Saturday, January 31, 2009

Panthers 1 - Islanders 3

The Panthers closed out the month of January with a bit of a stinker, falling 3-0 to the New York Islanders. A fluky first period goal, an incredible individual effort by Bill Guerin, and a perfect pass on the power play finished off the Panthers. Florida had chances, but weren't able to beat rookie goaltender Yann Danis until it was too late.

It was a pretty lethargic contest for the Panthers. Despite having two, separate 4:00 power plays, the Cats never really found momentum. There were stretches of pressure, glimpses of the team we saw in the prior two games, but every time Florida got some sustained offense, the Islanders simply collapsed in front of the net and cleared away any rebounds. New York flipped the Florida playbook and executed to perfection. The difference in the game was when the Isles had a chance to finish, they did. Florida didn't.

It was a bit of a strange finish. The Panthers played the final 5 minutes of the game without a goaltender. Trailing 3-0, coach Pete DeBoer pulled Tomas Vokoun to skate 6 on 5. Now, this game wasn't a "must win." It wasn't earn 2 points or miss the playoffs. It was a sent message, pure and simple. Out skate the Islanders, win the puck, or the score will get ugly. I have no doubt that if New York scored an empty netter with 4 minutes left, Vokoun would still be out of the net. Florida had chances, they controlled the puck, but they didn't work like they had against Montreal. They didn't grind out goals like they did against Philadelphia. So for the last 5 minutes, they were going to have to outwork the Isles or suffer an embarrassing box score. For a rookie coach, this guy doesn't pull punches. Benching starters early in the year, basically cutting locker room favorite Wade Belak , DeBoer hasn't been intimidated by the "NHL Head Coach" tag. He hasn't let the culture of losing that Florida has developed over the past 9 years affect him. Coach Pete expects to win, and he expects his players to work for every win, every goal. I think I'm developing a man-crush.

The Cats have a few days off before their next game, a Tuesday night affair with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are another team, below the Cats in the standings, that Florida should be able to get 2 points off of. If they come out with another apathetic effort like tonight, it won't be as easy. Until then...

Game Night!

The Florida Panthers look to close out a successful January in style, as they head north to take on the New York Islanders tonight. Florida is quickly becoming a hot topic in the NHL, thanks to their recent climb up the standings. The Panthers are 7-1-3 this month, and sit alone in 8th place. A win tonight, coupled with a Buffalo loss would move Florida into 7th.

For the Islanders, it's another story altogether. They have set up residence in the cellar of the NHL, and don't show much signs of moving out anytime soon. Franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro has missed most of the season after a knee surgery, and is already scheduled to sit out the remainder of 2009. The Isles leading goal scorer, Bill Guerin, has just 14 markers thus far. New York has managed to win its last 2 games, and looks to win a 3rd straight tonight for the first time since mid-November.

There's no doubt this could be a trap game situation for Florida. Coming off of impressive wins against Philadelphia and Montreal earlier this week, they head out on the road to take on a team that, on paper, shouldn't stand a chance. It's up to the Cats to bring the same kind of intensity that earned them W's before, regardless of the opponent. Puck drops at 7:00 tonight.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Panthers 5 - Canadians 1

Slowly but surely, this team is stealing my heart. The work ethic, the determination, the style, everything has come together for the Panthers. Can you believe that in the last 29 games (since November 24), the Cats have lost just 6 times in regulation? SIX?!?! The Florida Panthers have earned at least a point in 23 of their last 29 games. Thanks to that, Florida now sits alone in 8th place in the East, just 1 point behind 7th seed Buffalo. But why stop there? The Philadelphia Flyers are the 6th seed, only 5 points above the Cats. 5th seed? Tonight's opponent? Just 6 points ahead.

Tonight's game looked eeriely similar to Tuesday's win against the Flyers for the first 2 periods. Heading into the 3rd, Florida had a 2 goal, 3-1 lead. On Tuesday, the Flyers came out in the 3rd and dominated the period. Only superb goaltending and a bit of luck allowed the Panthers to escape with the 3-2 win. Tonight, the Panthers held the 2 goal lead, but played like they were the ones trailing. Never sitting back, never letting up, the Cats exercised Coach DeBoer's relentless, mad house forecheck to perfection. The end result, an impressive 5-1 win. The Panthers thorougly outplayed a Montreal team that had every reason to expect a W tonight.

A major question mark entering the season was where the scoring would come from. Let's face it, the Panthers traded their captain and leading goal scorer last offseason. So where is the offense coming from? All over the place! I heard, during tonight's broadcast, a defining statistic. In the last 6 games, Florida has scored 16 goals from 12 different goal scorers. The defensemen contribute, the top 3 lines chip in, the 4th line grinds. Every line brings a different kind of threat. The hard working, grinding CPR line of Campbell-Peltonen-Radek Dvorak. The flashy, fleet of foot Booth-Zednik-Horton line. The all-ages-welcome line with 35 year old Cory Stillman alongside 25 year old Stephen Weiss and 20 year old Michael Frolik. Everyone works, everyone helps out. The results can be seen on the ice.
The Panthers now head out on a quick 2 game road trip, both against lesser teams. Florida closes out what has been an impressive January on Long Island, before starting February in Toronto. If Florida hopes to continue it's run towards to the postseason, they need to earn the full 2 points from teams below them. The Cats can't afford a night off. Tonight was promising, giving hope to this hardened skeptic. Let's keep it going.

