.
Jagr then sat out Florida's back-to-back set against Boston and Washington this past weekend but has been working out and say he feels ready to help out once more.
"Something was wrong and it shot down my right side, the hamstring, my back, my core,'' Jagr said. "They just didn't work together. I knew it, but didn't have time to fix it. The hip flexor, that's where it started. Then it just got worse and worse."
The 43-year-old Jagr continues to lead the Panthers in goals (six) and points (10) as Florida has just two goals in the two games he has missed.
Florida scored all four of its goals against the Avs once Jagr left, however.
On Monday, Jagr was back in his red jersey signifying his place on Florida's top line along Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Unlike last week, Jagr didn't leave the practice early and suffered alongside his teammates as they went through round after round of up-and-backs at the end of the session.
"He did a full practice and that sounds good,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We would love to have him back, we miss him when he's not there. We want to make sure he's ready and I think he is. He's a big part of our team and it showed. If it was a long-term injury, we wouldn't put him in. But he thinks it is fine.''
The team flew to southern California soon after the practice with Jagr saying the five-hour flight will do him no favors.
"That's a long flight and it's not going to help me,'' Jagr said. "Five hours is five hours. It's like going back to Europe.''
-- The Panthers sent Logan Shaw back to their AHL team in Portland, Maine, after one game and recalled Garrett Wilson.
Wilson, 24, played in two games for the Panthers last season.
"Getting called up is definitely a dream of mine,'' Wilson said. "This is where I want to be so I have to play my game, hopefully make an impact and chip in offensively. It's nice to get the opportunity, I just have to take full advantage of it.''
-- Defenseman Alex Petrovic blocked a shot with his shin on Saturday and eventually left that game early.
Petrovic's X-rays were negative but he still missed Monday's practice.
"There's nothing broke but it was painful to put the skate on so we told him to take the day off,'' Gallant said. "He should be fine, we fully expect him to skate [Tuesday].''


October 31, 2015

CAPITALS GET THEIR TREAT: Washington gets third period, overtime goal to top Panthers 2-1 ... Welcome back Rocco Grimaldi ... Jaromir Jagr misses second straight game

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The previous time Washington was in Sunrise, the Panthers got the victory in an NHL-record 20-round shootout.
Thanks in part to new overtime rules implemented this year, Saturday's game between those two didn't last quite as long.
For Florida, the result wasn't as sweet either as Evgeny Kuznetsov scored with 1:16 left in overtime to lift the Capitals to a 2-1 victory.
Kuznetsov's goal came with the new 3-on-3 overtime which was put in to help eliminate many shootout results.
Florida is 0-2 in overtime this year with its loss in Pittsburgh coming when it was down a man and played 3-on-4 against the Penguins.
"It was a one-goal game the whole way and there were some tough breaks,'' said goalie Al Montoya, who was stellar in making 25 saves.
"The goal they scored intially, who knows if it was. Then we go 3-on-3 and they end up on top.''
Florida led 1-0 when Jussi Jokinen scored on a strange play early in the second as he whiffed on a slap shot attempt as the puck took a weird bounce on the ice.
That odd knuckler, however, found its way back onto Jokinen's stick and he poked it past Philipp Grubauer 2:47 in to the second.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, that was all their scoring as they have scored just two goals in their past two losses.
Jaromir Jagr, perhaps not coincidentally, has missed both games.
"I swung first, didn't hit the puck, but did enough,'' Jokinen said. "We played good for two periods, think we sat back in the third. We had enough chances in the first and second to get two, three goals. Their goalie was good.''
Washington, which has won seven of its past eight games, tied the score when Jay Beagle got a piece of the puck as Montoya appeared to be interfered with by Justin Williams.
Coach Gerard Gallant used his challenge -- also new this season -- but after a long review, the NHL decided there was no interference on Montoya.
Both Gallant and his goalie disagreed with the ruling.
"They're tough calls and that's what rules are all about,'' Gallant said. "They obviously took a long time to make the call, so it was tough. I'm not faulting anyone. I like the system in place.''
Said Montoya: "I almost made it with a guy on me ... It's a quick game obviously. We move on.''
-- With Jagr missing for a second game, the Panthers went to their AHL team in Portland, Maine, for the second time this week and called up Rocco Grimaldi on Saturday.
Grimaldi was penciled in on the Florida roster in training camp, but an ankle injury in the first week kept him off the ice for most of the preseason.
Logan Shaw, the first call-up of the week, made his NHL debut in Friday's loss to the Bruins and was scratched on Saturday.
Center Sasha Barkov (hand) was placed on injured reserve to make room for Grimaldi.
"I got the call around midnight and I'm excited about the opportunity,'' Grimaldi said.
-- Defenseman Alex Petrovic's block of an Alex Ovechkin shot led to Jokinen's goal, but Petrovic ended up leaving the game early.
Petrovic had X-rays -- Gallant said they were negative -- after leaving quickly after the third period started.


