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.


 

 

October 22, 2015

CHICAGO'S PENALTY PARADE: Panthers give Blackhawks plenty of power play time and Chicago cashes in during 3-2 win ... Cats haven't won in Chicago since 2007

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
CHICAGO -- To beat the defending Stanley Cup champions in their barn, you better not make mistakes and it would help to have your best players on the ice.
The Panthers gifted the host Blackhawks five power play chances from the start of Thursday's second period until the opening seconds of the third.
If that wasn't tough enough, top-line center Sasha Barkov -- perhaps Florida's top defensive forward -- was lost midway through the second with an apparent wrist injury.
Add all that up, and it was the Blackhawks skating out of United Center with a 3-2 victory over the Panthers.
Florida hasn't won in Chicago since 2007.
"They pretty much dominated the night,'' coach Gerard Gallant said.
Said Jaromir Jagr: "When you play the champions, they get the respect. They got it."
With the score tied at 1, Jagr was called for holding -- the first of five infractions in a penalty-filled second period.
Chicago cashed in on two of its power play chances with Brent Seabrook's 45-foot slapshot beating Roberto Luongo 3:51 into the second.
In the early goings of the third -- with Vincent Trocheck polishing off the final seconds of his high-sticking call -- Patrick Kane broke loose and backhanded a nasty shot over Luongo's shoulder to make it 3-1.
"Eight [penalties]. They moved the puck real well,'' said Gallant, whose team was flagged for eight penalties in the final 40 minutes including one final time with two-plus seconds left.
"You can't spend that much time [killing penalties] because you're trying to score. It really wears on you. There was hooking and holding and you have to call those, that's how the game is. It's not like the old days. They're going to call those penalties."
The Panthers got into the power play mix themselves in the third -- and cashed in as well.
At 5:28, Marcus Kruger was slapped with a four-minute high-sticking penalty. Just six seconds later, Niklas Hjalmarsson was tagged for delay of game giving Florida a two-man advantage for a whopping 1:54.
Jagr made it 3-2 with 12:36 left when he tapped a loose puck off a Trocheck shot into the back of the net.
"We had a couple of chances," Gallant said, "but we didn't deserve to win the way we played."
Chicago struck first as Artem Anisimov carried the puck into the Florida zone along the right boards, slid around defensemen Steven Kampfer and Dmitry Kulikov before beating Luongo with a nice backhand 4:02 into the proceedings.
Florida didn't trail for long, however.
On the following shift, Trocheck got his first goal since opening night by fighting through a trio of Chicago defenders -- not including goalie Corey Crawford -- and getting the puck in.
"I whacked at it 10, 15 times until it went in,'' said 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.''
-- Barkov left the game midway through the second period after blocking a shot off what looked like his wrist.
After receiving treatment, he was ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Barkov was seen leaving the locker room with his wrist heavily wrapped up. Gallant said his status wasn't known.
"That's a big loss. He's our best player,'' Jagr said. "He's going to be tough to replace although no one knows how long he'll be out. It'll be tougher but we'll do it no matter what."
Gallant said: "He's a real good player, although he's still a young kid, he has been our best player through the first seven games. We'll put someone else up there, like Trocheck or [Brandon] Pirri. They're good players too."
Florida could recall center Rocco Grimaldi from AHL Portland, Maine, on Friday.
The Panthers don't have any spare forwards on their active roster since sending Grimaldi to the minors to get into game shape.
Grimaldi was put on injured reserve after injuring an ankle in Florida's third preseason game -- against Dallas.
-- The Panthers flew to Texas following Thursday's game and are expected to practice at AmericanAirlines Center in Dallas Friday afternoon.
Florida plays Dallas for the second time in a week on Saturday. The Stars, who beat the Panthers 4-2 in Sunrise last weekend, are 6-1 after beating host Pittsburgh 4-1 on Thursday.