Game Night!

The Montreal Canadians (and probably thousands of fans) invade the BAC tonight to take on the Florida Panthers. The two teams come into tonight's contest heading in opposite directions. Montreal is riding a 3 game losing streak, including the most recent loss, a 5-3 decision in Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Florida, meanwhile, has gone through January earning at least a point in 10 straight games.

The dangerous thing about the Habs is that they don't have one, go-to guy or line (much like the Panthers). They're leading goal scorers, Robert Lang and Andrei Kostitsyn, have just 16 goals. Their leading point getter is a defenseman, Andrei Markov. Oh yea, that Alex Kovalev guy's pretty good too. Florida is going to have to be solid on defense all night long if they hope to end a 5-game losing streak to Montreal.

Tonight's teams have a lot in common. Both get scoring from up and down the roster, both like to play fast, high-tempo, aggressive hockey. Both team's netminders can win games on their own. This should be a fun one to watch. Special start time tonight, 7:00 ET, probably due to its national broadcast in Canada.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Panthers 3 - Flyers 2

Florida hung on tonight to take down the Flyers, 3-2. Philly got on the board first with a disputed goal that went off of Simon Gagne's skate and into the net. It was ruled that no kicking motion occurred, and the goal stood. Florida answered back with 3 straight, before the Flyers got it back to within a goal early in the 3rd period. The Panthers held on for dear life for the remainder of the game, and karma was restored when the Flyers had a goal disallowed thanks to a cross checking penalty. In the end, the Cats were able to earn the all-important 2 points.

Michael Frolik continued his impressive rookie season, contributing on all 3 Florida goals (1 G, 2 A). This kid's emergence may be saving the Panthers' season. David Booth became the first Panther to reach the 20 goal plateau this season with his goal tonight. But after Booth, the next leading goal scorer is Nathan Horton, with just 13 tallies. Think it's a coincidence that the start of the year went started so slowly for both Florida and Frolik? And that in the 9 games since 2009 began, Florida is 6-1-3, and Fro has 8 points? Gotta love the way this kid has grown over the months.

As previously mentioned, David Booth got his 20th goal tonight on a beautiful redirection (with his stick, mind you) off of a Keith Ballard slapper. Booth has emerged as one of, if not the greatest, individual scoring threats on this team. Unfortunately, he's just one of a few guys that were being counted on to pick up the scoring after the offseason departure of Olli Jokinen. Nathan Horton has just 13 goals, Stephen Weiss only 9. On the plus side, Florida has 10 players with 20+ points. And with the way the defense has been contributing offensively (Bryan McCabe scored his 9th on the year tonight), the Panthers might just have a style that could prove effective. If a couple other guys can pick up the pace just a smidge, this team could sneak up on a lot of people. That, or a top tier scorer is acquired at or near the trade deadline in exchange for some Bouwmeester character...

A promising start to the 2nd half of the season. Florida went down early, fought back, took a lead, and held on when pushed. And with the New York Rangers win over Carolina, Florida now sees themselves back in that 8th seed. Tomorrow, the Pittsburgh Penguins head to New York to try to get themselves back into a tie with Florida. The Cats are off until Thursday, when they invite the Montreal Canadians to town. Until then...

Game Night!

The All-Star break is now behind us, and the push for the playoffs is here. Florida returns to the ice tonight for the first of their final 36 games. Escaping the cold, Pennsylvanian winter, the Philadelphia Flyers visit South Florida for tonight's contest.The Flyers are in a battle of their own, as 3 teams are separated by 2 points, battling for the Atlantic division lead.

Keeping it brief, just a few quick hits about tonight's game. Ville Peltonen will make his return to the ice tonight, after missing the last two games with a deep knee bruise. It's good news for the Cats, no doubt. The CPR line (Campbell, Peltonen, and Dvorak) have been a bright spot for the Panthers since they were put together. Another line to watch tonight is the Booth, Horton, Zednik line. The last 2 or 3 games, it's looked like they might be coming together as well. Puck drops at 7:30 from the BAC.

Other games to keep an eye on tonight; Carolina (8th seed, 1 point ahead of FLA) @ NY Rangers, 7:00; Buffalo (7th seed, 3 points ahead of FLA) @ Edmonton, 9:00.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What To Do About J-Bo?

A thought about the Panthers' lone All-Star, Jay Bouwmeester. Much has been made about his status as a Florida Panther this season, and as we head into the final 36 games of the year, one wonders how many of those contests Mr. Bouwmeester will be wearing the Cats' uniform. I, for one, hope it's less as opposed to more.