October 30, 2015

BOSTON POWERED UP IN 3-1 WIN: Bruins score two power play goals, hold Panthers to one in victory ... Marchand scores twice, breaks Kulikov's nose on boarding call

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
NHL players love talking about how important special teams are "these days."
Their point was made on Friday night.
Boston's top-rated power play scored two goals and Florida's third-ranked unit got one all while Tuukka Rask turned away 31 shots in the Bruins 3-1 win at BB&T Center.
"Those are momentum changers,'' Brandon Pirri said. "We've said it 100 times, special teams are huge in this game. We had a few chances, capitalized on one, but with our power play, we expect more. We just needed to bear down and put them in the net.''
The Bruins, who lead the league with 11 goals while with the man advantage, scored on their first two power play chances to win for the third straight game.
Boston's penalty kill units also put in a strong game. Although Florida got its lone goal on a 5-on-3 chance in the second after falling behind 3-0, Rask and the Bruins didn't let the Panthers get another one.
Florida's goal came when Nick Bjugstad knocked in a rebound midway through the period.
A few moments later, the Panthers got another two-man advantage -- this time for almost 90 seconds -- but didn't score and wouldn't again.
Florida also pulled goalie Roberto Luongo on two late power play chances and failed to convert. Boston went 2-for-3 with the advantage; Florida was 1-for-6.
"They move the puck real well and got guys in front of the net,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "Luongo had no chance on those goals.''
The Panthers, despite playing without star Jaromir Jagr, came out aggressively and challenged Rask early.
Rask, usually strong against the Panthers, was again Friday as he turned away one chance after another.
"I thought Rask was, by far, the best player on the ice,'' Gallant said. "He was outstanding. Rask made some great saves, was the difference in the game.''
Boston took a 1-0 when Brad Marchand got a piece of a Zdeno Chara pass midway through the first.
In the second, Marchand took a Torey Krug pass, worked around two Florida defenders in front of the net and backhanded a shot past Luongo. Chara got the third goal at 9:13 of the second off another rebound.
Marchand was later ejected for his hit on Dmitry Kulikov. Gallant said Kulikov broke his nose and is questionable for Saturday's game against the Capitals.
"I just saw the replay of it,'' said Marchant, who could face suspension.
"[Kulikov] was a little off balance. I just pushed him. It’s not like I buried him hard or anything like that. It’s unfortunate. I obviously didn’t mean to bury him from behind, but things happen quick.”
-- Jimmy Hayes was back in Sunrise for the first time since the Panthers traded him to Boston in exchange for Reilly Smith and the expiring contract of Marc Savard in July.
Hayes, a Boston native who scored a career-high 19 goals for the Panthers last year, said he was "caught off guard" when Florida dealt him to the Bruins.
A few days before that deal, it was reported general manager Dale Tallon was very close to pulling off a deal for Hayes at the draft with the Rangers.
"You don't expect to be traded and after having a pretty good year, I thought I had a spot on the team,'' said Hayes, whose brother Kevin plays for New York.
"You always hear rumors and wherever my brother was ... there was talk I would be traded there.''
Saturday: Capitals at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WHIS-AM 1080, WMEN-AM 640, WNMA-AM 1210
Series: Washington leads 60-45-9
Scouting report: The Capitals had won five straight before losing to Pittsburgh at home on Wednesday. Washington, which played host to Columbus on Friday, won two of three against Florida last year. The Panthers' lone win was in the NHL-record 20-round shootout.