 

SASHA BARKOV HURT: Panthers can't afford to lose 20-year-old center for too long ... Barkov hurt blocking shot ... Trocheck, Smith filled in against Blackhawks

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
CHICAGO -- Florida center Sasha Barkov -- perhaps Florida's top defensive forward -- was lost midway through the second period of the Panthers' 3-2 loss to the host Blackhawks with an apparent wrist injury.
Barkov left the game midway through the second period after blocking a shot off what looked like his wrist. After receiving treatment, he was ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Barkov was seen leaving the locker room with his wrist heavily wrapped up. Gallant said his status wasn't known.
"That's a big loss. He's our best player,'' Jagr said. "He's going to be tough to replace although no one knows how long he'll be out. It'll be tougher but we'll do it no matter what."
Gallant said: "He's a real good player, although he's still a young kid, he has been our best player through the first seven games. We'll put someone else up there, like Trocheck or [Brandon] Pirri. They're good players too."
Florida could recall center Rocco Grimaldi from AHL Portland, Maine, on Friday.
The Panthers don't have any spare forwards on their active roster since sending Grimaldi to the minors to get into game shape.
Grimaldi was put on injured reserve after injuring an ankle in Florida's third preseason game -- against Dallas.
Gallant tweaked his middle two lines during Tuesday's game and kept that lineup Thursday as right wingers Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith swapped spots.
Trocheck started the night on the second line with center Nick Bjugstad and Brandon Pirri but found himself on the top line when Barkov got hurt.
Smith started with Dave Bolland and Jussi Jokinen but also moved up to the top line. Jagr worked at center.
Trocheck scored for the Panthers 34 seconds after Anisimov made it 1-0.
"I'll play wherever they want me too,'' Trocheck said.

CAMPBELL BACK IN CHICAGO: Is this the veteran defenseman's final season with the Panthers?

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
CHICAGO -- Even though it has been over five years since Brian Campbell joined the Panthers, he never really left Chicago.
Now in the final year of the eight-year, $57 million contract Campbell originally signed with the Blackhawks, some wonder if he'll eventually return to play in Chicago -- perhaps as early as next season.
Campbell, 36, says he hasn't thought much about his future beyond this season although he wants to continue playing somewhere.
That very well may be with the Panthers.
"Five years with the Panthers has gone quick, the past 15 years have gone quick,'' said Campbell, who signed with the Blackhawks in 2008 when Florida general manager Dale Tallon was running the team.
"I have good memories here and hopefully we can cap that off and do something this year. For me, I hope to have a good year and see what happens. If I feel good, I want to keep playing. I'm feeling good on the ice right now. Those things take care of themselves.''
Tallon sold Campbell on the Panthers and what he hoped was a bright future in 2011. The Blackhawks were in cap trouble and looking to unload Campbell's contract and Tallon obviously had interest.
Campbell had to waive a no-trade clause, however, to make the deal -- Florida gave up the oft-injured Rostislav Olesz -- work.
Once he agreed to come play for Tallon again, Tallon sold other veterans on the team and revamped the roster.
Tallon's new-look Panthers won the Southeast Division in 2012, but then finished at or near the bottom of the NHL standings in the following two years.
"We have committed ownership here and that works its way down,'' said Campbell, who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010 alongside current teammate Dave Bolland and assistant coach (then center) John Madden.
"It's kind of disappointing that after the success we had here in Year 1 that people moved around and we didn't keep it going. Now, hopefully, with this team and lineup we can do some good things.''
Campbell still plays a big role on the Panthers, especially in the development of young defensemen.
In his first year with the Panthers, Campbell helped Jason Garrison to have a career year. Last year, Campbell was paired up with 18-year-old Aaron Ekblad and the two were a top defensive duo.
Ekblad ended up winning the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie.
"Every since I've been here, Soup has been great,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "He's a veteran guy, a good leader.''
Added Campbell: "It's been a lot of fun playing with him. I've helped him out and he has helped me out. I think it's been really good.''
-- Defenseman Steven Kampfer got in his first game Thursday as Gallant scratched Alex Petrovic.
Although Gallant said he has been happy with Petrovic's overall play this season, "there were some things you didn't like" from Petrovic in Tuesday's 3-2 overtime loss at Pittsburgh.
"Kampfer was good for us last year and hasn't gotten a chance to play,'' Gallant said. "We need to get him into the lineup.''
Kampfer didn't have a great start as Chicago's Antem Anisimov rolled around him for the Blackhawks' first goal of the night. In the second, Kampfer took a hooking penalty that led the Blackhawks' second goal.