What?!? Am I crazy?? Possibly. Probably. But here's the grim truth. The best we Panther fans can hope for is he sticks around the rest of the season, gets this team in the playoffs, before splitting for big bucks and a big city. He wants to play in the postseason, something he has yet to do since he was drafted in 2002. Watching and listening to Bouwmeester at the All-Star game made it pretty clear to me, he wants the attention of a big hockey market, he wants to be in a city that cares about its hockey more then it cares about its sun tans. He wants to be elsewhere.

So where does that leave us? He's been the consummate professional this year, filling interviews with only the vaguest of answers, doing his best on the ice, leading this team towards a possible playoff berth. And why shouldn't he? If GM Jacques Martin doesn't trade him before the March 4th deadline, Bo will need an impressive resume when the bidding begins for his services in the offseason. He's a free agent come summer, and that's the killer. The Cats have to, have to, get something in exchange for a player of this caliber. If they wait til summer, they'll get squat.

So what does Florida need? I think that's obvious. Scoring. A proven, post-season, pressure time scorer. What do we have to give up? One of the best defenseman in the league. Sounds like a trade made in heaven. Teams reportedly intersted include Montreal, Ottawa, and Washington. I think they might have some scoring to give up. The good news is that Florida can probably (hopefully) live without J-Bo. The offseason moves by GM JM almost seem to have been made almost as if he knew this was coming... Bryan McCabe, Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton, Karlis Skrastins, and Jassen Cullimore are more than just decent defenders, they have proven to be solid playmakers. With the solid play of Noah Welch lately, they might even have 6 solid defenders, should they lose J-Bo.

We'll see what happens. Obviously, I hope I am completely and totally wrong about all of this, that Florida hangs on to Bouwmeester, they make an improbable playoff run, Jay decides he likes the sun and 70* weather in January, and signs a deal to stay in Sunrise. Unfortunately, getting nothing in return for the services of one of the league's top D-men is a scenario that seems much more likely if no trade is made. Until then, let's just hope he keeps performing and pushing this team towards the top 8.

Second Half Preview

The Florida Panthers head into the 2nd half of the season just 1 point out of the playoffs. It's been awhile since this team has been in this position, so foreseeing what the future holds for this team is a little difficult. We've seen Florida play at extremely high levels. We've also witnessed a team that doesn't show up. Lately, it's been more of the former, which is promising. We'll see which team shows up for the playoff push starting tomorrow night.

The Panthers have 36 games left. The last few years, 92 points has gotten you to the playoffs. Florida currently has 50. So, exercising my 4th grade mathematics, the Cats will likely need 42 points in 36 games. 21 wins out of 36. 6 games over .500 the rest of the year. Now obviously, OT and SO losses will contribute, but let's not get too complicated.

Let's look at the schedule! The Panthers have 7 games left against the most likely competition for that 8th seed (2 against Carolina, 2 in Buffalo, 3 against Pittsburgh). Florida also has 10 games left against teams that are currently at or near the bottom of the table (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, the Islanders, Toronto, St. Louis, and Dallas). There are a couple of key weeks left in the season. At the end of February, the Cats take a 4 game road trip in which they will visit 4 playoff teams (Boston, the Rangers, New Jersey, and Washington). Then, in mid-March, a 5 game home stand against 4 lesser teams (Tampa, Washington, Toronto, Columbus, Carolina), where the Panthers will almost certainly need to win 4 of 5.

So is it possible? Of course it is. The Cats have been playing well of late, earning at least a point in 8 of their last 9 games (5-1-3). What could be key is earning that extra bonus point in the shootout. Florida is just 2-6 this year in shootouts. That's 6 dropped points. If they'd gone 6-2 instead, they'd be the 7th seed today. Earning 2 points every chance they have is vital.

I don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited about these next few months. Panthers hockey has been pretty meaningless in March for more then a few seasons lately. It'll be fun to watch the Cats fight it out for the remainder of the year. First chance to earn 2 points comes tomorrow night, at home against the Flyers.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

SuperSkills Competition Thoughts and Observations

Well the exciting part of All-Star weekend took place last night, and the Panthers had a couple of representatives. Jay Bouwmeester ended up tied for 3rd in the all-too-exact fastest skater competition (apparently the electronic timer malfunctioned, leaving it up to a referee's stopwatch...).

In the YoungStars-Bright-Futures Rookies v. Sophomores game, Michael Frolik was there, and that pretty much sums up his night. His performance wasn't exactly memorable in a game that failed to live up to expectations.

The final event of the night saw all 36 skaters go through an elimination breakaway challenge. J-Bo was actually able to convert on his first attempt, picking the upper 90*, before being denied in round 2.

All in all, the Super Skills competition was a good night. A record setting slap shot from Zdeno Chara (105.4 mph!), an impressive 7 for 8 performance in the accuracy competition from Evgeny Malkin, and a breakaway challenge that saw the game's greatest entertainer come through, as Alex Ovechkin used fellow Russian Malkin and props to win the night (although I still think Alex Kovalev's stepping on the puck and pirouetting down the ice was the most impressive move of the night. I've stepped on the puck a few times in my playing career, and I've eaten ice every time. Very impressive). Even more interesting was Ovechkin's show because Ovie and Malkin are in the middle of a supposed feud that even has the Russian Hockey Federation concerned.

