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The Panthers 2011-12 season is quickly approaching and with that, floridapanthers.com is going 15 in 15 by taking a look at the top five questions, players to watch and games of the season on a countdown to the home opener on October 15th against Tampa Bay. We'll unveil one of the top five on a rotating basis each day to help fans get ready for what hopes to be an exciting season.

PURCHASE TICKETS TO THE HOME OPENER

POSTED ON Tuesday, 10.04.2011 / 4:31 PM
By Jared Levine - FloridaPanthers.com / Countdown To Home Opener 2011

Forward Kris Versteeg, who already has three seasons of 20-plus goals was acquired by the Panthers from Philadelphia on July 1.
In today’s topic, we take a closer look at forward Kris Versteeg in the Top Five Players To Watch this season.

Versteeg, at only 25 years old, has already scored over 20 goals three times in his career.  Selected 134th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, some would say that he has exceeded expectations as a player. 

GM Dale Tallon has been a believer since the beginning of his young career. Back in 2007, Versteeg was acquired by the Chicago Blackhawks through trade with Boston.  Fast-forward a couple of years and now as Panthers GM, Tallon acquire Versteeg again via trade in a deal with Philadelphia for a 2012 or 2013 conditional second round pick as well as a 2012 third round pick. Versteeg would be one of 10 new players added during the offseason.

“(Versteeg) is versatile enough to play any forward position and brings passion and commitment to the rink every single day," Tallon said.

Heading into this season, Versteeg will need to become a key contributor to the Panthers offense. He will be asked to provide that offensive spark, scoring plenty of goals while adding some assists.

"When I came here I almost feel like I'm home, it just feels comfortable right away here,'' said Versteeg of being in South Florida and on the Panthers.

There is no need to worry about him. He will produce. Over his first three full seasons, Versteeg has averaged 21 goals with 27 assists, and even played a major role during the Chicago Blackhawks championship run.

Being that he is 25, it’s surprising how deep Versteeg’s resume is. He has already won a Stanley Cup, produced during the regular season and post-season, and was named as a Calder Trophy finalist as the league’s top rookie.

His experiences during the regular season and post-season will go a long way in this revamped Panther locker room. The sky is the limit for this young Panther forward, which is why he is a player to watch out for this upcoming 2011 season.


BY THE NUMBERS

4 - Will suit up for fourth team in last 24 months. After playing for Chicago in 2009-10, Versteeg was traded to Toronto to begin last season. There he split time between Toronto and Philadelphia.

11 - Registered 11 multi-point games last season during his time split between Toronto and Philadelphia.

53 - Recorded career high 53 points during his first full season with Chicago during the 2007-08 campaign.

250 - Has played in 250 games in four seasons in the league, averaging 79 games played over his three full seasons.
 

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POSTED ON Monday, 10.03.2011 / 5:27 PM
By Andrew Imber - FloridaPanthers.com / Countdown To Home Opener 2011

By Andrew Imber for floridapanthers.com

Washington forward Alex Ovechkin and defenseman Mike Weaver fight for the puck in a game last season at the BankAtlantic Center. Florida went 3-2-1 against the Capitals last season. (Getty Images)
In today's topic, we take a closer look at the game against the Washington Capitals on February 1st in the Top 5 Games this season.

Although the February 1st game will be the third meeting between the Capitals and Panthers in the 2011-12 NHL regular season, it will mark the first game for Florida after the All-Star break. That game really starts the stretch run towards their postseason goal as there will be 34 games remaining on the docket with just over two months to play them. It will be a chance to start that push on the right foot by taking down what many perceive as the Southeast Division favorites.

For the Capitals, the act is wearing thin. Dominant regular seasons followed up by playoff failures are taking a toll on players and fans alike, as they all chase the same dream: the Stanley Cup.

During the offseason, Washington set out to make sure a young core had veteran leadership. They accomplished just that, bringing in playoff hero Joel Ward (seven goals, 6 assists in 12 games), former Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun (.920 or better save percentage in last three seasons), and defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who is entering his 19th year of service in the NHL. That was added to a roster that is already filled with all-world talent.

