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.