A fun night for the fans, but was it just me or did Versus completely butcher their broadcast? They probably missed 2 or 3 goals in the YoungStars game because they wanted to get as many replays in as they could. The elimination breakaway was unwatchable due to their infatuation with the on-ice camera perspective, which made it impossible to see what the shooter was actually doing, and there were countless other annoyances through the night, for me anyway. Hopefully tonight's big show comes off a little better. It's an actual game, so they should know how to pull it off.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Panthers 1 - Stars 4

Well, so much for carrying momentum into the break. Panthers lost a tough one tonight, 4-1. Mike Ribeiro had a hat trick for the Stars. I wasn't able to watch most of this game, thanks to being stuck at work late tonight.

From what I saw, Florida started strong, jumping to a 1-0 lead thanks to Karlis Skrastins (our defensemen sure know how to get the puck in the net, eh?). Florida doubled up Dallas on the shot total in the first as well, 10-5. It went downhill after the intermission. Dallas tied it, then took the lead with under a minute left in the 2nd. Those goals right before intermission are almost like getting two. The momentum never came back to Florida, and the Stars continued their rise post-Avery.

It was also a surprisingly physical affair. A couple fights and more then a few big hits (Nick Boynton is becoming a wrecking ball on the blue line, check out his demolition of Darryl Sydor... and Cory Stillman's one punch knockout while you're at it).

Oh well. So now the Cats (except for Jay-Bo and Michael Frolik) get almost a week off to get ready for the stretch run. Saturday night, Frolik will take place in the Young Stars game, and Bouwmeester will race around the rink in the Fastest Skater competition. Sunday is the All-Star game, and Florida's lone representative is Bouwmeester. The Panthers return to team play Tuesday. It should be a fun final 35 games or so, hopefully they'll all be meaningful...

Game Night!

The Panthers will try for the 3rd time in about a week to vault themselves into playoff position. Florida's last 2 stays in the 8th seed lasted about 24 hours. First, it was Pittsburgh winning and taking a 1 point lead over Florida, then last night, Carolina's win vaulted them 1 point ahead of the Cats.

Tonight, Florida plays its final game before the All-Star break, welcoming the Dallas Stars to the BAC. Dallas is coming off a 4-2 loss in Tampa Monday night, despite taking a 2-1 lead to the 3rd period. The Panthers haven't lost in regulation in 8 straight, going 5-0-3. Those OT\SO losses are starting to add up, however. Florida is just 2-6 in shootouts this year.

Something to watch for tonight is special teams. The Stars are 27th in the NHL in both penalty killing and power play. Florida has been slowly moving up the power play ranks since their dreadful start. Tonight is a great chance for the Panthers to continue their recent success.

2 points is a must tonight. Florida needs to be riding this high through the time off, memories of wins, not shootout "losses," in their heads. For nothing else but confidence. This is still a young team, and probably only a handful of players on the roster have seen postseason hockey (only Cory Stillman pops to mind... maybe Zednik or Vokoun?) It's a Western Conference opponent, so if it takes extra time, fine, but they need to earn 2 points. 7th seed Buffalo is in Tampa and 3 points ahead of Florida. Wouldn't it be nice to start watching the teams in 6th and 7th instead of 8th and 9th?

P.S. Both Ville Peltonen and Nick Boynton practiced yesterday. If Pelts is on the ice tonight... Don Cherry may need to rethink his "Europeans are wimps" mantra. A cracked bone in his foot that he was playing with anyways, then Evgeny Artyukhin's knee bomb? While he is a good guy to have on the ice, it wouldn't be a bad thing to give him tonight off and give him an extra week to recoup.

UPDATE: As I eagerly await tonight's game, just thought I'd drop a couple notes that have popped up (just in case you checked here before anywhere else...) Ville Peltonen is indeed sitting this one out tonight. Coach P. said he could play tonight if it were a dire situation, playoff type game, etc... but for a mid-January game before a week off, Pelts needs the rest. Noah Welch also did enough Saturday night to be included in tonight's roster as well. Good for him, he was jumping in on the play pretty well, from what I remember. He earned it. T-Vo gets the start in net. T minus 2 hours...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Panthers 2 - Sabres 3 (SO)

The Comeback Cats earned another point tonight, but failed to earn the bonus point in the shootout once again. These games have become so much fun to watch, with the Panthers now having earned a point in 8 straight games. The work ethic and mentality this team has grown into is phenomenal. Tonight, David Booth announced his presence with authority, playing what may have been his best game since he broke into the NHL. He single handedly put the Cats on the board in the first period, with Rocket Richard speed, earning a penalty shot and making it count. His line, with Richard Zednik and Nathan Horton, were a dominant force throughout the game. Horton's goal with just over 3 minutes left to tie it was made possible from a deft, between the legs, blind pass from Zednik. Buffalo's 2 goals just made you think the hockey gods needed a reason to laugh. Both times, the puck just crept tantalizingly over the goal line before a Panther could react.

