Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Since I've Been Gone...

...the Panthers have continued their solid play. Since my last post, the Cats are 2-0-1, with consecutive, 3-0 shutout wins behind solid defense and the return of Tomas Vokoun. The overtime loss to Carolina certainly hurt, but they have rebounded well. After concluding what can only be thought of as a successful road trip (3-1-1), the Cats returned home for a couple of games against Western Conference foes. In their most recent victory over the Nashville Predators, Michael Frolik continued his scoring groove, scoring 2 goals. Cory Stillman (2 goals) and Richard Zednik (1 goal) have found their touch as well after lengthy time spent on the IR. This is officially a team to watch. The Panthers are 1 point behind both 2nd in the division and 8th in the conference. They are playing with a true identity, in a solid system, and with a confidence that hasn't been seen in South Florida in quite some time.

In case you missed it, I've been missing in action due to my recent marriage to my new, wonderful wife. And now, I must leave you again. Fortunately for me, but unfortunately for those of you out there who actually enjoy my ramblings, I'm heading out on my honeymoon Friday morning. I am lucky enough to have married a woman who agreed to head to beautiful ski country in Alberta, Canada, and include a Calgary vs. Edmonton hockey game on New Years Eve in our honeymoon plans. But alas, I will be unable to see any of the next 6 Panthers games. So look for my half-dozen game recap January 5th upon my return to the real world. Until then... go Cats go.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Game Night!

Tonight, the Florida Panthers take on the Carolina Hurricanes. I, however, will be preoccupied. You see, I am getting married Saturday, so tomorrow night, I will be on a Sterling Casino Cruise doing the bachelor's night thing. I'm not sure when I will be back online to give my usual ramblings on Panthers hockey, hopefully you can understand.

Anyways, Tomas Vokoun will be back in net against the 'Canes. Craig Anderson's last performance was less then stellar, giving up 5 goals, so this might be T-Vo's chance to reclaim his starting role.

More good news, David Booth, Nathan Horton, and Richard Zednik will all return to the lineup. We'll see how long it takes them to get back into game shape, but the potential for a scoring boost is awesome. The Panthers are 2 points behind Carolina (and Buffalo) who are in 8th in the conference, and a full 10 points behind division leading Washington. Tonight's game against Carolina could be as important a game the Cats have had in December in some time. They can't let Carolina get too much of a lead on them, and Washington is trying to run away with the division. 2 points would go a long way for this team's confidence, especially getting so many players back in the lineup. Puck drops at 7 from Raleigh.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Moving Day!

The Panthers made a few roster moves today in order to clear up space for players coming off of the IR. Shawn Matthias and Michael Repik were sent back to AHL Rochester, while Nathan Horton, David Booth, and Richard Zednik were all activated.

While this is obviously good news, there is some trepidation that comes along with it. Matthias and Repik were two guys who knew their situation, and had to give a full effort every chance they got to earn playing time. I thought Matthias in particular was starting to get comfortable in his role, and averaged about 12 minutes a game over the last 3. More important then that is that he is a true center. His faceoff percentage has risen to about 70%, something that will be especially missed if Stephen Weiss misses any amount of time.

Don't get me wrong, seeing Cory Stillman back on the ice Sunday night, and getting the scoring touches of Booth and Horton back will be great, providing they actually score, of course. It will be interesting to see how the returnees fit themselves into the Cats new identity that has been forged since, and mostly due to, the injuries. Florida finishes off their 5-game road trip Thursday night in Carolina. Until then...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Panthers 3 - Canucks 5; Can't Win 'Em All

The Panthers ended their 4 game Canadian swing with a hard fought 5-3 loss in Vancouver tonight. The Panthers actually jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the first 7 minutes of the game, first from a Nick Boynton shot that somehow found its way through bodies and legs and Canucks' goaltender Corey Schneider, then Jay Bouwmeester put a rebound past a scrum of people in front of the net for the 2-0 lead.

Then Vancouver woke up. Pulling within 1 with just under 5 minutes left in the game on a Darcy Hordichuk (remember him?) wrist shot as Keith Ballard hobbled around on 1 leg after blocking an earlier shot (definitely thought the play should have been blown dead when Florida got control of the puck, but it wasn't, and they turned it over, and they scored).

The 2nd period was all Vancouver. Pavol Demitra took advantage of a horrible Karlis Skrastins mistake behind his own net, then a 3 goal in 2:08 stretch put the game out of reach. Michael Frolik gave the Cats a brief glimmer of hope with his 3rd of the year, but it wasn't to be.

Give Florida credit. Take out that 2+ minute stretch, and Florida outplayed Vancouver for long stretches of the game. Granted, the Canucks may have been sitting back a bit in the 3rd, but Florida didn't go away. One thing that became obvious in this game, Florida has become a team. Maybe it's the long road trips, maybe its the recent winning streak, but this team has come together. 5 unanswered goals is as good a reason as any to pack it in, but Greg Campbell said no way, and took on perpetual PIM leader Shane O'Brien in a good fight. As the 2nd period horn ended, Radek Dvorak took a late hit, and the rest of the team was right there, pushing, shoving, sticking up for each other, letting Vancouver know the 3rd period wouldn't just be a walk through. Good stuff. Maybe the Panthers should just wait til the 3rd or OT before taking a lead...

5 goals against, and not really any of them fall in Craig Anderson's lap. The first one was just a great shot, maybe Andy was out of position an inch or 2, but oh well. Then Skrastins gives one away, one deflects in off J-Bo's skate, a shorthanded breakaway, a superb one-timer out of mid-air, nothing you can do.

Looong flight back to South FLA after tonight's game, but no reason to feel glum on the plane ride. 3-1-0 leaves me with no complaints. Unfortunately, there could be bad news. Just as the Panthers welcome back Cory Stillman, Stephen Weiss left the game with an "upper body injury," and went to the local hospital for X-rays. Sigh. A few days off will do everyone some good. The Panthers cap off this road trip Thursday night in Carolina before finally returning home. Until then...

Game Night!

Panthers @ Canucks. On Friday night, the Panthers won in Calgary for the first time since 1996. Tonight, the Cats will try to earn their first W in Vancouver since 1994. And during their current run, who would be surprised? 5 straight road wins, 7-1-2 over the last 10.

Vancouver, on the other hand, is playing at home for the first time since completing a 7-game game road trip, a trip in which they went 2-4-1 and ended with a 3-0 loss in Edmonton last night. The Canucks are led by the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel. Daniel leads the team with 12 goals, and brother Henrik has 22 assists. Old friend Roberto Luongo remains sidelined with a groin injury, so the Canucks will turn to Curtis Sanford or rookie Cory Schneider. Sanford played last night, so Schneider, whose last appearance was a 5-4 shootout loss December 7, would be the logical choice.

As for Florida, they will finally get one of their injured back. Cory Stillman should return tonight, who's been out since November 14. More then likely, he won't see a lot of ice and will be gradually inserted back into the line up, but he will be active tonight. Craig Anderson will return to the net after Tomas Vokoun played exceptionally well in Friday's win over Calgary. Puck drops at 10 eastern, once again TV-free so as you end your weekend, tune that AM dial to the dulcet tones of Randy Moller.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Panthers 3 - Flames 2 (SO); Same Old Story...

I think I've had this deja vu feeling before... The Flames and Panthers traded goals in the first 2 periods, a scoreless 3rd, Stephen Weiss game winner, albeit in a shootout. 2 points. Love it.

The story of the night was the return of Tomas Vokoun. 35 saves on 37 shots, and most importantly, 17 of 17 in the 3rd period, and 2 of 2 in the OT. The Panthers were playing their 2nd game in as many nights, and it showed in the final period. Florida was outshot 17-4, and spent much of the period clearing pucks from in front of Vokoun. Plenty got through, and T-Vo was ready. Having not started since November 26, he was as sharp as ever. Except for a beautiful own-goal tip in by Stephen Weiss (which I'm sure made his winner in the shootout feel that much better), and a deft, behind the back, behind the net pass to Rene Borque as Nick Boynton stood idly by, Vokoun was as solid as ever. It was great to see him make the most of his opportunity and get the result he deserved. If he has anything over Craig Anderson right now, it's his shootout performance. Vokoun stopped all 3 shooters tonight, including renowned sniper Jarome Iginla.