October 29, 2015

BACK ON THE ICE: Jaromir Jagr practices, could return Friday v Boston ... Logan Shaw gets another Panthers jersey ... Bruins/Panthers series took a turn last year

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
A good thirty minutes before his teammates joined him Thursday morning, Jaromir Jagr was on the ice skating as hard as he could.
Jagr didn't want to leave Tuesday's game early and doesn't want to miss any more time.
Whether he plays Friday against Boston is not known.
"We'll see what happens,'' said Jagr, who said he felt pain in his ribs which led to painful breathing.
"I was feeling good early, then it got sore. Every 24 hours makes a huge difference. My side is kind of off, it's not just my leg. I don't know if I got hit or something.''
The 43-year-old winger said he has been hurting for the past week and whatever his malady is -- coach Gerard Gallant said it's a groin/hip issue -- has slowed him a bit.
"I want to play every game but I have to be able to play,'' Jagr said.
"I'll go in morning skate and see what happens. I haven't been able to skate but I was still scoring, so I wanted to keep playing. At least I could help the team somehow. Then I went for acupuncture and the pain was a lot less but my muscles kind of got weaker. I had no support on that side so I had to leave. If I kept playing, I think it was going to get worse and then you're looking at three weeks.''
Gallant said he has no plans to rush Jagr back into the lineup.
If Jagr says he can play, he plays. If not, he continues to rest and get treatment.
"He will tell me when he's ready,'' Gallant said. "He felt good today, but it's still day-to-day.''
With Jagr leaving Tuesday's game late in the first and center Sasha Barkov out with a broken bone in his hand, the Panthers brought up rookie Logan Shaw from their AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Shaw, 23, was a third-round pick by the Panthers in 2011 and impressed coaches both in training camp and in Portland.
On Thursday, Shaw worked with on the fourth line but stepped in for Jagr when he left practice near the end.
Jagr had, after all, done plenty of work before practice even started.
"I don't think it is anything serious,'' Gallant said. "We just want him right. We don't want a player out there playing hurt, especially at his age. It takes a little longer. He's going to be OK. He'll play either Friday or Saturday. He'll tell us when he's ready.''
Shaw was born a year before the Panthers started play in 1993 but as a youngster, his parents in Nova Scotia bought him a junior sized Florida jersey.
Although Shaw doesn't know when he'll make his NHL debut -- if Jagr plays Friday, Shaw could be the odd man out with Shawn Thornton expected to play against his former Boston teammates -- he knows he'll be getting a fullsized Florida sweater once he does.
"I was 4 and for Christmas, I got a Florida Panthers jersey,'' Shaw said.
"Why, I don't know. I grew up on the east coast where it's all about Toronto, Montreal, Boston. I guess I just loved the jersey. It's surreal right now. It's pretty special. When I got drafted, two of my best friends -- 6-feet, 200 pounds -- had the baby jersey on. It was pretty funny."

Shaw will wear No. 48 with the Panthers as the 11 he wore in junior is taken by Jonathan Huberdeau and his No. 22 from Portland and San Antonio belongs to Thornton.
"Whenever it happens, it's a dream come true,'' Shaw said. "This is what I've worked for. It will be pretty special to put that jersey on.''
-- Defenseman Dylan Olsen, who didn't play in the preseason nor in Florida's first nine games, was sent to Portland to make room for Shaw.
-- Friday is the first meeting of the season between Florida and Boston, two Atlantic Division teams who helped knock each other out of the playoff race last year.
"My first year in Boston, it seemed like we always cleaned up against the Panthers,'' said Reilly Smith, who came to Florida from Boston in exchange for Jimmy Hayes on July 1.
"Last year was definitely different. They were a lot stingier on defense, only let in one or two goals. We knew every game was going to be hard. We were both in for a dogfight.''
Friday: Bruins at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM-AM 560, WMEN-AM 640, WNMA-AM 1210
Series: Boston leads 43-34-6
Scouting report: The Panthers may have lost 16 of the past 20 to Boston but won two of the final three meetings last year including both at home. The two teams split the season series last year with three of the four games going to overtime. Boston has won four of its past five games and two straight after an 0-3 start.

