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.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Off-day News

This injury update brought to you by the Sun Sentinel; Stephen Weiss and Greg Campbell both practiced this morning and will be on the weekend trip out west. Also, Bryan McCabe, out since game 1, should make his return to the ice tomorrow night. McCabe and Weiss should provide a boost to the woeful offense. McCabe is also a key player on the power play.

Just as the good news starts rolling in, bad news pops back up. It turns out leading goal scorer Cory Stillman might be out longer then originally expected. GM Jacques Martin said Stillman suffered a concussion during Sunday's game. He won't be on the weekend road trip.

Tomorrow, the Panthers will return to the ice in Los Angeles against the Kings. There's sure to be a fresh mixup of the lines, hopefully DeBoer can find a formula that produces.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Panthers 3 - Thrashers 5: Starting To See a Trend

The Atlanta Thrashers beat the Florida Panthers 5-3 tonight, thanks to a stellar effort by Ilya Kovalchuk. The Panthers were able to make it close after trailing 4-1 late in the 2nd period. Nathan Horton and Noah Welch scored to make it 4-3, but an empty netter that seemed to sum up the Panthers trickled over the line to end any leftover hopes.

To be honest, the score was closer then the game. The Panthers lacked any sustained team offense all night. A nice individual, wrap around move from Horton, a lucky bounce on the Welch goal, and the Panthers had a chance. But playing a division rival who had lost 6 in a row, with a goalie who was in the AHL less then a week ago, and the Panthers didn't show up. They were outshot 15-4 in the first period. That can't happen. It's become clear the Panthers don't have a go-to guy, a leader who can step up. The closest thing I've seen to that has been Cory Stillman, but he left the game in the 1st period after being driven into the goal post. Hopefully it's nothing that a few stitches can't fix and he won't miss any more time. Lord knows the Cats can't afford to lose another player to the injury bug.

The Panthers played a decent 2nd and a good 3rd, but you can't continue to play 30 out of 60 minutes every night. The last 2 or 3 games, there's probably been about 20-30 minutes a game of solid effort from the Cats. No fights, no frustration, no leader stepping up, it just seems to be a team mindset. Hell, the hardest working Panther I've seen is 31 year old Radek Dvorak. Radek and David Booth have been the only forwards I have noticed who consistently drive the net, looking to create chances, not waiting for chances to come to them. Booth registered 6 of the Panthers 21 shots on net tonight, 1 of them finding the back of the net.

The Panthers have 3 days off again to try and find some sort of game plan. They'll need it. The Panthers head west to face Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Anaheim starting Thursday. Whether it's head coach Pete DeBoer or one of the veterans or a team effort, someone needs to step up and take the lead.

Next game: Thursday @ Los Angeles. 10:30 game time.

Panthers vs. Thrashers: Preview

The opponent: Atlanta Thrashers. Coming off a painful 6-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils last night, the Thrashers sit 3 points behind Florida in the Southeast division. Entering tonight's contest on a 6-game losing streak, Atlanta has just 2 wins this season, and hasn't won since October 18th. The Panthers should face another backup in goal, as starter Kari Lehtonen is feeling "under the weather." 2nd stringer Johan Hedburg made the start last night. The Thrashers called up Ondrej Pavelec from their AHL squad. The Thrashers have given up the most goals against in the Eastern Conference, so the Cats' offense should have a chance to get on track.

The Panthers will also be playing their 2nd game in consecutive nights, coming off of a disappointing shootout loss in Nasvhille last night. Defenseman Keith Ballard leads the team in scoring with 10 points, including an assist on Florida's first goal last night. Cory Stillman leads the team in goals with 5, although he's been held entirely off the score sheet since his 3 point night against San Jose on October 24th. I'd love to see Stillman get back to his scoring ways tonight. With Stephen Weiss still out, David Booth and Nathan Horton also need to pick up the pace. The Panthers are relying heavily on them to register points, and while both have 3 goals thus far, but Horton hasn't gotten a point in 3 games, Booth in 5. Think there's a link that the last 3 games have been losses? Tomas Vokoun should be in net for the Cats.

The Panthers won the first meeting of this series, 3-2 in overtime in Sunrise. Game time is 5:00 on Fox Sports.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Panthers 2 - Predators 3: Point Earned, Point Lost.

The Florida Panthers took a 2-1 lead to the 3rd period, but saw 2 points slip away as they lost in a shootout to the Nashville Predators. The Predators struck first on a Shea Weber power play goal in the 1st period. Just over a minute later, however, Rostislav Olesz got the Cats tied on a semi-breakaway goal. Karlis Skrastins scored his 2nd of the season to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead going into the 3rd period. Halfway through the final stanza, Nashville's Martin Erat scored to send the game into overtime. A few good chances for both teams in the OT produced no winners, and the game went into a shootout. Backup goaltenders were in the nets for both teams, and the lone shootout goal went to Martin Erat.

The game was not televised, so I had to make do with the online radio broadcast of the game. Plus, I am a University of Florida alum, and was not in the most coherent state listening to the game after my Gators whooped some Dawgs. Apparently, 1996 Panthers' hero Billy Lindsay is in the booth for the Panthers, alongside long time play-by-play man Red Deer Randy Moller. Loved listening to the guys, as normally I'm watching the game on the tele. It sounds like another hard working, great effort performance by the boys that came up short. Craig Anderson stood tall late in the 3rd as Nashville pressed for a winner. They did manage to snag a point, which is good, but another 3rd period loss is painful.

Once again, the defensemen provided more of an offensive spark then the forwards. Skrastins scored 1 of the 2 goals, and Ballard had yet another assist on the Olesz goal. And, for the 2nd game in a row, the Panthers couldn't break through a 2nd string goaltender. Clearly, goal scoring is going to be an ongoing effort for the Panthers this year. You aren't going to win many 1-0, 2-1 games in the NHL. Let's hope when we get healthy, this trend starts to turn.

Next game: Tomorrow @ Atlanta, 5:00.

Panthers vs. Predators: Preview

The opponent: The Nashville Predators sit 3 points ahead of our Panthers with a 5-4-1 record, and are coming off of a 3-1 win over Edmonton on Thursday. The Preds sport one of the league's best offenses, ranked 5th in the NHL, averaging 3.4 goals per game. The good news for the Panthers is that Nashville is near the bottom of the list in scoring defense, giving up 3.5 goals a game. If the Panthers defense has a good showing, the offense might catch a spark in Music City.

It's been well documented how the Panthers power play has struggled so far (it's last in the NHL at a meager 10.5%). More good news, though. Nashville's PK is 25th in the league (76%).

Craig Anderson will get the start for the Panthers. No news yet on who the netminder will be for the Predators. 1st string 'tender Dan Ellis has been bothered by a bad back and did not start their last game. If he's out, Pekka Rinne should be between the pipes.

Nashville has been strong of late, getting a point in each of their last 3 games (2-0-1). The Panthers are coming off back-to-back losses and hoping to get their road trip off to a good start. There is no television coverage of this game, so after watching a full day of college football, be sure to check back here for a recap.