The Panthers will have to also contain “The Great Eight,” Alex Ovechkin (32 goals, 53 assists last season), Nicklas Backstrom (18 goals, 47 assists last season), and Alex Semin (28 goals, 26 assists last season) up front. Joining Hamrlik on the back end are offensive dynamo Mike Green (19 goals, 57 assists two seasons ago), Dennis Wideman (10 goals, 30 assists last season), and young up-and-comers John Carlson and Karl Alzner. Between the pipes, Michal Neuvirth will provide solid goaltending whenever Vokoun needs a rest. 

As the Panthers make the climb up through the tough Southeast Division, the Capitals will be perhaps the largest obstacle in the way. After posting a 3-2-1 mark last season against the boys from D.C., Florida looks ready for the challenge.

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POSTED ON Sunday, 10.02.2011 / 6:14 PM

Center Stephen Weiss has been an alternate captain for the Panthers the last four seasons. Will he have a different letter on his jersey this season?
In today's topic, we take a closer look at who might wear the letters in the Top Five Questions this season.

With so many new faces looking to come together in such a short period of time in hopes of success, the question seems to be; who will the team leaders be?

It's been asked by media members on a weekly basis. Who will be named the seventh captain in franchise history for the upcoming season. There's also the question of who will be named the alternate captains.

It will probably be one of the earliest questions answered this season as head coach Kevin Dineen has said that the leadership group should be named prior to the start of the season.

So who are some of the candidates?

There are plenty of players who have been in the "leadership" group whether it has been on the Panthers or with another team. Stephen Weiss, the longest tenured Panther, has been an alternate captain the past four seasons. A consumate pro, Weiss leads by example. Then there's former Panthers first round pick Ed Jovanovski who before returning to South Florida was an alternate captain with Phoenix and even wore the 'C' while Shane Doan was suspended this past year and was also an alternate captain with Vancouver. Defenseman Brian Campbell has held the position of both captain (December 2007) and alternate captain before with Buffalo. Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver was an alternate captain after being given an 'A' following the trade deadline this past season.

Other players have held leadership positions on their countrie's teams at world tournaments.

Looking at the pre-season, the Panthers have put the 'A' on several players. That list includes Jovanovski, Weaver and Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann, Kris Versteeg, Jason Garrison, Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, Steve Reinprecht, David Booth and Sean Bergenheim. In the last three games, the alternates were Weiss, Jovanovski and Kopecky (vs Tampa on September 24), Fleischmann, Versteeg and Garrison (vs Dallas on September 27) and Fleischmann, Jovanovski and Weaver (at Dallas on September 29).
 
When it comes to naming the team leaders, another question comes to mind. How will the alternates fall? Will Dineen and his coaching staff decide on a rotating position or have four alternates (two for home, two for road or an every other game kind of thing) or will they just go with a normal, captain and two alternates look.

Look for this question to be answered relatively soon.

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POSTED ON Saturday, 10.01.2011 / 4:48 PM

Defenseman Ed Jovanovski makes a return to South Florida after signing a four-year contract on July 1.
In today's topic, we take a closer look at defenseman Ed Jovanovski in the Top Five Players To Watch this season.

Back on July 1, with the Panthers looking to overhaul a roster and team that finished 15th in the Eastern Conference, one of the first calls of the day went out to a familiar face. At least a familiar face in terms of Panthers history.

That player? Defenseman Ed Jovanovski.

The first overall pick in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft spent three and a half seasons in South Florida racking up 83 points in 253 games before being traded to Vancouver as part of a deal for sniper Pavel Bure.

Now after spending six and a half seasons in Vancouver and another five in Phoenix, the Windsor, On., native is back where he started.

"It's good. Florida, having started my career here, the fans were always great to me," said Jovanovski. "It was tough to leave a while ago but it's good to be back."

Signing a four-year contract on the first year of free agency, Jovanovski will be looked upon as a steady presence on the blueline and help mentor the young Cats defensemen of Dmitry Kulikov, Keaton Ellerby, Jason Garrison and possibly Mike Kostka and Erik Gudbranson.