Jaromir Jagr photo- JM Otero/AP


October 28, 2015

DAY TO DAY: Panthers optimistic Jaromir Jagr won't be out long ... Others filling the void ... Luongo cramps up, should be fine ... Florida's power play clicking

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
Like most of his teammates, Jaromir Jagr took Wednesday off from skating.
After leaving Tuesday's 4-1 win over visiting Colorado in the first period with an apparent groin injury, that was expected.
Now, the question becomes, when will Jagr return to the Panthers?
Coach Gerard Gallant says it shouldn't be too long and could return for this weekend's games against Boston and/or Washington.
"He's day-to-day, don't think it will be too long obviously,'' Gallant said after a light skate Wednesday in which just the fourth forward line, four defensemen and backup goalie Al Montoya took part.
Jagr left the game after his fourth shift as he basically skating on and quickly off as it was officially a six-second shift.
Gallant said Jagr could have returned to play Tuesday but there really was no reason to force it.
Florida has played just nine of 82 games; no reason to rush what could be a potentially lingering issue with its leading scorer.
"We talk to Jagr all the time and tell him if he wants a day off, take a day off,'' Gallant said. "He knows his body, but wants to be on the ice all the time. He has maintenance days and hopes he uses more than he doesn't. Was he thinking about coming back [Tuesday]? Yes he was. But, when you look at it, why come back and make it worse?"
The Panthers rallied around not having Jagr or center Sasha Barkov (hand) in against the Avalanche and became the first team this season and fourth since last year to go 3-for-3 on the power play.
Florida led 1-0 at the first intermission then led 2-0 early in the third after Vincent Trocheck scored for the second time. The Panthers added a pair of goals in the third for some breathing room and their second straight victory.
Colorado didn't score its lone goal until the final minute.
"Every single guy in this locker room can score, we have a very talented team,'' Trocheck said.
"Points, goals will come when you have the opportunities if you do the right things. Everyone is going to contribute. You can't wait for the opportunity to come to you, you have to go and get it.''
Jussi Jokinen was the first winger to slide into Jagr's spot alongside Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau Tuesday and says the Panthers are talented enough to survive the loss of a player or two.
"It's tough when you see your top guys go down, but you just need more from everyone else,'' said Jokinen, whose pretty pass led to Reilly Smith's goal which made it 3-0.
"You have to do the little things better, bear down. We got a great effort from everyone Tuesday and we have to keep getting that. Guys like Trocheck are getting more minutes, Derek MacKenzie played great and played more. We need that going forward as these points are huge.''
-- Roberto Luongo suffered cramps from dehydration late in Tuesday's game but stayed in until the end and got replenished afterward.
"I didn't know if he tweaked a knee or something but it was just cramps,'' Gallant said. "He got through the game, got an IV. He's fine; no issues there."
-- The Panthers' power play, which set a franchise record for fewest goals and worst percentage two seasons ago, is currently ranked fourth in the league as Florida has scored on 27.3 percent of its chances.
"[Coach] Mike Kelly has done a great job with us,'' Brian Campbell said.
"He implemented what he wanted to do at the All-Star break last year and we've gone on from there. We're learning how to take advantage of things. We just have to execute it.''
-- Florida plays host to Boston and Washington on back-to-back nights starting Friday and Gallant said the team is expected to call up a prospect from its AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine.


October 27, 2015

MISSING, BUT FOR HOW LONG? Jaromir Jagr leaves Panthers' 4-1 win over Colorado ... Gallant, Tallon don't think it's too serious