The offense was as sporadic as ever. The first 2 periods were consistent. Lots of hard work, super aggressive forecheck, defensemen taking chances up ice, the usual PDeB style, which makes the Cats first goal that much more of an oddity. While shorthanded, Kamil Kreps intercepted a pass at his own blue line and had a clear cut breakaway from the red line. A cute little deke and backhand flip later, and Kreps finally had his first goal of the season. For a team that doesn't get many clear chances, it's nice to see someone take advantage of one. While hockey purists might not find the Panthers style of hockey entertaining, it is effective (or affective, I never am sure). Guys, or girls, who like 1-0 pitching duels, or 10-7 defensive football games, would love Florida hockey. Lots of neutral ice play, solid in their own end, dump and chase in the offensive zone. It isn't pretty. But there is nothing wrong with thriving on "ugly" goals, and right now the Panthers are playing hockey that's been beaten with the ugly stick (which is a good thing, remember?).

5 straight road wins. 7-1-2 in their last 10, 3 games over .500?? Not even a month ago, this team was living in the NHL's basement, and starting to look comfortable down there. No offense, lethargic on defense, no signs of improvement anywhere to be found. Now look where they are. 2nd in the division and tied with Buffalo for the 8th seed in the East! While I do my best to keep my hopes locked away until at least March, this team is playing well. With the possibility of one, if not a few, of the regulars returning to action on Sunday, it will be interesting to see who gets left out and how the returnees get into the system. Since Nathan Horton went out on November 26, the Panthers are 6-1-1. I'm interested, if not wary, to see who's on the ice Sunday and how it goes. Day off on Saturday, then off to Vancouver Sunday, where they may or may not see good ol' Roberto Luongo. Until then...

Game Night!

The Panthers look to continue their hot streak in the cold, dreary gloom of Western Canada tonight against the Calgary Flames. The Flames are just 1 point behind the Northwest division leading Vancouver Canucks (who the Panthers go against Sunday), and looking to rebound from a disappointing overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday, a game in which Calgary held a 2 goal lead.

This game will feature two of the brightest young defensemen in the league, NHL '09 cover boy the Flames' Dion Phaneuf and Florida's Jay Bouwmeester, and both come into tonight's game on a bit of an offensive tear. Phaneuf has 10 assists over his last 8 games, and J-Bo 8 points (4 G, 4 A) in his last 8. I was right to key on Ales Hemsky last night (8 total shots attempted, including a clean breakaway), let's hope the Panthers can keep Phaneuf off his game tonight.

Another storyline in tonight's game is the return of Tomas Vokoun to the Panthers' crease. T-Vo (not to be confused with Florida Gator Heisman finalist, Tebow), hasn't started since November 26. He does have a history of success of Calgary, posting an 11-3-1 career mark against the Flames. If he hopes to see more playing time, he needs a good performance tonight.

That said, this is the 6th time this season the Panthers have had back-to-back game nights, and the Cats are just 2-3 in the second game. The Panthers have a chance to pass Carolina, 2nd in the division, and tie Buffalo for the 8th spot in the East (the Sabres are in Toronto tonight). Let's hope Vokoun comes out strong and the Panthers can get 2 more important points tonight. Puck drops at 9.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Panthers 2 - Oilers 0; Ugly is the New Beautiful

Dear Mr. Anderson, I'm sorry. I've doubted your recent run of success. I've given the skaters in front of you more credit then they have apparently deserved. I've often thought you get in the way more then make actual saves. I've thought you out of position many a-time. Tonight, you stole 2 impressive points from a hard working, dominating Edmonton Oilers team. I guess there is a method behind your goaltending madness. I apologize.

The Panthers were incredibly outworked, badly outshot, and horribly outplayed tonight, but Craig Anderson made the difference. All night, Andy was eating pucks like they were the biscuits they are so admiringly referred to. The Panthers did a good job keeping most of the shots from bad angles and kept the front of the net clear, usually. But there were no loose rebounds, no lazy saves, no swimming through the crease tonight. Anderson was calm, confident, and collecting rubber like a Goodyear store. 41 saves in all, Anderson earned his 3rd shutout of the year, and more importantly, the Panthers improved to 6-1-2 over their last 9 and moved within 2 points of 8th seed Buffalo.

Other then Anderson's play, there really isn't much to talk about. The Panthers managed just 16 shots on net, only 3 in the 3rd period, and looked flat out lethargic at times. For whatever reason, the aggression wasn't there tonight. Instead of forechecking like mad men and creating turnovers as they have been, too many times the Panthers tried to weave their way through 2 defenders and opted for the individual play. There isn't a guy on this roster that can beat 2 or 3 guys to get to the net. I'm not quite sure where it came from tonight, but a Stephen Weiss power play goal with about 5 minutes left in the 2nd period was enough, thanks to Mr. Anderson. And guess what, on the road, ugly is often a beautiful thing, and tonight it worked out.

The Cats head about 180 miles north on Route 2 to take on the Calgary Flames tomorrow night. Tomas Vokoun should be in net, and he'll have to be near-flawless if he hopes to get more playing time with the way Anderson has been getting results. I'll have a full preview tomorrow afternoon sometime.

Game Night!

The Panthers head west, and north, to take on the Edmonton Oilers tonight. The Cats have had their problems in Edmonton, and haven't won there since January 5, 1996 (oh, what a magical year that was!) As mentioned below, Craig Anderson will be in net for Florida. Read on to get my real feelings...

I'll keep try to keep it short today. The injured list is still probably a few days away from clearing up a little. Booth and Zednik are probably closest to returning, possibly Sunday in Vancouver. Edmonton has started to play well lately, but hasn't played since knocking off the NHL's best, San Jose Sharks. The Oils were actually out shot in that game 43-17, but Dwayne Roloson kept the Sharks out of the net and got the win. It's been awhile since they played, though, so it will be key for the Panthers to start strong and aggressive and get them on their heels.

Both teams sit in 10th in their respective conferences and are looking for 2 big points to get them closer to that coveted 8th spot. The offensive spark for Edmonton is Ales Hemsky, who leads the team in goals (9) and points (28). But this is a team that gets scoring from up and down the roster, similar to the Panthers. No Oiler has more then 9 goals, but 8 players have 5 goals or more. Should be a good one, too bad local Panther-ites won't be able to see it. Cozy up to those radios. For those of us outside of the Panthers territory, thank God for NHL Center Ice. Puck drops at 9.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

So Many Questions...

One has been answered. Craig Anderson will be in net again tomorrow night as the Panthers take on the Edmonton Oilers. Tomas Vokoun expected to start Friday against Calgary. This will be Andy's 7th straight start. His last start, which came Monday night in Ottawa, had its ups and downs, to say the least. He gave up 3, shaky goals in the first 2 periods, then played one of his best periods to send the game to OT, where the Cats eventually won. There's no doubt that some credit of the Panthers recent run of success belongs to Anderson. But the more he starts, and the more Vokoun sits on the bench, the more it feels like a train wreck is coming 'round the bend. Anderson hasn't been a #1 goalie since his 2000-2001 season with the Guelph Storm (59 starts). He's never started more the 21 games in an NHL season. Vokoun has appeared in 30 games 8 times, over 60 games 4 times, and started 69 games last season. Anderson might wear down, and the longer Vokoun sits (he hasn't started since November 26), the longer it could take him to get back into his All-Star shape. And by then, it could be too late.

Until now, both netminders have said the right things. As long as the team is winning, we're both happy. Whatever is best for the team, that's what I'll do. Yea... right. While I can't say I'd have a problem being paid $5 mil to sit on the bench and watch hockey for a living, I doubt Vokoun is pleased. He's his own biggest critic. When he doesn't perform well, he's the first to call himself out. Playing poorly is one thing. You know what you did wrong, what you can work on, how to get better. Not even getting a chance is another. For a guy who's been the #1 for so long, this new role can't sit well with him. And I can't say I'd blame him for getting frustrated.

Now what I can only imagine Coach DeBoer hopes to get out of this is that both 'tenders push each other to play as well as possible every chance they get. They know the guy on the bench is itching for a chance to earn more time. If DeBoer has been consistent about one thing in his early NHL career, it's that effort warrants more time. Results = playing time. Vokoun wasn't getting the results early in the year. Anderson is. I think a lot of that is the effort the team has put forward with Andy in net as opposed to the first month or so of the season for Tomas, but hey, that's the way it worked out. It's been a good 6 game stretch, no doubt. But counting on that to continue through February is unrealistic. Vokoun will have to reclaim his starting job for this team to continue to stay in the playoff picture all year. It starts Friday.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Panthers 4 - Senators 3 (OT); Larceny!