One thing that is becoming clear is that the Panthers need to start winning games in regulation. This shootout thing hasn't exactly worked to Florida's favor. Tonight, Horton and Booth both tried to slip their shots through Ryan Miller's legs, and both times had the door slammed shut. Tomas Vokoun was simply beat by two great moves. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me, but I don't remember the last game that ended after 60 minutes in the Panthers' favor. Now clearly, one point is better then no points, but dropping points this way is frustrating as hell. Let's just pray that the NHL never adapts shootouts for playoff hockey. There is nothing more riveting then a triple OT playoff hockey game.

But back to the Panthers. Florida has 1 more game before the All-Star break (Wednesday against the Stars). Regardless of how the Panthers and other teams finish, there will be 4 teams separated by 4-5 points. These OT game extra points will start to mean more and more. Last year, in the East, the difference between the 5th seed and the 9th was 5 points. Carolina missed the playoffs by just 2. After Wednesday, Florida will have 37 games left. Every point matters, even those earned in shootouts. It was a solid game tonight, a great effort. Let's hope that there are many more of these left in the tank.

Game Night!

The Florida Panthers have a chance to climb up into a tie for 7th in the conference if they can manage a win tonight over the visiting Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo currently holds the 7th seed, just 2 points ahead of Florida. Pittsburgh sits in 8th, one point ahead of Florida, one point behind Buffalo.

The Cats have yet to lose in regulation in 2009, going 5-0-2. Buffalo has 6 wins in its last 8 games. Goaltending has been key for both teams lately. Tomas Vokoun came in to replace Craig Anderson in Florida's last game, a 4-3 comeback win against Tampa, and stopped all 22 shots he faced. Vokoun's been the winning goaltender in all of the Panthers' wins in 2009. Ryan Miller is 6-1-0 in his last 7 starts, with an impressive 1.96 goals against average. If both netminders play up to their abilities, it could be a tight one tonight. Lots of shots through lots of traffic is key for the Panthers' success. They can't come out and start the game like they did Saturday in Tampa. 2 straight comebacks from 2 goal deficits is nice, but it's a lot easier to do that against Niitymaki and Mike Smith then Ryan Miller and a solid Buffalo squad.

On the Panthers' side of things; Jay Bouwmeester is on a 6-game point streak. David Booth has 10 points in the last 7 games. Nathan Horton has 9 points in the last 7. Kamil Kreps returns to the lineup tonight after missing the last 9 games with a shoulder injury. But as Kreps comes in, Ville Peltonen goes out, thanks to an Evgeny Artyukhin knee-on-knee hit Saturday night that got Artyukhin suspended for 2 games. Nick Boynton will also miss tonight's game due to the flu bug. This means perennial healthy scratch Noah Welch gets an opportunity to show he belongs in the lineup. Welch hasn't played since December 27th, so let's hope he isn't too rusty.

It would be great to ride this train all the way through the All-Star break, and tonight's game is as big a game as the Panthers have seen in mid-January in a few years. Puck drops at 7:30.

P.S. Cory Murphy has finally found a new home. The defenseman was claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning today.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Panthers 4 - Lightning 3

Talk about sneaking out of town with 2 points... The Panthers beat the Lightning tonight, 4-3, but don't look for any positives to build on out of this one. Somehow, some way, the Cats were able to overcome 2-0 and 3-1 first period deficits thanks to 3 unanswered, 2nd period goals, including a goal as time expired. It was an ugly affair all around, but the final verdict is the important one. 2 points to the good guys.

Watching this one in person, it felt as if the Cats were playing in slow-motion all night. Rarely did it feel like they were putting the Bolts on their heels. Most of the night, actually, it felt like Florida was just treading water, waiting for the next wave to force them under again. Craig Anderson didn't help much in that first period. 3 goals on 11 shots, and probably lucky it wasn't worse. Rebounds were sprayed everywhere, and Florida was in a general state of disarray. In came Tomas Vokoun to the rescue. T-Vo stopped 22 of 22 and seemed to give the Panthers confidence to go forward. A couple of "ugly" goals, and I mean brutal, were enough to get the Cats over the hump and into the win column.

Yea, it didn't feel like a good win, but then again, I'll take a "bad" win over a "good" loss any night. As if the team's play wasn't bad enough, Ville Peltonen looked seriously hurt due to a knee-on-knee collision with Evgeny Artyukhin. Clearly illegal, almost certain intent to injure, yet just a 2 minute minor called? Yea, we scored on it, great. But Artyukhin and the rest of the Lightning were able to skate around in the 3rd with no real threats of a physical presence from Florida. Now I know in a 1 goal game, you don't want to take any stupid penalties. But this is supposed to be your rival, a division game, one of your top line guys getting cheap shotted, and nothing? I can only hope Pelts will be able to return this season, although the way he went off the ice, I'm not holding my breath. We'll see what kind of team shows itself Monday against Buffalo. Maybe Matthias will get recalled..again... he's probably got enough frequent flyer miles by now to fly anywhere free for life.