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
On Monday, the Panthers learned first line center Sasha Barkov would be out perhaps a month with a broken bone in his hand.
They sure hope Jaromir Jagr isn't out that long.
Jagr, 43, left Florida's 4-1 win over visiting Colorado on Tuesday late in the first period and didn't return.
The Panthers didn't offer much information on Jagr's injury but stressed it didn't appear to be serious.
"I think it's just a groin or hip, hopefully minor and I think it's slight. It has been bothering him for a week,'' coach Gerard Gallant said of Jagr, who played three full shifts in the first but left the ice after just six seconds on his fourth.
"Hopefully after a maintenence day [Wednesday] he'll be fine.''
Without Jagr, the team's leading scorer with 10 points, the Panthers' offense found the Avs hard to navigate.
Florida's first two goals came on 40-foot wristers from Vincent Trocheck and both came on the power play.
Trocheck, 22, gave Florida a 1-0 lead with 19.7 seconds left in the first period -- minutes after Jagr headed into the trainer's room -- by snapping a wrist shot past Reto Berra.
On Florida's second power play, which didn't come until early in the third period, Trocheck cashed in again, this time drilling a Dmitry Kulikov offering beyond the reach of Berra.
"Good teams have players step up when another goes down,'' said Trocheck, who scored a career-high seven goals in 50 games last year and has four in nine this season.
"We have probably our two best players on the team out right now and the second-tier guys are stepping up in a big way. It was nice to get a few.''
Midway through the third, Florida got its third power play chance of the night and, yes, the Panthers scored once more.
Reilly Smith, who hadn't scored in Sunrise since the season opener on Oct. 10, beat Berra off a Jussi Jokinen pass to make it 3-0.
Defenseman Brian Campbell had assists on Trocheck's two goals then capped his strong night by scoring on a shorthanded chance -- he said it was his first -- with 5:58 left.
"I've felt good lately, have been snakebitten a little, but feel good out there,'' Campbell said. "Finally, tonight, I got things going."
Goalie Roberto Luongo was strong throughout and made 31 saves for the win. Luongo was in line for his first shutout sine Jan. 2 before Gabriel Landeskog scored with 56.7 seconds left.
"Our goaltending had been great all season,'' Gallant said. "They've been our best players for sure.''
-- With Barkov out and Jagr's status for Friday's game against Boston unknown, the Panthers will likely recall a forward from their AHL team in Portland, Maine.
Barkov will need to be placed on the injured list to get below the 23-man roster limit but with him being out at least two weeks, that's only a formality.
Greg McKegg and Shane Harper -- who had a terrific training camp and was one of the final players cut -- lead the Pirates with five points a piece.
Kyle Rau, Bjugstad's former teammate at Minnesota, has three goals and an assist.


October 26, 2015

COMING OUT YEAR: Erik Gudbranson's play a real bright defensive spot for Florida Panthers ... Cats v Avalanche 20 years later

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
As a center on Florida's playoff team in 2012, John Madden said Erik Gudbranson -- then just a rookie -- was the Panthers' best defenseman against the Devils.
Now the team's defensive coach, Madden is seeing similar play from the 23-year-old who is second on the team in ice time and one of just two averaging over 20 minutes a night.
"I thought he was just fantastic in the playoffs that year,'' Madden said.
"Playing D in the NHL is not easy and you'll see that from guys stepping in at 18, 19 years of age. I think he's come a long way, his game has matured and he's taken the mistakes out. He knows when to be physical, when to go. I feel he's been our steadiest defender. This is really been his coming out year.''
Gudbranson and captain Willie Mitchell have been defensive linemates since last season and lead the Panthers in ice time through the first eight games.
There's a reason for it.
Not only has Gudbranson matured into a strong defensive player, but he and Mitchell have developed a strong chemistry and have become Florida's top shutdown pairing. Madden has even noticed that when he throws those two on the ice, some teams shy away from putting their top forward line to oppose them.
"Believe it not when I put those two out on defensive faceoffs,'' Madden says, "the other team doesn't put their offensive line out. When I see that, I know teams are worried about them and they're doing all the right things.''
Gudbranson, the third overall pick in Dale Tallon's first draft in 2010, was perhaps rushed into the league in 2011.
Various injuries also played a role in Gudbranson's slower development than the team had hoped.
Yet now, the Panthers are receiving the dividends for the experience Gudbranson got during that time.
"He was a third overall pick who played as a 19-year-old,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "Sometimes that is tough when the team isn't as good as you had hoped. I think now he's better and we're playing a better defensive game."
Although Gudbranson struggled at times and made his share of mistakes, he looks much steadier these days and is playing with plenty of confidence.
Gudbranson played in his 250th NHL game -- not counting the seven postseason games -- on Oct. 17 against Dallas.
"It means a lot to a player and your confidence when you know your coach has faith in you and puts you against the best players in the world every night,'' Gudbranson said.
"This is what you want to do; you work hard for this and it's a great opportunity. I'm relishing the task every single night. I've molded my game around it and given myself the identity I've wanted since I got in the league.''
Gudbranson says a big reason for his stronger play is simply maturity as he feels he is more patient than before.
Being paired with veteran players such as Ed Jovanovski before and now Mitchell has helped as well.
"I'm more patient, more aware and I have more hockey knowledge,'' Gudbranson said. "Mitchell has helped me simplify my game. It's a good mix that's needed."
Said Gallant: "I think Gudbranson has been outstanding this year, really has played well. I think he has been great, is happy with his role playing against the best players. He's a fifth year player. You look at him as a veteran player who is playing very well.''