The Panthers got an overtime win in Ottawa tonight, thanks to a Stephen Weiss slap shot with just 9 seconds left in the 4th period. The Senators probably should have ended the game a few times, but Craig Anderson slid across and denied Mike Fisher's one timer, and Jason Spezza had an open net, but whiffed on his one timer effort. The Senators may also have been robbed by the men in stripes. The Panthers got 3 power plays in the 3rd period, including 2 over the last 6 minutes. Ottawa got zero, and probably should have had at least a couple. But the Panthers managed to get it to overtime, and Weiss got the game winner to push the Panthers hot streak to 5-1-2 over their last 8.

The Sens and Cats exchanged goals through the first 2 periods, with Ottawa taking a 1-0 lead, and then the Panthers answering back each time Ottawa scored. In the 3rd, Ottawa took control of the game, and outshot the Cats 19-12 over the final period and the overtime. But Andy stood tall, and made up for a couple of soft goals given up in the earlier periods. As bad and out of position he was in the first 2, he was that much better when it counted. It feels like only a matter of time before all the action Andy has gotten will catch up to him. After all, he's only appeared in more then 20 games once in his NHL career (he's played in 14 this season already). With a 3-game in 4-day stretch coming up, Vokoun's going to get his chance.

Michal Repik scored in his NHL debut tonight. If the Cats keep getting scoring from unexpected places, this team could actually prove to be dangerous if they get healthy. David Booth, Nathan Horton, Cory Stillman, and Richard Zednik are on the road trip, and some or all could return as early as this week. Jay Bouwmeester scored again, and the CPR (Campbell, Peltonen, Radek Dvorak) line chipped in on Nick Boynton's 3rd goal of the year. The more scoring sources, the better.

One thing stuck out to me tonight, amongst many others. When overtime started, the gap in offensive playmakers became glaring. When you give players like Spezza and Heatley open ice, they can change the game in a blink of your eye. The Panthers don't have anyone like that. There isn't a guy that, when he gets the puck and a few feet of ice, makes the crowd hold its breath. You give guys like Jarome Iginla, Crosby, Ovechkin, Heatley, Spezza, or Marion Hossa a couple feet, they can turn the game around. With the Panthers, it's a hard working, grind it out, force turnovers kind of offense that works 5 on 5. When it goes to 4 on 4, they can't keep up. Ottawa should have won tonight in the OT. But they didn't, and I won't complain about that anymore. Don't get me wrong, you don't need guys like that to win. I love the way this team works and earns every chance they get. It's a fun team to watch, and with no big superstars, they'll have to continue to have the same work ethic that's been working over the last couple weeks. Next game is Thursday in Edmonton. Until then...

Game Night!

It's Monday night, are you ready for some hockey? The Panthers kick off a 4 game road trip through Canada tonight, taking on the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa is coming off of a hard fought win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jason Spezza recorded a hat trick in the 3-2 win.

The top line for the Senators, Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, is the one to watch. Stop them, and your chances for a win increase dramatically. They have accounted for 10 goals and 10 assists in the last 5 games.

A couple new faces are in the lineup tonight for the Cats. Kenndal McArdle and Janis Sprukts were sent back to Rochester, and taking their place are Tanner Glass and Michal Repik. Glass has been called up by the big club a few times, but it will be Repik's NHL debut. That makes 4 NHL debuts this year by Panthers. Good for them, bad for the team. The injury list, David Booth, Nathan Horton, Cory Stillman, and Richard Zednik, have made the trip up to the Great White North, but no news on when any of them will be back.

Craig Anderson is back between the pipes for his 6th straight start. He played wonderfully in the Panthers first trip to Ottawa this year, earning a 3-1 victory. Puck drops at 7:30.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

While I Was Away; Panthers 0 - Bruins 4

Apologies for not posting anything on a game night, but I was a little preoccupied with my alma mater's football game. Yes, the Florida Gators won the SEC Championship last night, and "hopefully" a spot in the national title game. So I missed the Panthers game, but it looks like i didn't miss much.

Seeing how I missed the game, I'll keep it brief. The loss ended a 6 game streak of earning at least a point. The Bruins are the top team in the East, and now we know why. The Panthers are a growing team, maturing before our eyes over the last 2 weeks. Last night was a bit of a reality check. Hopefully the Cats will turn it into a positive learning experience.

The Panthers head to the Great White North for 4 straight on the road, starting tomorrow night in Ottawa. All 4 teams the Panthers play on this trek are over .500, so it won't be easy. Craig Anderson will get the start tomorrow, making it seem like he has officially taken over the #1 G position. Until next time...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Andy In Tomorrow; What's It Really Mean?

Craig Anderson has been given his 5th straight start tomorrow night as the Panthers take on the Boston Bruins. While the on-ice numbers are clearly in Andy's favor, the off-ice numbers could make this a full blown goaltender controversy.

Going back to January 3 of last season, Anderson is 14-3-3, and 6-1-3 this year. Vokoun is 5-10-1 this season. Andy's save percentage is an NHL best, .947. Vokoun's is .911. Goals against average? 1.89 to 3.01. Sounds like a pretty clear cut, #1 guy, doesn't it? Well here's the number that matters. Anderson is making $525,000 this season. Vokoun? $5.3 million. On a team where there scoring is never guaranteed and was built from the net out this offseason, the front office powers that be cannot be pleased about having $5.3 mil sitting on the bench. From a wins perspective, it seems clear. Play the better goalie. From a financial perspective, ouch. Are there teams out there willing to bring in a guy, who earns that kind of cash, in exchange for a top line scorer? Doubtful. But that's what the Panthers have, and that's what the Panthers need.

There is, of course, the fact that the Panthers have been playing their best hockey in front of Anderson over the last week and a half. Think Vokoun would've stopped 44 of 45 last night against the Sabres? Possibly. Maybe. But Anderson did, and Anderson is starting to get comfortable in that #1 G slot. After tomorrow night's game, the Panthers head out on a 4 game, all-Canada road trip that includes a 3 game in 4 night stretch. Vokoun will get a chance to get between the pipes again, and chances are, he'll put on the best performance of the year. These 2 guys are like that. They both know that they earn playing time based on performance, not salary. Vokoun has made Anderson play better, Andy will get T-Vo playing better. As long as these two continue to get along as they have on the surface so far, it'll be all beneficial for the Cats. As soon as one feels like he's getting slighted, or ego creeps into the picture, watch out. But for now, keep pushing each other, keep getting those W's, and every little thing's gonna be alright.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Panthers 2 - Sabres 1; 35 seconds = 2 points

Craig Anderson made 45 saves and the Panthers scored 2 goals in a 35 second span to earn a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. It's the 3rd straight win for the Cats, and the 6th straight in which the team has earned a point. And that, my friends, is a streak. A legitimate, bona fide winning streak.

Yes, the Panthers were out shot 46-25 in the game, but Anderson was there to make the stops and the defense did a great job of clearing any rebounds. As the Buffalo goal scorer, Ales Kotalik, said, "I'd rather be the worst team for 59 minutes and end up getting the win." Now, to be fair, the Panthers had stretches where they had solid, offensive pressure. The CPR line (Greg Campbell, Ville Peltonen, and Radek Dvorak) chipped in another goal (even though it was Campbell who scored while the rest of the line was making a change, Frolik got the assist. From their own end to the goal scored, there were no fewer then 5 superb passes to set up Campbell with the open net one timer. It was one of the better goals of the year). But one of the key, under appreciated stats, is hits. The Panthers outhit the Sabres 30-18 overall in the game, and many of those Buffalo hits came late when they were pressing for a tying goal. The Panthers were all over the Sabres in their own end, causing numerous turnovers on the fore check. It's taken awhile, but Coach DeBoer's system has finally taken hold. Dump it in, out race the defender to the puck or put him through the boards, create turnover, crash the net, score. It doesn't always work. It can backfire and lead to odd man rushes the other way. But more often then not over the past 2 weeks, it's been run to perfection.

Shhhh, don't tell anyone, but the Panthers are now just 1 point out of the 8th spot in the east. Yes, I am fully aware that it is only December 4. But considering just over 2 weeks ago, this team was living in the cellar of the NHL, it's worth mentioning. Just when you thought the schedule might lighten up, the conference leading Boston Bruins visit the BAC on Saturday night coming off of a 3-1 win in Tampa tonight. It'll be interesting to see if Tomas Vokoun makes his return to the crease with a chance to prove he still deserves the millions of dollars he's currently being paid to sit on the bench. As always, news and thoughts will be posted if anything comes up. Stay tuned...

Game Night!

The Panthers return home tonight to take on the Buffalo Sabres. The Panthers are playing their best hockey of the year, and haven't lost in regulation in their last 5 games. The Sabres are currently struggling through a 2-7-0 stretch, and coming off of a lackluster 2-0 loss in Nashville on Sunday.