Having played in over a thousand games (1,019 to be exact), Jovanovski has plenty to share with the young defensemen but he wasn't brought in just for that purpose. Having made the playoffs the last two seasons with Phoenix, Jovanovski is hoping to help be a part of a leadership group that leads the Panthers back to the playoffs.

"I think right now looking in the past. There's no point," said Jovanovski of the past ten years of no playoffs for the franchise. "The future is kind of the beginning of this franchise. I think everybody sees good things happening for this team."

With such an overhaul over the summer, Jovanovski will be looked upon to help the new additions and holdovers mesh. What should help is that he was here before and knows what it was like when the Panthers were the toast of the town.

"We have to come together and we have to come together quick," said Jovanovski. "That's what we have to strive for, make sure guys take care of each other, look out for each other and just build that comraderie right away."

BY THE NUMBERS

4 - Recorded four points in a game twice during his career with his most recent coming against Minnesota on January 16, 2010 (four assists).

6 - Scored double digit goals six different times during his 15-year career. Last accomplished the feat during the 2009-10 season (10) with Phoenix.

7 - Has picked up 549 penalty minutes in his time in South Florida, good enough for seventh most on the franchise list. Trails only Paul Laus (1,702), Peter Worrell (1,375), Scott Mellanby (953), Bill Lindsay (609), Robert Svehla (603) and Olli Jokinen (597).

51 - Recorded a career high 51 points during the 2007-08 season while playing in his second season in Phoenix.

253 - Played in 253 games for the Panthers before being traded to Vancouver. Total is good enough for 30th most on franchise list. Needs just 29 games to move into 20th place on list (Jody Hull - 281).
 

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POSTED ON Friday, 09.30.2011 / 5:22 PM


David Booth and the Panthers look to win their first game against Tim Thomas and the Stanley Cup champs, the Boston Bruins for the first time since April 1, 2010 when they meet in Boston on December 8, 2011 (Getty Images)
In today's topic (the countdown's very first), we take a closer look at the game at the Boston Bruins on December 8th in the Top 5 Games this season.

Those that watched the playoffs this past summer saw the Bruins earn three Game-7 victories, including a 4-0 shutout in a hostile Vancouver environment in the Stanley Cup Finals, as they hoisted the shiny silver trophy.

Now after a summer of celebrating it will be their turn to defend the Cup as they look to win their seventh Stanley Cup in franchise history.

For the Panthers, December 8th will be the first time playing the Black and Gold during the 2011-12 season which is quite late for the two teams to start their four game season series. The last time that the series kicked off so late (first game in December) came during the 2002-03 season when they first played December 21.

The Panthers, with a possible 12 new players on the roster, should have found chemistry as well as gelling as a team by the time their meeting rolls around. The Bruins on the other hand have 17 players with their names engraved on the Cup that gained significant experience during their march to Lord Stanley's trophy. Leading the way on the front end are forwards David Krejci (12 goals, 23 points in 25 games), Patrice Bergeron (20 points in 23 games) and Brad Marchand (11 goals in 25 games). Along the blueliner are captain Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Then between the pipes is the unorthodox Tim Thomas who took home the Conn Smythe as the playoff MVP while going 16-9 with four shutouts and a 1.98 goals against and a .940 save percentage.

It's like the old saying goes. If you want to be the best you have to beat the best. The Bruins were the best of the best for the 2010-11 season and the Panthers will see how they stack up.

If the Stanley Cup angle isn't incentive enough, then the Panthers can use getting a victory angle as the Panthers last victory against the Bruins came on April 1, 2010. Florida lost all four games (0-3-1) last season by a combined eight goals (12-4).

Bring on the champs.
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UPCOMING EVENTS

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
N. Bjugstad 76 16 22 -14 38
S. Upshall 76 15 22 1 37
B. Campbell 82 7 30 -6 37
B. Boyes 78 21 15 -6 36
S. Bergenheim 62 16 13 -16 29
J. Huberdeau 69 9 19 -5 28
T. Fleischmann 80 8 20 -18 28
T. Gilbert 73 3 25 -5 28
B. Pirri 49 13 12 6 25
A. Barkov 54 8 16 -3 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 25 23 7 .919 2.40
S. Clemmensen 6 7 1 .896 3.09
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