 

October 21, 2015

FLORIDA'S FOURTH ESTATE: Derek MacKenzie leads a hard-working (and talented) fourth line ... Panthers looking for rare win against Blackhawks

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
CHICAGO -- With the Panthers in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, much attention was focused on Jaromir Jagr's top line and the damage they have been causing so far this season.
In Florida's 3-2 overtime loss, however, it was the Panthers' fourth line guys who did all the scoring.
After a few controversial moments in the third, Florida found itself down 2-0 to the Penguins.
The Panthers then got goals from Quinton Howden and Derek MacKenzie -- the first of the season for both -- to help force overtime and at least salvage a point in the standings.
"They were really good, the spark for our team obviously,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "They work really hard and do the right things. We talk about winning every night and you have put pucks behind the net, get down low. They did that, showed our teams how to score goals by paying a price. We like what we're seeing from them.''
Unlike Florida's other three lines, the fourth has seen some mixing and matching as the season has moved forward.
In the opener, MacKenzie and Brickley were joined by veteran Shawn Thornton. That trio stayed together through the first two games with Howden replacing Thornton for the following two games.
On Saturday, Thornton was back in the lineup with Brickley sitting out.
In Tuesday's game, Brickley returned and had the primary assists on both goals.
On the first, Brickley fired a long pass to Howden who was in front of the net. Howden deftly secured the puck, spun around goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and fired a shot above his shoulder.
On the second, Brickley dug the puck out from the back boards and found MacKenzie in the slot where he one-timed the puck home.
MacKenzie jumped so high into the air when the puck went through it looked as though his skates were filled with IcyHot.
"It has been a lot of fun,'' MacKenzie said. "These guys can play. Sometimes your line can be comprised of dump-and-chase type guys but these guys can play a little bit.''
So far, the play of Brickley and Howden has mirrored their strong training camps and validates the decision to include them on the roster.
Both rookies -- Howden has had brief stints with the Panthers in the past while Brickley made his NHL debut in the opener -- have played extremely well as evidenced by Gallant having that line on the ice during a time when the Panthers were desperate for goals.
"I think we did a decent job pushing back but we would have liked to get the win,'' Brickley said. "We have three guys who work hard and want to be first on pucks in the offensive zone, cause some chaos and hopefully get some rebound chances.''
Said Howden: "We've said from the beginning of the season that our line isn't doing anything special. We're going to crash and bang and get to the net and score. Both goals were like that. We want to contribute but we know our roles. We're an energy line. Hopefully it pays off.''
-- The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks have been a little slow out of the gate, starting the season 3-3.
Chicago will also be without one of its stars for the immediate future as defenseman Duncan Keith was placed on long-term injured reserve.
Keith is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks after having knee surgery.
Thursday: Panthers at Blackhawks
When, where: 8:30 p.m.; United Center, Chicago
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560-AM WQAM; 640-AM WMEN; 97.7 FM
Series: Chicago leads 19-9-3
Scouting report: The Blackhawks haven't played since beating visiting Columbus on Saturday. Florida is looking for its first win against the Blackhawks since 2011 and its first in Chicago since 2009.