The IR line is still out tonight (Horton, Booth, Stillman), so the offensive power of late has come from an unexpected source. Ville Peltonen, Radek Dvorak, and Gregory Campbell have combined for 9 goals and 10 assists in the last 6 games. They epitomize the type of hockey that this team has to play in order to win games. Quick, aggressive, and relentless. Jay Bouwmeester has also started to chip in, with 3 goals in the last 4 games. He is a defeseman, so any goals he gets are bonus, but pre-season, he was going to be counted on to push the attack and get a few, so it's nice to see him finally find the net. Bottom line, if this team wants to continue to win, it's going to need goals from all 4 lines, especially with the injury situation.

Craig Anderson will get his 4th straight start tonight, and may slowly be taking over Tomas Vokoun's starting goaltender position. Puck drops at 7:30.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Panthers 5 - Capitals 3; Break Up the Cats!

Who are these guys? After being dominated in the first period and going down 1-0, the Panthers came out of the dressing room in the second and proceeded to out work, out chance, and out luck the Washington Capitals en route to a 5-3 victory. All 5 Panther goals were scored by a different skater. Ville Peltonen tied the game early in the 2nd period. Jay Bouwmeester gave the Panthers the lead just 1:09 after Pelts tied it. Bryan McCabe gave the Cats the all important 2 goal lead. Radek Dvorak opened the scoring in the 3rd period with the eventual game winner. Greg Campbell found an empty net to ice the game after a Caps comeback ended up 1 goal short. Huge thank you to George Richards of On Frozen Pond for providing an in-game blog of tonight's TV-less game. I've been promoting Radek Dvorak for unsung player of the year so far, looks like I'm not alone. He only has 3 goals this season, but he's been one of the few players who looks like he's cared since game 1. His legs never stop moving and he always seems to be looking for someone to hit or to create a turnover. The line of Dvorak, Peltonen, and Campbell now have 9 goals over the past 5 games. It's contributions like that that will push this team onwards and upwards.

Pete DeBoer is starting to look like a wily veteran behind the bench, even though he's never coached in the NHL before this season. Since PDeB made Rostislav Olesz a healthy scratch and waived Wade Belak, the Panthers have gone 3-0-2, with wins over the conference leading New York Rangers and division leading Washington Capitals. He's been able to mix and match his lines, such as the Dvorak\Campbell\Peltonen line, even with the injuries to his top scorers. Speaking of scoring, goals are coming from all over. Jay Bouwmeester now has 3 goals in his last 4 games. Craig Anderson is 5-1-3 on the year, including a 2-0-1 stretch over the last 3 games. Don't look now, but the Panthers are just 3 points behind the 8th spot in the east, and just 6 behind division leading Washington.

Over the past few years, this kind of stretch has been reserved until late March, when the Cats string their fans along with just a dash of hope of making the playoffs. This year, the message seems to have been received a little earlier. Over the last week and a half, this team has started to create their identity; hard working, super aggressive on the forecheck, a full team effort every night. The Cats have shown spurts of this early in the year, but rarely for a full 60 minutes. Since Coach DeBoer called his team out, they've responded. Excluding David Booth and his team leading 12 goals, no one else has more then 6. But only 2 forwards have yet to score (Brett McLean and Kamil Kreps, excluding newcomers Nick Tarnasky, Shawn Matthias, and Kenndal McArdle). If the Cats are going to continue their success, they will have to get contributions from everyone on the roster, as they have lately. Great things to build on, as well as a huge confidence boost after a 2-0 quickie road trip.

More good news. No injuries to talk about after this one! Panthers return home to the BAC on Thursday to take on the Buffalo Sabres, who are just 2 points ahead of the Cats. Craig Anderson should be back in net, if you ask me. And guess what, for the first time since Saturday, local Panther fans can see it on the tele! Until then...

Game Night!

The Panthers, coming off their best performance of the season, head to our nation's capital to take on the Washington Capitals. Craig Anderson will get his 3rd straight start in net tonight. After shutting out the New York Rangers on Sunday, the job doesn't get any easier tonight. The Capitals have yet to lose in regulation in their home barn, posting a 9-0-1 record in the Phone Booth... I mean, Verizon Center. Some kid named Ovechkin might have something to do with that. The reigning NHL MVP leads the Caps in goals (13) and assists (17).

The Panthers will be without their leading scorer tonight. David Booth looks like he will miss about a week with a shoulder injury suffered Sunday in New York. Nothing new for the Panthers, as the injury bug has turned into an epidemic that has spread to Washington, as well. The Panthers are still without Booth, Nathan Horton, Cory Stillman, Richard Zednik, The Caps will be without Mike Green, Sergei Federov, John Erskine, Alexander Semin, Chris Clark, Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti. These two teams' injury list would make a pretty solid team.

Noteworthy notes; Kenndal McArdle will make his NHL debut. McArdle, as you are all surely aware, was the Panthers first round pick in 2005. He's waited 3 years for this, I'll be interested in seeing what he has. Oh, right. Tonight's game is radio only thanks to Versus exclusivity rights. Well I'll be interested in reading about what he does tonight anyways. Another rookie, Michael Frolik, continues to get more opportunities to find his groove. He'll be on the top line tonight with Stephen Weiss and Rusty Olesz. Frolik scored a goal Sunday, let's see.. I mean, listen if he'll be able to find his scoring touch again tonight. He's been getting ample ice time, time to produce.

Here's the reality of the situation. Tonight is the first game of December. The Panthers have earned points in 4 straight. Yes, the first couple months were abysmal, but there are plenty of games left (59, to be exact). And it's never too early to look at the 8th seed, and guess what. It's only 5 points away. If the Peltonen's and Campbell's and Stewart's of the team continue to contribute, and the Booth\Horton\Stillman line comes back in the not too distant future, and Anderson and Vokoun continue to push each other to play better... that's a lot of ifs, but hey, I got a lot of hope... puck drops at 7:00.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Panthers 4 - Rangers 0; Awesome

The Panthers just played the best 60 minutes of the season against the conference's top team, and in their barn, no less. Craig Anderson was impressive again, making Tomas Vokoun looking like the league's most expensive backup. Anderson has already been given the start Tuesday against Washington, and why not. He's one of the best save percentage goalies in the league and just handed the Broadway Blueshirts their first shutout of the year. Maybe this will even inspire Vokoun to step his own game up.

After a competitive, scoreless first period, the second stanza proved to be pivotal, and Ville Peltonen took full of advantage of a Rangers mishap. First, it looked like he'd be coming in 2 on 1 until the Rangers defenseman simply tripped over the blue line, and Peltonen took the breakaway himself and fired a wrist shot past Henrik Lundqvist. This came just after Peltonen had another breakaway the Lundqvist stopped. Usually, a huge save by a goaltender leads to a goal on the other end, but the Panthers were having none of it. 2 goals in a 12-second span later and Lundqvist was yanked, but the damage had been done. A beautiful rebound, backhand goal from Michael Frolik, following up on a Stephen Weiss shot, capped the scoring for the Panthers.

The Cats have been without their expected scoring leaders for a number of games now, but that has only made the secondary players step up. Peltonen, Weiss, and Frolik all chipped in today. The Panthers have played their best hockey over the last week, going 2-0-2. The work ethic has been incredible. Even the MSG network announcers were taking notice. A loose quote I remember went something like this; "This isn't an overly physical team, but they will work you for every puck. As soon as a Ranger gets control of the puck, there was a Panther pressuring him, forcing turnovers. They're quick and they're relentless." That's the way the Panthers have to play in order to win games, relentless. They aren't a big team, they aren't a flashy team. They need to be aggressive to the puck and then capitalize on the chances they get. They were superb this afternoon. Imagine what might happen if this team actually gets healthy.

Speaking of health, it's time for the daily, post-game injury report. This time, it's David Booth visiting the trainer's room. Luckily, he called it a minor injury and sounds like he won't miss much time. Officially listed as questionable for Tuesday, we can't afford to lose too many more goal scorers. That said, the Panthers scored more then 3 goals today for the first time since November 12th, and for only the 4th time this season. Great game today, let's hope they can keep this run going a little longer.

Game Day!

I'll keep it brief, seeing how we just played these guys Friday. The Panthers head north to take on the New York Rangers. These 2 teams played to a 3-3 draw just 2 nights ago before the Rangers took the extra point in a shootout.

Couple noteworthy notes. Shawn Matthias is still with the team. Even he admitted to being tentative in his first game back on Friday. Again, the only thing that builds confidence is time. Look at Michael Frolik. Through the first 10, 15 games he looked lost at times, out of place and unsure of himself. The last week or so, he's started to find his groove. Let's hope Matthias does the same.