Tuesday: Avalanche at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM-AM 560, WMEN-AM 640, WNMA-AM 1210
Series: Colorado leads 20-10-3

Scouting report: This is the 20th anniversary season of the Panthers advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals and being swept by the Avs. Colorado went winless in a two-game homestand by being shutout by Carolina and watching Columbus pick up its first win of the season. Reto Berra starts in net for the Avs.

Gudbranson photo by Terry Renna/AP


GOOD NEWS FOR PANTHERS: Sasha Barkov will not need surgery

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers got good news on Sasha Barkov Monday as the third-year center won't need surgery to repair the broken bone in his right hand.
Barkov was hurt when he blocked a shot midway through the second period of Thursday's loss at Chicago.
Had Barkov needed surgery, he would have missed at least two months. The Panthers now hope to have him back within two to four weeks. Barkov hurt his hand blocking a shot last year and missed two weeks. No bone was broken on that shot, however. When the broken bone heals (expected to be two weeks or so) and Barkov can fully grip the stick he should be back on Florida's top line.


October 25, 2015

PUTTING THINGS BACK TOGETHER: Panthers want to continue playing complete game as they did in Dallas

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
DALLAS -- Jaromir Jagr wasn't very happy after the Panthers beat Buffalo 3-2 on Oct. 15, calling his team "more lucky than good" adding he was worried that continued style would cost them.
Florida lost three straight after beating the Sabres.
On Saturday night, the Panthers put everything back together in an impressive 6-2 victory over a Dallas team which had won five straight and beaten Tampa Bay twice in a week.
"We haven't played very well since the Buffalo game, and even in the Buffalo game, I had a bad feeling,'' Jagr said.
"We didn't cycle the puck much, didn't have a puck possession game. [Saturday] looked like the first time in a while we made plays. [Dallas is] a risky team and we took advantage."
Florida trailed 1-0 after Tyler Seguin's long shot skipped off the skate of Jamie Benn in front of Al Montoya.
The Stars' didn't have much luck against the Panthers after that.
Jagr tied the score at 11:03 of the first and Nick Bjugstad gave them the lead for good minutes later after blasting a Jonathan Huberdeau pass while sliding into the slot.
With Montoya playing strong in place of Roberto Luongo and making 33 saves, the Panthers played perhaps their most complete game of the season save for the 7-1 rout of the Flyers on opening night.
Florida got goals from its new-look top line as Bjugstad replaces the injured Sasha Barkov who could miss some time with an injured right hand.
Jagr, who said he's a hard guy to play with, gelled with the 20-year-old Barkov from the start last season. It also appears he and Bjugstad will work fine together.
"I like playing with Barkov, everybody knows that, but an injury happened,'' Jagr said.
"It's good to know I can play with Bjugstad. It's not easy playing with me, trust me. He's a big guy who can skate and has a long reach. He makes a lot of plays. Look at how tall he is. When he skates, with these rules, it's hard to hold him down."
Both Bjugstad and Jagr scored with Huberdeau getting the primary assists on both.
Florida also got goals from Aaron Ekblad and Dave Bolland for the first time this season with Reilly Smith and Quinton Howden also scoring.
The Panthers, if they're going to make the playoffs this season, will need that kind of balanced scoring throughout.
"We got contributions all the way through,'' Montoya said.
This team was built with the thought that all four lines would be responsible offensively and Saturday night was a good showing of what this team can be when it wants to moving forward.
"We like our team, we like to compete and battle,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We lost a very good player as Barkov didn't play, but other guys stepped up. That's what teams are all about. Guys have to play with other guys, lines aren't going to be the same all year.''
The Panthers went 1-1-1 on this past road trip against playoff-quality teams in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Dallas and kickoff a three-game homestand Tuesday.
Florida will play host to Colorado, Boston and Washington -- three big games before heading to California next week.
-- The Panthers do not have a goalie controversy brewing but instead feel fortunate to have such strong play in net.
Montoya, making just his second start and appearance of the season, gave Gallant another reason to have faith in his abilities to spot start for Luongo after last year's inconsistent season.
The Panthers are now 2-0 with Montoya in net after he helped lead Florida to a 4-1 win at Carolina on Oct. 13.
Luongo, meanwhile, is off to a great start and has kept the Panthers in games (see Pittsburgh) they could have been blown out in.
"[Montoya] made seven or eight Grade A saves,'' Gallant said. "He made some great saves and that's what it's all about. Luongo is our No. 1 goalie, but you need two to be real good. Montoya has been excellent this year. From Day 1, we haven't had a bad game in goal."
-- Florida will hold an open practice Monday at 11 a.m. at the IceDen in Coral Springs.