Photo by Gene J. Puskar/AP

 

 

 

October 19, 2015

SCORELESS SIDNEY: Penguins star comes into Tueday's game against Florida with no points in first five games of the season

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
When one of the top players in the NHL has yet to record a single point five games into the season, everyone takes notice.
Yet the Panthers say they're not focused on Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby breaking out of his slump against them Tuesday night at the Consol Center.
"We're not focused on that because we're focused on us,'' Florida captain and shutdown defenseman Willie Mitchell said Monday before the Panthers took off for the Steel City.
"If you focus on individual players, you are chasing the game. We know what it takes for the Panthers to be a good team and it starts in playing good defense.''
Erik Gudbranson echoed his defensive partner and said the Panthers know the Penguins are a good offensive team and are preparing for all of their weapons.
"They can put goals in the back of the net and you don't want to get into a slugfest with them,'' said Gudbranson, who along with Mitchell, will be seeing plenty of Crosby on Tuesday night.
"Sidney is one of, if not the, best players in the league and in the world. You have to know when he's out there and know what he's capable of doing.''
Crosby, who has scored 302 goals with 853 points in 632 NHL games since joining the league in 2005, has never gone this long without a point.
"We've talked about it and that cannot be a focus of ours,'' said Florida's Vincent Trocheck, a Pittsburgh native. "You can't try to shut down one guy and then sit back and play on your heels because that's when [others] take over.''
On Sunday, Crosby told reporters in Pittsburgh that the Penguins winning their past two (over Ottawa and Toronto) after starting 0-3 has helped ease the scoresheet shutouts.
"It's much easier,'' Crosby said. "Obviously you want to score, want to produce, but when you're winning it's a little easier to go through for sure."
Last year, the Panthers were pretty good at slowing down the league's top scorers with Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin both scoring once in three games against Florida.
Malkin scored three in his three games against the Panthers.
Florida hopes to replicate that kind of success this week as they visit three cities filled with scoring stars in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Dallas.
On Saturday night, Dallas' Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn did all the damage by scoring four goals in the Stars' 4-2 win at BB&T Center.
"We are playing some top players so we have to play them hard and play them well,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "It's usually the teams that beat you, but you have to pay attention to those top players.''
-- Jaromir Jagr didn't practice with the team Monday after doing his own extensive workout before the Panthers took the ice.
Fourth-line winger Shawn Thornton put on the red jersey and took Jagr's spot on the top line if only temporarily.
"It's about time they gave this to me,'' Thornton joked.
Tuesday: Panthers at Penguins
When, where: 7 p.m.; Consol Center, Pittsburgh
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560-AM WQAM; 640-AM WMEN; 97.7 FM
Series: Pittsburgh leads 43-35-4
Scouting report: The Panthers lost both games in Pittsburgh last season by a combined 8-2. This is Florida's lone visit to Pittsburgh this season.

 

October 17, 2015

DALLAS' STARS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF PANTHERS: Tyler Seguin scores twice -- including the game-winner -- as Stars rally from 2-0 hole to beat Panthers 4-2