David Booth continues to be a consistent bright spot offensively for this team. His goal, with just 1:33 left, sent Friday's game to OT. He's scored in 4 straight games now. Coincidence that the Panthers have earned at least a point in 3 of those 4? Bouwmeester is starting to find himself as well. Goals in the last 2 games, he's finally starting to produce as expected.

You can't help but wonder what this team would be like if they were fully healthy. Granted, every team deals with injuries, it's not an excuse. But it's a pretty good reason why this team has struggled. Nick Boynton made his return Friday night, but a full scoring line of forwards remain out. Nathan Horton, Richard Zednik, and Cory Stillman were being counted on to fuel the offense. The sooner they get healthy, the better.

Vokoun or Anderson? Flip a coin, there hasn't been much difference in their performances of late. Maybe start Vokoun just to give the Rangers a different look? Puck drops at 1. No local coverage for Panthers fans, so put your NFL game on mute and warm up that AM tuner.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Panthers 3 - Rangers 4 (SO)

How many good losses can you have before they just become another loss. The Panthers skated with the top team in the East and came away with a point, losing in a shootout. The Cats came back from an early 2-0 deficit, which was a feat in itself. The Rangers found themselves leading 2-0 after just 2 and a half mintues, before most of the BAC crowd had found their seats. Things looked bleak, to say the least. First, for coming back to tie it at 2. Then, with just under 2 minutes left, the Panthers tied it at 3. Full credit to the Panthers for fighting back. This team had every reason to pack it in. 3 top scorers were out (Horton, Zednik, and Stillman), Anderson was weak early, so many excuses, but not this night. They didn't get the win, but they got a point and a boat full of confidence on the way. They'll need it, too. They head to the World's Most Famous Arena tomorrow afternoon for the back end of the home-and-home with the Rangers.

You have to like what you saw last night. Down 2-0 early, best team in hockey, and the Panthers didn't quit. Came back from 2-0 and 3-2. Shawn Matthias still doesn't look like he's comfortable at this level, and only time will give him the experience he needs to be confident. We'll see if he gets that time. Nick Tarnasky's debut was decent. No fights to speak of, but he was energetic enough. As Craig Anderson seems to do, he'll let up a softie, then make an incredible save to follow it up. Tomas Vokoun hasn't shown much either, so we'll see how the carousel spins tomorrow. Lots of good things to take away from the game, but it was still a loss. These "good effort" games need to start producing wins if the Panthers want to play meaningful games into March and April.

On a personal note, this was my first game at the Bank this year, and I have to say, NHL games live can't be beat. There's something about the cold air, the cold beer, and the game itself. I love hockey. I just wish I lived closer to an NHL team so I could go more often. Game time tomorrow is 1:00.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Game Night!

The feast has been digested, the relatives have hit the road, so pack a turkey leftover sandwich, it's time to get back to work. The Panthers conclude their 3 game homestand tonight against the New York Rangers. The Cats are 1-0-1 in their first 2 games of this "season changing" week, and a win tonight could provide a huge boost for the morale of this team. On the other hand, another lackluster loss could put a very early end to this season of hope. Going 2-0-1 against Carolina, New Jersey, and New York would be pretty impressive for this team.

A couple newsworthy notes and tidbits going into tonight's game. First, the Panthers will have 2 new fowards on the ice. Nick Tarnasky, will make his Panther debut tonight after being traded to Florida from Nashville yesterday, and Shawn Matthias will get his 2nd chance with the Cats this season. Matthias hasn't exactly been tearing it up in Rochester, scoring only 3 goals in their first 19 games. Maybe a change of scenery will be what he needs to start producing. Being given a chance to show he belongs at this level can be a pretty big motivator. Imagine the energy on a Tarnasky-Matthias-Stewart line... I think Michael Frolik will continue to see his ice time increase as well, and this is a chance for him to solidify himself with this team.

Second, this is the first game of a home-and-home with the first place team in the Eastern Conference. The Rangers sit 2 points ahead of Boston on top of the table, and are coming off of a 3-2 shootout win in Tampa on Wednesday. New York is 6-3-1 in their last 10, and clearly one of the top teams in the league. Henrik Lundqvist leads the NHL in wins with 14. He also has 6 wins against the Panthers in his career, 3 of them coming via the shutout. Playing against the best seems to bring out the best in the Panthers, and they have 2 in a row with something to prove. Maybe its ill-advised, but I continue to see potential in this team, and I think they start to put it together tonight.

Cory Stillman is still out with concussion symptoms, Nathan Horton is out with a deep leg cut, Richard Zednik is out with an elbow injury. Craig Anderson is in net (don't look now, but Andy leads the NHL in save percentage). There is sure to be a solid Ranger fan base tonight. As we approach the holidays, attendance always goes up as the snow birds flock to the BAC to see their team take on our Panthers. Last year's Panther-Ranger, Thanksgiving week game was a sell-out, and the Panthers won in a shootout. It's always more fun to play in front of a crowd, and hopefully tonight will be no different. I'll be making the trek south for this one, and can't wait for what is sure to be a rowdy atmosphere. Puck drops at 7:30 on FSFL.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanskgiving Trade!

Apparently Jacques Martin has better things to do on Turkey Day then... well, eat turkey. The Florida Panthers acquired Nick Tarnasky from Nashville in exchange for Wade Belak. On the surface, Tarnasky looks like Wade Belak, only faster and younger. Tarnasky is just 24, while Belak is 32.

With all the injuries piling up, it was clear that a move would have to be made. Belak cleared waivers earlier in the week, but the metaphorical moving men were already on the way. It was lucky for the Panthers, because now they get something in return. Nick Tarnasky is an enforcer, make no mistake. He isn't going to fill the net, he isn't going to set anyone up. He's not the answer to the scoring question the Panthers have had this season. He is an igniter, a spark plug. It'll be interesting to see how he fits in to Pete DeBoer's system. Tarnasky definitely has more speed then Belak, which can go a long way into the forecheck and creating chances that way.

Also, according to On Frozen Pond, Shawn Matthias may finally get his chance with the big boys again. If I had to guess, seeing as how he plays in Rochester, he'll join the team on Sunday when they play in New York. At this point, it's any forward we can get. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving, check in tomorrow for the Devils Game Night! preview.

Happy Thanksgiving

From me to you, have a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy the food, family, and football (and maybe even a little all-Canada NHL action).

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Panthers 2 - Devils 3 (OT); Caught Stealing

Apologies to all for not getting my Game Night! post up before the game, but I was travelling south to West Palm Beach and my Mom's house for the Thanksgiving Day festivities. I know you all were lost without it. Further grief because at the house, we get Dish Network, the only TV carrier that the Panthers game was not available on! Luckily, as our forefathers did in days of yore, I sat myself in front of the AM radio and caught the final period of the game.

From the sounds of it, for about 55 minutes of the game, the Panthers were dead. Going down 2-0 in the first, Vokoun is benched. Anderson comes in and plays admirably, keeping the Cats hopes alive. Unfortunately, the Panthers still couldn't solve Devils 'tender Scott Clemmensen (Clemmy beat the Cats 3-1 a week ago). Unable to score on a 5 on 3 midway through the 3rd, and Billy Lindsay was calling the game. The Panthers had no life, nothing was going their way, their air was sucked out, let's look ahead to bouncing back against the Rangers on Friday. All of a sudden, Bouwmeester scores. His first of the season coming at a very opportune time. Still, less then 2 minutes left, his goal would probably be meaningless in the end. Anderson goes to the bench, the Panthers trying desperately, and then the call. "David Booth scores! Oh wow! Tie your mother down!" If you've never heard Randy Moller call a goal, it's worth tuning in to. Bouwmeester's goal? "Jay-bo scores! Smoke 'em if you got 'em!" He's a trip. Anyways, wow indeed! Left for dead, the Panthers, these Panthers, score 2 in the final 2 minutes to steal a point? Yes, they lost in the OT session on what sounded like a weak goal, but still. A week ago, this team lays down after 2 periods. Now, no quit? Frustrated all night, but they kept pecking away and actually got 2? Before Monday's game, coach DeBoer called this a "season changing week." Well, a 1-0-1 start isn't too shabby. If they can somehow steal a couple points from the powerhouse Rangers Friday night, it might, indeed, become a season changing week. Great to see Bouwmeester get his first of the year, as well.

As I mentioned earlier, the New York Rangers come to town Friday night, and I'll be heading to the BAC for this one myself! Can't wait.