Photo: LM Otero/AP


October 24, 2015

PANTHERS COME UP BIG IN TEXAS: Florida falls behind 1-0 before opening things up in 6-2 victory over Stars ... Cats snap three-game slide, stop Stars' five-game streak ... Jagr, Bjugstad, Ekblad, Bolland, Smith and Howden all score

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
DALLAS -- Desperately needing a victory, the Panthers' veteran players held a meeting before Saturday's game.
The message was Florida is better than they have played lately.
Hours later, the Panthers looked like one of the NHL's elite as they snapped Dallas' five-game winning streak with a 6-2 victory at AmericanAirlines Center.
"This was very encouraging to see,'' said backup goalie Al Montoya, who made 33 saves for his second win of the year.
"This was a big statement and it was for us only. In this room, we know what we're capable of doing. It's just 'lets do it every night.' We need to stop being that team where you don't know if we're going to show up every night. There's no reason for us not to bring it.''
Florida had lost three straight coming into Dallas and salvaged its third point out of six on a 1-1-1 road trip. The offense also broke loose for the first time in weeks as the Panthers' six goals were the most since scoring seven on Philadelphia on opening night.
"They're a good team, but so are we,'' Jonathan Huberdeau said. "We can beat every team in the league."
With center Sasha Barkov out with an injured right hand, the Panthers had to shuffle some lines -- including putting Nick Bjugstad in the middle of Jaromir Jagr and Huberdeau.
For one night, at least, that trio clicked as before as they had a hand in Florida's first three goals.
Bjugstad scored Florida's second goal and assisted on its third. Jagr (goal, assist) and Huberdeau (two primary assists) also found the scoresheet as the Panthers built both a two and three-goal lead against a Dallas team which beat Florida 4-2 in Sunrise just a week prior.
"It was cool playing with those guys,'' Bjugstad said.
Florida also got goals -- their first of the season -- from Aaron Ekblad and Dave Bolland.
Reilly Smith gave Florida a three-goal lead in the third with his first goal since the season opener before Quinton Howden scored the finale with 3:05 left.
"It was a good win, we played a real good game with Montoya behind us,'' Huberdeau said. "It was a good team effort and that's what we talked about. We needed to play our best. We hadn't done that lately. Good teams stick together."
Said Jagr: "We haven't played very well since the Buffalo game, and even though we won that one, I had a bad feeling. We haven't played our game since then. [Saturday] it looked like us for the first time in a while. We made plays.''
Dallas, 5-0 against Eastern Division teams going in, scored eight seconds after Alex Petrovic went to the penalty box for delay of game.
Florida bounced back and made it 1-1 when Jagr took a pass from Huberdeau, worked around a downed Alex Goligoski and went top shelf on Kari Lehtonen.
The goal was the sixth for Jagr in his first eight games. With New Jersey last year, Jagr didn't score his sixth goal until Dec. 29 -- 37 games into the season.
A little over three minutes later, Bjugstad -- who hadn't scored in four games -- took a pass from Huberdeau and rifled a slapshot the hit Lehtonen before going in.
The Panthers made it 3-1 less than 90 seconds into the second when Ekblad one-timed a drop pass from Bjugstad past Lehtonen.
Antti Niemi came in to finish the game and gave up three of his own as Florida never lost control.
"I thought we played a real good game and caught a team just coming off the road,'' Gallant said. "We gave them too many chances, but Dallas is a top team and it was in their building. I'm pretty proud of the guys. We like our team when we compete and battle."
Montoya, making just his second start and appearance of the season, gave Gallant another reason to have faith in his abilities to spot start for Roberto Luongo after a last year's inconsistent season.
The Panthers are now 2-0 with Montoya in net after he helped lead Florida to a 4-1 win at Carolina on Oct. 13.
"He made seven or eight Grade A saves,'' Gallant said. "He made some great saves and that's what it's all about. Luongo is our No. 1 goalie, but you need two to be real good. Montoya has been excellent this year. From Day 1, we haven't had a bad game in goal."