Don't look now, but the Panthers have jumped into the 8th seed... I don't mean to sound all doom and gloom after a gutty, gritty, ugly win. These are games this team would have lost last season, or hell, maybe even last month. But the fact remains, the Cats haven't lost in regulation since the calender flipped to 2009 (5-0-2). Jay Bouwmeester continues to shine, Tomas Vokoun continues to regain his confidence and grip on that starter's role, Nathan Horton continues to refuse to shoot the puck... SHOOT IT NATHAN!!! Someone needs to kick this guy in the @%$ and get him going, I mean I wanted to jump the glass and do it myself tonight. He somehow managed 3 assists tonight, although 2 of them were second assists, which means he probably just dumped the puck in, but hey, enough negativity for one night, especially a winning night. Monday, the Sabres come to town. As big as a game can get for mid-January. Until then... get well soon, Ville.

Game Night!

After last night's spectacularly intense game, one can only hope the Panthers have enough left in the tank for tonight's "rivalry" game in Tampa. I'm gonna keep it brief (I gotta head out for my 10:37 tee time).

The Lightning are coming off of a 4-1 win over the Flyers on Thursday night. 3 goals were scored in just over 2 minutes, and was a probable cause for the Flyers playing at such a high level the following night in Sunrise. Panthers are coming off that 3-2 shootout loss last night against Philly. It was a good game (see recap below), the Cats just ran into a hot 'tender in the net. Those nights will happen. But they didn't quit when they went down 2-0 after the 1st, and brought energy all night long. If they give that same kind of effort tonight, you'd have to think 2 points are within reach.

For those of you who check here after the games, my recap will be coming a little later then usual, as I'm making the trip from Orlando to Tampa for the game. Puck drops at 7:30.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Panthers 2 - Flyers 3 (SO)

Wow. Yes, I wish the result had been different, but what a game. After the first period, the Panthers were trailing 2-0. Then came possibly the best period of hockey the Cats have played all year. Dominating the puck, the period was played on an ice surface tilted towards the Flyers net and Antero Niittymaki. Florida was able to capitalize on 2 power plays and sent the game to the 3rd period tied at 2. Not to be outdone, the 3rd period may have been the most entertaining, fun period of hockey I've seen this year. No goals were scored, but both teams were flying, both squads needing a win in a serious way, albeit for different reasons. Florida's looking to rekindle the streak they'd been on before a scheduled 6 day vacation, and Philly trying to end a recent funk of losing tendencies. The overtime saw no goals, and the shootout ended the Panthers winning streak.

This game was so much fun to watch, and it showed what Florida can be capable of. This has become a team in every sense of the word. Every line works so hard, on both ends of the ice. The fourth line tonight, consisting of Brett McLean, Nick Tarnasky, and Anthony Stewart, looked as likely to score as the top "CPR" line. Full marks to Ville Peltonen, ignoring the broken bone (a freaking broken bone!) in his foot and playing like it wasn't even there. Richard Zednik played his best game of the year, IMO. He just looked like he was on a different level tonight, on the forecheck, creating scoring chances, and making huge plays on the backcheck. Vokoun looked comfortably solid, never wandering too far, never looking out of control. Both goals tonight came from defensemen, something Florida has gotten used to (they now lead the NHL in goals from d-men). If only Nate Horton learned how to step up into that next level...

The good news is that the Panthers have now earned at least a point in 6 straight games (4-0-2). This has brought the Cats into a tie with the Carolina Hurricanes for 2nd in the division. Unfortunately, with Pittsburgh's win tonight, the Penguins now hold a 1 point lead over Florida and Carolina in sole possession of that all-important 8th seed. Tomorrow, the Panthers head across the state to take on the recently dangerous Tampa Bay Lightning. I, too, will be heading down I-4 to take in the game. I love seeing games in Tampa, something about being a road fan in another team's barn just makes it that much better. Tonight was fun, hopefully tomorrow will just have a better result.

Game Night! Finally

After a full 5 day layoff, the Panthers return to the ice tonight to take on the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are coming off of a 4-1 loss in Tampa Bay last night, a game in which Tampa scored 3 goals in a 2:03 span in the 2nd period.

The Panthers may have wished they could have rearranged these off days. Florida has won their last 3 games, and have gone 4-0-1 in the last 5. Tomas Vokoun has been in net for the last 3 wins, and returns to the crease tonight. I haven't heard one way or another about Ville Peltonen's playing possibilities tonight. He has a cracked bone in his foot that coach Pete DeBoer said could cause him to miss a week or more. But when Pelts was asked about it, he said he feels fine and intends to play tonight. He and his linemates (Greg Campbell and Radek Dvorak) have been the best surprise of the year, and are the driving force behind the Panthers' recent success. Hopefully we see Ville on the ice tonight. Someone else to watch is David Booth. He's riding an 8-game point streak, and is slowly claiming the role of "go-to guy." One would have thought Nathan Horton would finally assert himself offensively, and he has started to, (4 G, 2 A in the last 5 games) but it would be nice to see him continue this recent success.