Oh yea, the daily injury report. Nathan Horton injured his knee late in the 3rd and went to the locker room. Wonderful. Cory Stillman, Richard Zednik, Nathan Horton... yeah we won't miss any goals from those guys... yikes. Hope it's just a bruise...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Off-Day Update

The Panthers have lost Richard Zednik for an indefinite amount of time, i.e. a month or more. Bad news for a team coming off of an important win last night. With no news of an impending Cory Stillman return, losing Zednik could be a chance for younger guys to get more ice time and show they belong. Of course, it could also show or woeful lack of depth in the scoring department. Wade Belak had a meeting with Coach DeBoer this morning before practice. Maybe he'll be given a chance to show he still belongs? Maybe Shawn Matthias will get a call up? As soon as I hear (read) anything, I'll be sure to have something to say (write) on it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Panthers 3 - Hurricanes 2; That's 1!

Well that game had everything, didn't it? It was hard for me to recognise the team in the dark blue sweaters during the first period. Going into the corners and winning the puck? Maintaining pressure in the offensive zone? Limiting Carolina's chances to just one shot and then clearing it? Scoring twice?!? For the first 20 minutes, it looked like coach DeBoer's off-ice scheming had paid off.

Then came the 2nd. Ohhhh, there are my Panthers! Now I recognise this! 25 seconds into the period, Tuomo Ruutu (one of those names you'll only find in the NHL) put a rebound past Tomas Vokoun. Then, just a minute and 48 seconds later, Chad Larose found the puck behind Vokoun and the game was tied. Whoops!

It was here that the game was decided. DeBoer took a timeout. The Panthers settled down. No, they didn't dominate the rest of the game like they did the first period, but they played hard and did the little things that earned them the win. With just over 2 minutes left in the 2nd period, Ville Peltonen wheeled out of the corner and fired a shot that deflected off of Gregory Campbell and into the net for the winning goal.

The third period saw no scoring, but lots of good play from both ends. This game had the feel of an actual, NHL game! Hard hitting, good play on both ends of the ice, and an exciting, frantic end that saw the Panthers kick off their 3 game homestand on a positive. I gotta give it up to Ville Peltonen. He'd only scored 1 goal this season going into tonight and was one of the player's that had high expectations going into the season, especially as a veteran presence on this team (he's 35 and captained Finland's national team to a bronze medal in this summer's World Championships). He scored once and had the initial shot on the game winning goal, and was a presence on the ice all night. He stepped it up big tonight, and hopefully will lead to other's on the team following his foot steps.

Someone who's leading the way for the Cats is David Booth. Man, that kid is on fire. He hits the blue line full speed and and picks his spots with the best of them. Tonight's goal was spectacularly similar to his goal in Boston. Flying into the zone on the off wing and using the defenseman as a screen, he ripped a wrister far post for the game's first goal. This guy's gonna do good things for us. Actually, since Nathan Horton was moved back to his natural wing postition, the "Sunrise Express" has been reuinted. Stephen Weiss, Booth, and Horton were superb tonight. It does put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, but those eggs were gold tonight! If the Cats can get scoring from a few more guys on a more consistent basis, there might be hope after all (and I really wish I hadn't just said that, but it's true).

Day off tomorrow before the Devils come to town, a team that the Panthers outplayed but lost to in New Jersey just 4 nights ago. They've actually won 4 in a row now, thanks to backup interim Broduer-wannabe Scott Clemmensen. I'm sure the Bouwmeester talk will continue, and Wade Belak will have to be dealt with somehow. With the injury list piling up again, he may actually get a chance for retribution. Tonight's addition to the trainer's room was Richard Zednik, who left in the 2nd with an "arm injury" and didn't return. Looking forward to more updates on him. Any chance Shawn Matthias might get another shot? Bottom line is, great start to the home stand with 2 points over a division foe. A great 20 minutes, a horrible 10 minutes, followed by a hard working, game winning effort in the final 30. Something to build on, to be sure.

Game Night!

Another game night has arrived here in South Florida, and there's a lot of nerves and hype going into this one. Over the weekend, Wade Belak was placed on waivers. Earlier today, he cleared and thus remains a member of the Florida Panthers. Only time well reveal his future role on the team.

Pete DeBoer has called his players out. Earlier this year, he's benched Rostislav Olesz and Nick Boynton, and placed Belak on waivers. He's made everyone accountable for their actions and expects to see more. And now, he's put it on the table. Show up this week or expect to lose your job. Calling this a "season changing week," DeBoer wants to begin the Panthers' climb out of the cellar tonight against Carolina. "They’re getting paid to play a game and they’re getting paid for results, as we are. When those results aren’t there, there’s going to be consequences and there’s going to be changes." Strong words from a first-year NHL coach, and I love it. If you don't perform, you don't play. There seems to have been a sense of complacency that has filtered through the locker room. When the expectations have been set so low before, the sense of urgency early in the year isn't there. Well Pete D. isn't used to losing. He's been an amazingly successful coach in the minors, and expects to keep winning regardless of his situation. Keep the pressure on, coach, these kids need a good swift kick in the butt (and maybe designate a captain? Put the leadership role on someone's shoulders and let him lead the boys out).

Tonight's opponent is fighting with Washington for the Southeast Division lead. The Hurricanes sit 9 points ahead of the Panthers. They've won 4 of their last 5, and most recently went 3-1 during a 4 game homestand. The Panthers are returning to their home ice for just the 3rd time in the last 11 games. Tonight kicks off a 3 game homestand which will see Carolina, New Jersey, and New York travel to Sunrise, FLA. You have to expect the best games of the year from the Cats. They've been challenged and threatened. It shouldn't have come to this. These are NHL players, they should have the fire inside them from game 1. But they haven't, so here we are. Come Friday night, we should have a pretty good idea of where this team is going. And it starts tonight. Puck drops at 7:30.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Weekend Update

Not as funny as Norm MacDonald, less irritating than Jimmy Fallon, probably more informative then Kevin Nealon, and certainly more coherent then Dennis Miller, this is weekend update!

Ok, the big news of the weekend was the waiving of Wade Belak. His ice time was dwindling, and his performances were uninspiring, to say the least. His role as "enforcer" has no meaning if he has to start fights every game because the Cats are down 4-1 every night. The goal is to win games, not fights. So he hit the wire. And according to "On Frozen Pond," the team was not too pleased about it. Read his post for more. Maybe it'll "upset" the team enough to make them work harder, maybe it'll backfire. We'll just have to wait and see on that one. It is still possible for him to remain in the organization, and more then likely sent to AHL Rochester, if no one claims him by noon tomorrow (Monday). Very unlikely. But a message was sent.

This move came two days after making Rostislav Olesz a healthy scratch in Boston. While many in South Florida may not be devastated by the Panthers woeful start, it is clear that Pete DeBoer is not happy. According to quotes from, “I think everyone here should be on notice,” said DeBoer. “The status quo isn’t good enough… It’s not good enough where we’re sitting and there’s going to be consequences throughout the lineup because of that.” Watch out, Horton. Better pick it up, Bouwmeester. The bright spots of the season are the acquisitions that Jacques Martin made this offseason. Cory Stillman, Keith Ballard, and Bryan McCabe have all contributed. The returning guys who fans and coaches were depending on have not (Weiss, Bouwmeester, Zednik, Olesz...) If things don't improve quickly, starting tomorrow night against division rival Carolina, expect moves to be made. Bouwmeester has been disappointing, failing to score a goal in the first 19 games and really assert himself like he has shown in the past. Add the early season dropoff with his refusal to sign a long term deal, and he's being openly shopped, and Martin isn't exactly trying to hide it. From the Miami Herald; "I've been talking to other managers, trying to make different moves,'' Martin said. "You get to a point where we need to send a message to our players that we're not going to accept this. We need better performances. If we don't turn it around, we're going to have to do something.''

I love seeing DeBoer accept nothing but success. In previous years, it's felt like the Panthers just sat around and accepted slow starts to the season, waited until February before flipping the switch. Now, here we are in the waning days of November, and it's improve or hit the pine. I love the attitude. I just hope it actually shows on the ice... and yes, I realize I'm not exactly adept at photo editing, it's crude but does the job. Oh well. Puck drops tomorrow at 7:30.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Panthers 2 - Bruins 4; Sigh

Same old, same old. The face lift the Panthers went through in the offseason seems only to have changed the faces. The story lines, the problems, the lack of leadership... it's all painfully, obviously still there. Tonight's game against Boston was like so many I've watched in the last half decade or so. There's probably a good 8 or 9 guys on the roster who look like they belong in the NHL. They go all out every game, stick up for teammates, aren't afraid to dig pucks out from the corners against the Zdeno Charas of the world. Then there's the other guys. Seemingly uninterested in the game they are a part of for stretches of time. Waiting for the play to happen before joining in, rather then creating chances on their own. This is not a game you can watch, wait, think, and then act. There has to be a basic instinct, a react first, answer questions later mindset. David Booth has it. Brian McCabe shows it. Not sure how many other guys truly have that in their blood.