October 23, 2015

MISSING SASHA: Panthers will miss Sasha Barkov Saturday against the Stars ... Florida center will have wrist/hand evaluated in Florida upon return

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

DALLAS -- The Panthers lost more than just a game Thursday night as top-line center Sasha Barkov appeared to injure his wrist or hand blocking a shot during the second period of Florida's 3-2 loss to the host Blackhawks.
Barkov immediately left the game after stopping the puck with his arm and was spotted leaving the Florida locker room with his wrist and hand heavily bandaged up.
On Friday, coach Gerard Gallant ran a practice at AmericanAirlines Center in Dallas minus Barkov.
Gallant said Barkov will miss Saturday's game against the Stars and will be evaluated by team doctors in South Florida when the team gets back following Saturday's game.
If Barkov is hurt worse than the team hopes, he could miss some time.
Florida doesn't plan on recalling anyone from its AHL team in Portland, Maine, for Saturday's game with Nick Bjugstad likely to move up and center Jaromir Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau.
The Panthers were carrying an extra forward on the active roster and Shawn Thornton will be in the lineup against the Stars.
"He's been probably our best player since the start of the season,'' Gallant said Friday afternoon. "It's a big loss, for sure. He plays both sides of the puck; he's great defensively and plays a great offensive game. He's a real team player. But when you're missing a guy, it gives the others an opporunity.''
Barkov, 20, is in his third season with the Panthers and has evolved into one of their top players despite missing time with injury.
Last December, Barkov missed two weeks after injuring his hand after blocking a shot in Detroit.
As a rookie in 2014, Barkov missed much of the second half of that season with a serious knee injury that slowed him a bit at the start of last season as well.
This year, Barkov has been terrific centering Jagr and Huberdeau, his six point off three goals second on the team in scoring behind Jagr.
"That's a big loss. He's our best player,'' Jagr said after Thursday's loss.
"He's going to be tough to replace although no one knows how long he'll be out. It'll be tough but we'll do it no matter what."
-- On Thursday, the Panthers and Blackhawks were tied at 1 when Florida began a march to the penalty box unseen since last season.
The Panthers were flagged for five penalties in the second period alone and ended up giving an opponent eight power play chances for the first time since last October in Arizona.
Chicago scored the both the go-ahead and winning goal on power play chances.
Florida cut Chicago's lead to 3-2 when Jagr scored on a tap-in on a rare power play chance in the third. The Panthers couldn't make a hard charge in the final minutes, however, as they took yet another penalty and was forced to kill it off.
"We took eight penalties and it's real tough to play against teams like that when you're doing that,'' Gallant said.
"They weren't good penalties. We have to move our feet, we have to skate. You can't fault the referee. We put ourselves in that situation.''
-- Trocheck scored Florida's first goal when he fought through a trio of Chicago defenders -- not including goalie Corey Crawford -- before scoring.
"I whacked at it 10, 15 times until it went in,'' Trocheck said. "The next shift after a goal for either side is very important. We were trying to take the momentum away from them. And then we lost it.''
Saturday: Panthers at Stars
When, Where: 8 p.m.; AmericanAirlines Center, Dallas
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 620, WNMA 1210
Series: Dallas leads 14-13-3
Scouting report: This is the second meeting in a week and final meeting between the two this season. Dallas won the opener 4-2 in Sunrise last Saturday night. The Stars are red-hot right now, beating host Tampa Bay on Thursday to improve to 6-1.