The Panthers remain just 1 point behind 8th seed Carolina, thanks to the Maple Leafs win over said Hurricanes last night. Florida would also be 1 point behind 7th seed Buffalo, if it weren't for the Sabres overcoming a 3-0, 3rd period defecit to win in a shootout in Dallas last night. Thanks a lot, Big D. I know it's only January, but it's never too early to start watching that scoreboard, right? Puck drops at 7:30 from the BAC.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Off-Week Updates

It's been awhile since the Panthers last game, a solid 8-4 win over Atlanta, and there are still a couple days left until the Panthers take to the ice again, Friday night against the Flyers. News has been light coming out of South Florida, but there are a few things worth mentioning.

Ville Peltonen took a shot to the foot in Saturday's game that actually cracked the bone. Pelts didn't seem to notice, he played through it and even managed a decent game (if you call a 2 goal game decent). A broken foot cost Ville 24 games last season, think he's worried about that happening again? From; "I think this one is different," he said. "It’s a different bone than last year. I haven’t skated since (Saturday) but I think it will feel better in the (skate). I think I’ll be out skating sooner rather than later." Way to walk it off...

It's never too early to start scoreboard watching, and with the Panthers sitting and waiting for so long, one might worry other teams take this opportunity to pull away slightly. Teams in question include Carolina, Buffalo (both 1 point ahead of the Cats in 7th and 8th place), New Jersey (now 7 points ahead in 6th), and Pittsburgh (tied with Florida in 9th). Tonight, Pittsburgh takes on Washington (Crosby vs. Ovie is always fun to watch, regardless of standings), while Buffalo visits surging Chicago. Tomorrow night, Carolina hosts slumping Toronto, while Buffalo plays for the 2nd consecutive night, going south to Dallas.

Defenseman Cory Murphy was recalled from Rochester, and promptly put on waivers, which he cleared. With the Panthers' defense healing up and playing well, it's hard to imagine where Murphy might fit in, so he could be headed right back to Rochester.

A fun watch, if you have a few minutes, is the Panthers recent charity golf outing. Let's just say that it's a good thing these guys can hit a puck farther then they can hit a ball, some good entertainment on Growl TV.

Until Friday...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Panthers 8 - Thrashers 4

Yowza! The Panthers offense has found it's legs. I wasn't able to watch this offensive outburst, but I think it's safe to say it was a solid performance. A 5-goal, 3rd period outburst helped the Panthers gain 2 more important points.

The Panthers have now scored the first goal of the game in 6 straight, thanks to an early disallowed Atlanta goal and a Michael Frolik penalty shot (Future Stars game indeed! He should be fun to watch in a 3-on-3 game) and have amassed 27 goals in their past 5. Much of this recent success can be attributed to the fact that Coach DeBoer now has 4, solid, and most importantly, consistent lines that he can throw on the ice. The Campbell\Peltonen\Dvorak line has continued to thrive (that line combined for 3 goals and 5 assists this afternoon). Horton has found his scoring touch, Bouwmeester continues to produce from the blue line, David Booth now has an 8 game point streak. This team is healthy, and it's starting to show up on the ice.

Carolina lost today, which means the Panthers are now just a single point behind the 8th seed 'Canes in the standings (Buffalo, who's tied with Carolina, plays tonight). The Panthers now have a lengthy week off before they take to home ice again Friday against the Flyers. Updates as I learn about them on the Scratch, until then...

Game Day! Matinee Edition

I'm unfortunately about to head off to work, so I'll keep it brief. I'll be struggling to see much of today's game, thanks to my work schedule.

The Panthers welcome in the Atlanta Thrashers to South Florida today for an afternoon affair. The Panthers are 3-0-1 since the calender flipped to 2009 and hope to continue their winning ways against an Atlanta team that's struggled much of this season. The Thrashers did manage an impressive 4-0 win over New Jersey in their last game, but will be trying to win consecutive games for the first time since early November.

Tomas Vokoun will start in net again, and is looking more and more like he's regained his starter's role. If the Panthers hope to climb back into the playoff picture, they need to get 2 points from teams below them, such as Atlanta. If the win Thursday over Carolina was huge, this one is just as big. Can't go wasting points, now. Puck drops at 1.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Panthers 4 - Hurricanes 2: Vokoun Reclaims Starter's Role?

The end of the Panthers game happened to coincide with with halftime of my Gators game

Anyways, the Panthers won a key divisional game against the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-2, tonight. I was able to catch the 1st period and last 2 minutes of the hockey game. I'll look through some post game notes and give my full thoughts tomorrow, possibly. In any event, it's a huge, huge win for the Cats, who now sit just 3 points behind the 'Canes and gain an important 2 points on 8th seed Buffalo. Tomas Vokoun gets the win, and may have taken a huge step into reclaiming his #1 G spot (I'll admit it, I just like saying G spot)

Like I said, full report tomorrow if I find time, otherwise next Cats' game is an afternoon affair Saturday against the Thrashers. If the Panthers hope to continue their push for the playoffs, they have to beat the teams below them, such as Atlanta. Until my next post...