Clearly, tonight's opponent was vastly superior. The B's haven't lost in regulation this month. Their goaltender, Tim Thomas, should be a starter in Montreal for the All-Star game. Their defense may be the best in the league. Scoring comes from every line. The talent gap was clearly evident tonight.

Let's face it. The Panthers just finished a stretch of 10 games where 8 were played on the road. That would be hard on any team. But night in and night out, the Panthers are giving up 40 shots a game. The only reason Boston didn't hit the big 4-0 tonight was they had a 4-1 lead going into the 3rd and have a huge matchup with Montreal tomorrow night and held back. But they had 35 shots through the first 2 periods. You won't, can't win consistently in the NHL like that. Bottom line, this is not a good team right now. And unless something drastic changes, there won't be many positives to write about for a while.

Panthers have the weekend off before coming home for 3 straight, starting Monday night against Carolina.

Game Night

Already? It seems like just last night the Panthers were beaten by the Devils. Oh, right. It was just last night. So here we are again on another game day, the back end of another back-to-back road game. And it won't be easy. The Panthers opponent tonight, the Boston Bruins, have lost just 3 games in regulation this season. They have allowed the fewest goals of all Eastern Conference teams, just 45 all season. Combine all those numbers with the fact that the Panthers have scored more then 3 goals just once this month, and three times all year, it doesn't look good.

Then again, when the Cats have met up with the higher tier teams in the league, they have played well. A 4-3 win over Western Conference power San Jose back on October 24, a 3-1 win over Anaheim, and a well played 3-2 loss to Detroit makes you think that there is an ignition switch somewhere in the locker room. It just needs to be hit on a consistent basis. Florida plays well in spurts; a good shift here, a good period there, but then they collapse. Coach Pete DeBoer has done all that a coach can. He's mixed up lines, he's given locker room speeches, he's threatened to bench guys regardless of their salary. Yet nothing has stuck. After tonight, the Panthers have the weekend off, then a 3 game home stand. There is no reason to be tired or not go full throttle tonight. We're playing one of the top teams in the league, let's see what we got.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Panthers 1 - Devils 3; Good Loss?

For the first time in awhile, the Florida Panthers may have outworked their opponent for the majority of the game, yet didn't earn a W. The Panthers outshot the Devils 24-19, gave up only 2 power plays, both in the first period, even scored a power play goal, yet it came too late and the Panthers ended up with their 11th loss of the season.

After giving up 12 shots on the opening frame, the Panthers came out in the 2nd with a fire that hasn't really been seen this year. They held the Devils to just a single shot on goal in the 2nd period. Unfortunately, that shot beat Tomas Vokoun and the Panthers trailed 1-0 after 2 periods of play. 2 goals in a 62 second span in the 3rd and that was that. After Vokoun was pulled for the extra attacker, he was clearly disgusted with himself on the bench, as he should have been. Giving up 3 goals on just 7 shots on the 2nd and 3rd period is awful. The Panthers have to hope for more of Tuesday's type of performances (49 saves on 52 shots) if they want to play meaningful games in March and April.

Brian McCabe got a point tonight to extend his point streak to 5 games. He got an assist on Michael Frolik's first goal of the season. It's great to see Frolik finally put one home, and he should probably have scored another one tonight late in the 3rd only to be robbed by Devils netminder Scott Clemmensen. Actually, a few Panthers could file a police report against Clemmensen, as he came up huge tonight, especially in the 3rd period. We knew going into the season that the lack of a pure scorer could be a problem. Well, it is. There isn't a "go-to" guy on this team that, when a goal is needed, the guys can turn to. Horton isn't it, as much as Jacques Martin and Co. hope he is, he doesn't seem to have it in him. There are a lot of grinders, a lot of hard working, muck out the ugly goals in front of the net type guys, but no one that can beat 2 defenders and then snipe one over a goalie's shoulder on a normal basis. If Vokoun or Craig Anderson has an off night, this team will be in trouble, as we saw tonight.

And just a quick Bouwmeester note, I actually listened to the first 5 minutes of the game on my XM radio on my drive home, and heard the New Jersey broadcast. They were talking about Bouwmeester (again, I get the feeling if he wasn't in south Florida, his name would be as familiar as any in the league). But they were actually talking about how disappointing his game had been so far this year. For a guy who clearly doesn't want to play here, playing in a contract year, showing off his skills to future employers, he has taken a back seat so far. No goals. No real dominating performance. No real signs that he can do more. I know he can, two thirds of Canada probably knows he can. But maybe it's the Florida Panthers mentality seeping into his brain. Sunrise, FL, where talent and potential come to die...

No time to feel sorry for themselves. Next game is tomorrow night against the Boston Bruins, who just happen to have the 3rd highest point total in the NHL. But hey, who knows, maybe that's a good thing. The Panthers don't seem to have problems playing the Montreals, Detroits, San Joses or Anaheims of the league. Why should Boston be any different? Expect Craig Anderson to be in net.

Game Night!

Quick updates and thoughts before tonight's game. Panthers are in New Jersey tonight to take on the Devils. The Devils have been without goalie Martin Brodeur since early November, as he had surgery to repair a torn biceps muscle. Kevin Weekes and Scott Clemmensen have been sharing the crease since. The Devils have been off since Saturday, when they beat Washington, -6-5, in a shootout. Clemmensen was in net and made only 20 saves. No confirmation yet as to who will be between the pipes tonight. Zach Parise leads the Devils offense with 20 points (12 G, 8 A).

The Panthers will try to keep their recent hot streak going. The Cats have won 3 of their last 4 after going through a miserable 0-5-1 stretch. Cory Stillman is still out, but the Panthers could get one more healthy body back tonight. Kamil Kreps has been skating and might make his return tonight. Tomas Vokoun is expected to be in net after his stellar performance Tuesday night in Tampa. Brian McCabe has a 4 game point streak going, and has brought an immediate resurgence to the power play. The offense starts from the blue line for the Panthers, as McCabe, Jay Bouwmeester, and Keith Ballard have been the ignition switch. If they have good games, the Panthers will have a good night. I'm still waiting to see more grit and determination from Nathan Horton. If you take the effort that David Booth, or Radek Dvorak, or Greggory Campbell, and add that with Nathan Horton's talent, the Panthers offense could finally start to wake up. We'll see what we get tonight. Puck drops at 7.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Panthers 4 - Lightning 3 (SO); Success!

Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend the Panthers game in Tampa. Fortunate, because no one outside the St. Pete Times Forum saw an exciting comeback and shootout. The Panthers jumped out to a 3-0 lead midway through the 2nd thanks to a pair of goals from Brian McCabe and an "ugly" goal from David Booth. The Lightning came back to tie the game with goals coming from someone who hadn't yet scored this season. Two of them came through screens that Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun never saw, and the other was a great individual effort from Vincent Lecavalier, turning Cats D-man Jassen Cullimore inside out behind the net before finding Evgeny Artyukhin in front for an easy put away. The overtime went scoreless, so on to the shootout. Vokoun came up huge turning away the first two tries against him, from St. Louis and Jussi Jokinen. Then Nathan Horton toe dragged the puck past Lightning goalie Mike Smith and fired it home. Vokoun then came up with the biggest of his 51 saves (49 in regulation\OT, 2 in the shootout) when he sent Lecavalier and the Lightning home with just 1 point.

First, the positives. The return of Brian McCabe has led to an outbreak of power play consistency. 2 for 5 last night, but its not just the goals being scored, but the maintained pressure and rhythm that is starting to show up that wasn't there in McCabe's absence. He scored the first goal of the game last night on the PP, with a rifle shot over Smith's glove. He scored his second by simply putting the puck on net through a screen, and Smith never reacted. When Cory Stillman returns to the lineup, we'll finally start to see a healthy squad and what this team is capable of. They're close, but not quite there. David Booth continues to earn his ice time, that kid just flies. One last positive? Attending an NHL game is so, so much better then watching one on TV. It's so much easier to see the flow of the game, the actual speed and creativity that just doesn't come across on TV. HD helps, but it doesn't compare to live hockey.