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
The Panthers scored a pair of quick goals early in the second period and things were looking good.
The Dallas Stars, however, only needed a slight opening to get back into the game and eventually take home a 4-2 win over the Panthers at BB&T Center.
Florida, which won its first two at home, watched a Jonathan Huberdeau turnover deep in the Dallas zone turn into the Stars' first goal.
The Stars kicked off the third by scoring on a power play chance to tie it then won when Tyler Seguin knocked a loose puck past Roberto Luongo late in the night. Dallas' fourth goal came on an empty net.
"The disappointing part is you can't give teams like this life,'' defenseman Brian Campbell said.
"We were rolling, up 2-0 and you want to keep them sleeping. But we kept turning pucks over, took some penalties. You want to put teams away, keep them quiet. We gave them opportunities to wake up.''
Said coach Gerard Gallant: "We let them get back in it. For much of the game, they were the better team and deserved to win.. But it's tough to lose in the final 3 1/2 minutes of a game on basically a turnover play."
The Panthers, who visit Dallas in a week, looked to take a 1-0 lead early in the second when Sasha Barkov drilled a Huberdeau pass past a downed Kari Lehtonen.
Officials waved the goal off citing interference on Jaromir Jagr -- even though it was Huberdeau who made contact and initially knocked Lehtonen down.
Gallant got word from his off-ice coaching crew to use his challenge and have Hockey Central in Toronto review the play. After a lengthy review, the NHL decided Jagr didn't interfere with Lehtonen and Barkov was given his goal and a 1-0 lead.
"I had no idea because I didn't see it but looked at the [scoreboard] and figured it was going to count,'' Gallant said. "My coaches told me to challenge it. I trust my people. Tonight we were right.''
Said Barkov: "I didn't know what happened but saw the goalie scrambling and had an empty net so I had to score. Huberdeau said he didn't touch the goalie so it was a good goal.''
Just over a minute later, Brandon Pirri scored his first of the season as he came in on a breakaway and beat Lehtonen fairly easily.
Pirri lost his balance after he took his shot and crashed into the back boards. Instead of celebrating, Pirri was helped off the ice and into the locker room.
Pirri, who had 22 goals last season, returned to the game soon afterward.
"He's fine,'' Gallant said. "He came right back, hit the boards pretty hard, but he's fine.''
Dallas apparently woke up later in the period as Huberdeau's soft pass was picked off by Patrick Sharp and relayed to Tyler Seguin as he sped up the ice and beat Luongo (33 saves).
Seguin missed a good chunk of time during the playoff stretch last season after injuring his knee on a hit by Dmitry Kulikov that earned the Florida defender a four-game suspension.
Dallas, missing its leading scorer, lost valuable real estate in the playoff race and missed the postseason.
Although Seguin said beating Florida wasn't more special than any other game, he got some measure of revenge by scoring the game-winner with 3:02 left in the game.
"They have some great forwards and we knew that coming in,'' Luongo said.
"We had the 2-0 lead, but they made us pay especially on that play at the end. When we scored our second goal, they really picked it up there. But it hurts to let one in at the end.''
Florida now embarks on a three-game trip against perennial contenders Pittsburgh, Chicago and the Stars.
"We're playing teams that pounce on opportunities,'' Campbell said. "It's going to be a lot like [Saturday] was. Hopefully we learn from this and move forward.''

 

October 16, 2015

JAGR ON A TEAR: Jaromir Jagr has four goals in four games as he helps the Panthers to a hot start

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
A few days before the Panthers started their season, Jaromir Jagr sat in front of his locker and said he disliked the first few games of a new year.
"The toughest part of a season is the start of it,'' Jagr said. "Once you get going, get into game shape, you feel better and good about your game. I love it then. But the start is tough, it's tough to get going. This is the toughest part."
Well, the Panthers sure hope Jagr gets going soon.
Coming into Friday, Jagr was tied for fourth in the NHL in scoring (three others have seven points) with four goals and two assists.
On Thursday, Jagr had a hand in all three Florida goals in a 3-2 victory over Buffalo. Jagr gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead with a pair of first period goals then Sasha Barkov finished off a Jagr rebound in the third for the game-winner.
The 43-year-old Jagr didn't score his fourth goal with New Jersey last year until his 23rd game. With the Panthers, he continues to climb up the NHL record book.
With 726 career goals, Jagr is five behind Marcel Dionne for fourth all-time and 15 goals behind Brett Hull for third.
Jagr needs 42 more points to tie Gordie Howe for third all-time and is 79 points behind Mark Messier for second.
With his devotion to fitness and staying on top of his game -- "I try to become a better player every day. I have to." -- no one knows how long Jagr will continue to play at a high level.
"He's always working on something whether it's working out or walking around with weights on his ankles or a weighed vest,'' goalie Roberto Luongo told SiriusXM Radio on Friday.
"He's always doing something to push himself. ... It's something you don't see anywhere else, really. I don't know how long he can play but probably until he's 50.''
Jagr appears to have been rejuvenated since joining the Panthers in February and paired with youngsters Jonathan Huberdeau and Barkov.
The trio were all scoring at about a point a game pace at the end of last season and have picked up where they left off.
Barkov, 20, has scored in each of the past two games and has five points.
Huberdeau, 22, has yet to score a goal but his play has been praised by coach Gerard Gallant. It seems to be only a matter of time before Huberdeau starts putting up points as well.
The Panthers have won 15 of 24 games since Jagr joined the team.
"He's incredible out there and to see him at 43 still be one of the best players in the NHL is crazy,'' Huberdeau also told SiriusXM Radio on Friday.
"He's a legend in the NHL, you know the records. Last year, he was setting something every other game. It's cool to have the chance to play with this guy."
-- Former NHL defenseman Hal Gill officially joined the Panthers organization on Friday by being named manager of player development.
Gill, who played in over 1,100 NHL games and won the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2009, will work with former Florida captain Bryan McCabe in working with the Panthers' prospects.
-- The Panthers announced Friday they would match all donations up to $100,000 this fiscal year for the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County to benefit math, reading and homework help programs in Broward.
Saturday: Stars at Panthers
When, Where: 7 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSN; WWNN 1470, WMEN 620, WNMA 1210
Series: Tied 13-13-3
Scouting report: This will be the first of two meetings between the two within a week as Florida visits Dallas next Saturday. The Stars swept the two-game series last season. Florida and Dallas came into Friday tied for second in the league with three wins each. Dallas' 15 goals are tied for third in the league; Florida's 14 are sixth.