Game Night! But Honestly, Who Cares?

There is a hockey game in South Florida tonight, but like the tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it, this one might get pushed to the back page. Just down the road from the Panthers game, there is a college football game taking place that might garner just a tad more attention then the Panthers contest with the Carolina Hurricanes (Go Gators).

The 'Canes currently lead the Cats by 5 points and sit in the 7th seed in the East. The 'Canes are also riding a 4-game winning streak. New-old coach Paul Maurice has gotten his team performing, and is 9-4-3 since his rehiring. Cam Ward has been in goal for Carolina for all 4 of their recent wins, and will provide a solid test for Florida.

Speaking of the Panthers, the Cats have been on a small scoring tear of late (at least, as Panthers scoring tears go). They've averaged 5 goals a game over their past 3 games, of which they won 2 and lost in a shootout in the 3rd. The Cats are also getting offensive contributions from their defense. Panthers' blue liners have combined for 25 goals, which is tied with Nashville for the most goals by defensemen. Tomas Vokoun should be in net, after earning his 200th career win Tuesday in Toronto.

It is a home game for the Panthers, but it'll be interesting to see how many people are actually there, providing a home ice advantage. The Florida Gators are playing the Oklahoma Sooners in Dolphins Stadium tonight, and might steal a few fans... myself being one of them. Having graduated from the U of F, I probably won't be paying too much attention to the Panthers' game. I may watch the first period, then flip over to the big show. Depending on the outcome, I'll get to a post game Panthers report tomorrow, or I might not. Puck drops at 7:30 tonight, although you have to have NHL Center Ice to see it.

Quick side note, congratulations to Jay Bouwmeester for being selected to the 2009 All-Star game. J-Bo is currently 3rd on the team in scoring (6 G, 15 A, 21 P). Good job, Jay, someone had to go, right?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Panthers 4 - Leafs 2: McCabe's Revenge!

The Panthers closed out their 4-game road trip with a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Cats ended the trip taking 5 of a possible 8 points (2-1-1) and kept pace with the Buffalo Sabres (8th seed, 3 points ahead), who also won tonight.

Stephen Weiss, Ville Peltonen, Michael Frolik, and Greg Campbell all tallied for the Panthers. Tomas Vokoun gave a solid performance as well, stopping 24 of 26 shots.

The Panthers dominated early, and were outshooting the Leafs 10-0 when Weiss fired a wrist shot over Vesa Toskala's shoulder on the Cats' 11th shot of the game at the 10:16 mark of the 1st period. The Panthers scored the next 2 goals to take a 3-0 lead that the Leafs never recovered from.

All around, it was one of the best 60 minutes of hockey the Panthers have played this season. A great start, capitalizing on enough chances to get a solid lead, and not panicking when the Leafs did close the gap to 2 on two seperate occasions. Vokoun looked as confident as ever, never really being forced to make the highlight reel save. He was in position, he was calm, and he controlled the rebounds. A great performance for T-Vo in his efforts to reclaim the #1 spot. Bryan McCabe managed to get on the score sheet against his former club, earning the 2nd assist on the opening goal. Good for him.

One of the best stories of the year so far, in my mind, is the progress and development of Michael Frolik. Through the first month or so of the season, Frolik looked lost, often confused. You could tell he wasn't sure that he belonged at the NHL level. But thanks, in part, to the injuries the Panthers suffered on the forward lines and the ice time and confidence given to Frolik by head coach Pete DeBoer, Frolik started to find his groove. Now, Frolik has a solid 17 points with his goal tonight (8 G, 9 A). Even with the injury list clearing, Frolik has proven he belongs with the big boys.

Conngrats to Tomas Vokoun, who recorded his 200th career victory tonight. The Panthers return home Thursday to take on those Carolina Hurricanes. The 'Canes are currently sitting just 5 points ahead of the Cats in 7th place. Until then...

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Game Night: the Return Edition

The hockey world sees two big comebacks tonight; Bryan McCabe returns to Toronto, and Cat Scratch returns to the blog-o-sphere. Let's hope both returns end triumphantly.

Yes, my few but passionate readers, I have returned from the honeymoon in the Great White North. While I've been gone, it seems the Panthers have taken a leave of absence themselves, posting a 1-3-2 record. This has seen the Cats fall to 10th in the East, 3 points behind 8th seed Buffalo.

The story tonight is the return of banished former Leaf Bryan McCabe to Maple Leaf Gardens... I mean, Air Canada Centre. Last year while with Toronto, McCabe became the scapegoat for the Leafs abysmal season and was promptly shipped off to South Florida. McCabe has found his feet nicely in Sunrise. He's 5th on the team in points (7 G, 11 A, 18 P) and has posted a tidy +7.

Toronto is only 2 points behind the Panthers, making this game slightly more meaningful. The Leafs have had problems stopping the puck all year, which could bode well for the Panthers. The Leafs did win their last game, a 3-1 win in the battle of Ontario. Tomas Vokoun will be back in net after Craig Anderson got the start in the previous 2 games. Puck drops at 7:30.