Now, the negatives. 52 shots on goal. 21 in the second period alone. To be fair, there may have been some home-town shot keepers at this one. A majority of the shots were unscreened, bad angle, 50 footers. Through the first 45 minutes, there were probably an even number of solid scoring chances for both sides. Vokoun looked a little shaky early, allowing some bad rebounds, but regrouped and ended up with some gigantic saves late in the game to salvage the 2 points for the Cats. Not the prettiest win, but it's 2 points. It would have been nicer not to allow Tampa to get the point, but at this point, beggars can't be choosers.

The Cats' road trip continues tomorrow night in New Jersey. Puck drops at 7, and it's on TV!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Game Night!

Tonight, the Panthers head across the state to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last time these 2 met, the Panthers won handily, 4-0. The last time these 2 met, Barry Melrose was behind the Lightning bench. Tonight, Rick Tocchet goes in search for his first win as head coach. Tocchet lost his coaching debut last night, 3-2 in a shootout to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Panthers also lost their last game, 3-2, to the Red Wings.

Not making the trip to the Gulf Coast is Cory Stillman, who's still suffering from symptoms of a concussion. This means Frolik will probably continue to see time on the first line with Horton. Frolik has had chances lately, he just hasn't been able to get one in. He won't keep getting these opportunities once the Panther scorers get healthy if he doesn't produce.

I'm headed out the door, headed to the game! Check back tomorrow morning for a recap. Photos to follow.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

While I Was Away...

Last Friday night, the Panthers lost a hard fought game to the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately, I missed the game as I traveled back to my alma mater, the University of Florida, for their football game on Saturday (56-6 over South Carolina... not bad, go Gators). So apologies for not posting anything since their last win over the Tampa Bay. Coincidentally, the Panthers next game is against those same Lightning, only this time it will be in Tampa. This will also mark the first Panthers game I get to attend this year, as I make the trek from my home in Orlando to the St. Pete Times Forum. No real news to talk about after the post-practice report on Weiss is still fighting an injury, hopefully the longer layoff will help him get back to his productive self Tuesday night. Another tough stretch of the schedule coming up as the Cats head to Tampa Tuesday night, then off to New Jersey and Boston Thursday and Friday night to cap off the 3 games in 4 nights road trip.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Panthers 4 - Lightning 0; Who Was That?

The Panthers beat the Lightning tonight, 4-0. Craig Anderson got his 2nd consecutive win, this one a shutout, and he didn't even have to make 40 saves. Greg Campbell led the Cats with 2 goals and an assist, and Bryan McCabe added his first goal as a Panther. Nathan Horton got the other.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to watch the game due to some strange territorial restrictions (I live in Orlando, which is Tampa Bay territory. But because the Orlando Magic were playing, Sunshine Network didn't carry the game. I have the NHL Center Ice package, but couldn't get the South Florida feed because they played Tampa, which I am blacked out of. Super annoyed.) Anyways, the Panthers held the Bolts to just 24 shots, which I have to imagine is a season best for Florida. The Panthers also scored 4 goals, the most since their win against San Jose back on October 24th.

From the online radio broadcast I tuned in and out of, it sounded like the Panthers did a good job limiting the Lightning's top line to minimal chances. It's also nice to see, or hear, another forward step up into the scoring role. David Booth's hat trick on Sunday, now Greggory Campbell's 2 goal night. 4 goals in 1 game, 2 wins in a row, and even 2 for 4 on the power play?!? Certainly things to build on, but the construction will need to be quick. The defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings come to town Friday night. 1 more win and we can call it a "winning streak." It has happened before...

Stillman Back, Anderson Back In

Quick pregame notes: Cory Stillman returns to the ice tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Craig Anderson will be in goal for the Cats for the second consecutive night. Anderson is coming off of a great game on Sunday, when he made 44 saves in a win against the Anaheim Ducks. Stillman has been out with a concussion since the November 2nd game in Atlanta. He will be a welcome sight to the 2nd to worst offensive team in the league.

Another welcome sight might be the Lightning, who are the worst. Despite offensive weapons like Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and first overall draft pick Steven Stamkos, the Bolts have scored just 30 goals this season, and only 2 goals in each of their last 3 games, all losses.

The Panthers are returning from a 5 game road trip, in which they gained only 3 points. Puck drops at 7:30 tonight.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Panthers 3 - Ducks 1: Booth to the Rescue

The Florida Panthers 5 game road trip finally came to an end last night, as the Panthers defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3-1. The Panthers came into the game losers of their last 6 games, and never really looked like a team ready to turn the corner in any of those. Last night, in Anaheim, there was a different Panthers team on the ice. Consistent, sustained offensive pressure was the key difference. The forecheck was effective, creating a plethora of turnovers. And David Booth was the man to capitalize on his chances, accounting for all 3 Florida goals.

Craig Anderson was, if nothing else, in net. Often on his back, often swimming through the crease, Andy just managed to get in the way more then make saves. But it worked, and it worked often. The Ducks launched 45 shots on goal, 20 of them coming in the 3rd period. If you're looking for excuses, there are plenty. The Panthers played the night before, the Panthers were on the end of a 5 game road trip, the Panthers had a 2 goal lead and fell into a defensive shell. The win is great, but giving up 40+ shots a night isn't going to get a lot of W's. The end of the story is a much needed, desperately needed Panthers win.

I think I'm developing a small man crush on Keith Ballard. He's been the scrapper, the play maker, the leading scorer, and then some. For a team without a captain, he's starting to look like a leader. Stephen Weiss is also starting to look recovered from his injury, registering 2 assists last night. Still waiting to hear from Nathan Horton on a consistent basis...

The Cats return home Wednesday for a showdown against cross-state rival Tampa Bay. Game time is 7:30.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Panthers 2 - Kings 3: Ugly

I'll keep it short. The Panthers have no offensive identity. Don't let the score line fool you. The Panthers first goal, scored by Anthony Stewart, was a pure fluke. The 2nd came with under a minute left in the game, meaningless. Unless Bouwmeester or Ballard, defensemen mind you, skates it from blue line to blue line, they can't even enter the zone effectively. The forwards certainly can't break out of their own zone with any purpose. A chip up the boards just to get it out of the zone, bust ass chasing the guy with the puck, back check into the defensive zone, repeat. I don't know how many times Horton tried to skate through 3 Kings defenders, trying to get into the zone, only to leave his 2 winger pals waiting on the blue line. Just ugly tonight, plain and simple. 3 total shots in the 1st period. 3 total shots in the 2nd period. I have plenty of quotes from guys talking about bringing their A-game every night, they have to be the hardest working team in the NHL, blah blah blah. Show it. Once again, the only player who can say anything was Keith Ballard. That guy just bleeds his guts every night. It seems like he's trying to carry the Panthers every night, but right now, there's just too much dead weight. Ballard started a fight at the end of the 2nd. He was scrapping all night, been scrapping the last few games. Someone's going to have to join him, learn something from him, do something, soon, or it's going to be early tee times in mid-April again.

Panthers back at it Saturday night in Phoenix against Olli Jokinen and the Coyotes. Game time is 9:00. It hasn't escaped my attention that the Panthers haven't won since I started blogging. I'll stop doing my optimistic game previews, maybe that will help. See you Saturday.

Panthers vs. Kings: Preview

The opponent: Los Angeles Kings. This seems to becoming the norm for Panthers opponents, and the similarities between the two teams are eerie. Through 11 games played for both teams, the Panthers are just 1 point ahead of tonight's opposition. The Kings come into tonight's game suffering through a 5 game losing streak. The Panthers have lost 4 in a row. Like the Panthers, the Kings have struggled scoring goals so far. They sit just one spot above the Cats, at 28th, with 27 goals for. The Panthers are 29th, with 25 goals. The LA Kings' power play is last in the Western Conference, at 13.6%. The Panthers, as we all know, are last in the East, operating at a meager 11.4%.

Unfortunatly, the past few teams the Panthers have gone up against managed to find their game just as Florida came to town. Let's hope Florida finds its game tonight against the struggling Kings. Stephen Weiss and Greg Campbell will be back in the lineup, hopefully adding to the hard-working, gritty, grinding scorers we need right now. Bryan McCabe will be back on the blue line tonight as well, a welcome addition to our woeful power play. Unfortunately, Cory Stillman is out. Getting 3 guys back just as 1 goes out seems to make sense in the early goings of the season.

Something to watch tonight: the first line will consist of Nathan Horton, Brett McClean, and Michael Frolik. Frolik has yet to get on the score sheet for the Panthers, but should get a few chances tonight. Who knows, maybe his work ethic will wear off on Horton and spark something.

Tomas Vokoun will get the start. Game time is 10:30. If you have the NHL Center Ice package and don't live in Florida Panthers territory, you can see it live. Otherwise, get those AM tuners out and listen to Randy Moller and Billy Lindsay.