 

 

October 15, 2015

PANTHERS GET ANOTHER ONE: Jaromir Jagr scores twice, not thrilled with Florida's 3-2 win over Buffalo

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards
In years past, the Panthers would have been happy with a win no matter how it came about.
On Thursday, the Panthers didn't seem to be celebrating despite a 3-2 victory over visiting Buffalo.
Florida, despite three wins in its first four games, figures it can be better -- and probably has to be as the season moves on.
"I think we were more lucky than good,'' said Jaromir Jagr, who scored Florida's first two goals for a 2-0 lead at the end of the first.
"We'll take it, but we'll need to be better Saturday to beat Dallas."
Jagr gave the Panthers its initial lead as he scored his 205th power play goal -- passing Wayne Gretzky on the all-time list and tying Joe Sakic for 13th place.
As has been the case since Jagr joined the team last February, the line of Jagr, Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau led the way.
Thursday, Jagr scored his first off a crisp pass from Barkov.
His second came on a wrister from the right circle. All told, Jagr's line ended with all three goals and had two assists.
"It's a lot of fun playing with those guys, they are pretty skilled and keep the puck'' said Barkov, who scored what would be the game-winner 4:24 into the third.
"I just try to do the same thing. I'm having fun with them and all three of us feel pretty confident.''
Buffalo, which won its lone game of the season Monday against Columbus, cut its deficit to a goal when Jake McCabe scored from in front of the net 7:10 into the second.
Florida played a choppy second helping give the Sabres some momentum as the Panthers were called for a a pair of early penalties.
The Panthers bounced back in the third with Barkov scoring his second in as many games and he knocked a Jagr deflection past goalie Chad Johnson.
Buffalo made it a one-goal game again when Tyler Ennis' power play slapshot got past Roberto Luongo (24 saves) with 7:25 left.
Florida clamped down after that, however, to secure the victory.
It took the Panthers until Oct. 30 to get their third win last season.
"Obviously we're trying to get some wins under our belt to get the season off to the right start,'' Luongo said.
"The worst thing we can do is get comfortable because that's when bad things start to happen. We played good enough to win. We'll take the two points, but it's important we keep working on our game and get better. We have some tough teams coming up in the next week or so.''
-- The first intermission came earlier than expected Thursday. With 2:53 left in the first period, Buffalo's Evander Kane drove Erik Gudbranson into the end boards.
The impact caved in one of the boards, causing a delay to repair the damage.
Instead of having the two teams sit it out and wait, the on-ice officials called for an early intermission.
When the two teams returned to the ice, they finished the final 2:53 of the first, switched sides of the ice and started the second period.
"I think it was good by the refs,'' Jagr said. "You don't want wait 10 minutes there then another 15 minutes. It's not the first time something like that happened, it won't be the last."