|Forward Jack Skille celebrates his third-period goal to put the Panthers up 4-2 against the Senators on Mar. 4th (Getty Images).|
The injury report, in fact, has been vast as 21 different players have missed a combined 291 man-games heading into Thursday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers (INJURY REPORT).
With that, Kevin Dineen hasn't always had the luxury of playing guys based off of merit. But in the last 20 games of the season or so, he has as Panthers have or are returning from various injuries. While forwards Kris Versteeg and Scottie Upshall and defenseman Dmitry Kulikov are still out for at least this week, Dineen does have the chance to play his forwards based off of their production as well as due to health.
"We have 14 healthy forwards right now so I have options every night," said Dineen following practice at Saveology.com Iceplex on Tuesday. "I wouldn't say that it's always play based but I think I'm looking for the healthiest guys right now."
Dineen feels having extra bodies will help the Panthers immensely down the stretch. Both Marco Sturm and John Madden have been the forwards on the outside looking in but they've been held out do to the play of other forwards.
"Guys are fighting for those spots right now. Whether it's Krys Barch or Jack Skille (they) are doing what they can to stay in the lineup," said Dineen.
And once Versteeg, Upshall and Kulikov return to the lineup, it will present even more players looking to get playing time. That's something that the head coach has to enjoy as he tries to keep the Panthers on top of the Southeast Division.
"It's the only way you can stay now in the lineup," said Dineen. "They can count. it's very easy to figure out bodies are options for us to use. It's a good situation for a coach."
Speaking of the Panthers leading scorer, Dineen said that Versteeg is being considered on a short-term rolling basis in terms of his lower body injury.
"It's a little beyond day-to-day but certainly not considered a long term injury," said Dineen. "We don't expect him for the next couple of games and we'll re-evaluate at that time. We're kind of in that stage right now where we're looking at three and four day increments."
|Forwards Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky celebrate Goc's goal 33 seconds into the second period which started the Cats comeback from down 2-0 to win 4-2. (Getty Images)|
For the third time in the last four games and the sixth time in the last eight, Florida has given up the first two goals of the game.
While the Panthers might not have heard the boos coming from the stands while skating off for the first intermission, they certainly heard the between-periods speech. One can only imagine what was exactly said in the locker room during those 17 minutes. But there were some clues divulged following the Panthers 4-2 victory.
“When you get as thoroughly outplayed as we did in the first period, I think there has to be some kind of a response,” said head coach Kevin Dineen. “We went in and had a little chat. I think they understood that there wasn’t going to be any change in the way we were going to play our systems or I wasn’t going to shake up the lines. It was basically going to come from within.”
“(Coach) just said got to go out there and look across the way and each of us have to outwork the guy across from us,” said forward Krys Barch who scored the equalizer 2:21 into the second on a breakaway. “I think we took that there and we brought it in and implemented it for the second.”
The Panthers came at the Senators from the start of the period and it showed in scoring three goals to take the lead away. Florida outshot Ottawa 14-8 in the second period alone.
“Obviously we weren’t happy so we got a little bit of a kick in the butt and got us going a little bit,” said center Stephen Weiss of the intermission talk. “That goal at the first shift of the second was big. It got us right into it and we were rolling from there.”
"Our competition level after the first period stayed the same and theirs obviously elevated to a higher level," said Sens head coach Paul MacLean to the media. “Instead of raising our competition level as the game went on to meet theirs, we got frustrated."
After Marcel Goc scored 33 seconds in and Barch tied it at two, Weiss set up Mikael Samuelsson for the eventual game-winner with the Cats on a power play. Forward Jack Skille added an insurance goal in the third. For the Panthers, it was their third time in the last six games in coming back from a two-goal deficit (also against Carolina and Montreal).
“Unfortunately sometimes we come out a little flat. I don’t know why that is but we’e been trying really hard to come out with a lot of push in the first period,” said Skille following the game. “I think right now, we’re just going to stick with our character and work hard and work through these things and hopefully we can play a full 60 minutes next game.”
Points down the stretch get harder to come by and a loss to the Senators would have been a blown chance to pick up ground on the rest of the Southeast. Luckily, the speech, along with the Panthers' play in the second and third gave the Panthers another two important points in moving to four points up on the Jets and five points on the Capitals.
While speeches are great for short runs, if the Panthers hope to continue their playoff push, they have to find a way to not continue to get down early. It’s tough sledding when you have to continually come back from deficits. The intermission speech isn't always going to do the trick.
“I wish I knew,” said Samuelsson of giving up the game’s first two goals. “That’s what we have to figure out these days. We have two, three days off. Get the energy back a little bit. No excuses. We have to obviously play for 60 minutes."
“We knew we had three days in between games here and we didn’t want to sit thinking about ‘woulda, coulda, shouldas’ there for those three days,” said Barch. “We come in here every day and we look at those standings. We know Washington (was) only three points behind and Winnipeg is right behind us. We know we can’t let these slip away.”
So was looking through the website backend today and saw that there was this blog "Panthers Insider" that was written on a couple of times back in June and then went underground; or somewhere unknown.
It must have gone into deep hibernation or something.
Well, the time has come to try and re-kick this blog into action. It’s been a long time coming and what better time than right now with the stretch run to the end of the season to get it going again. It would be a valid argument to say “the blog should have been going on the whole season.” No excuses there as to the reasons the writing went missing.
It’s all water under the bridge if the blog stays current and gives the fans an up-to-date background on all things Panthers. That’s what we’ll try to do the rest of the season (whenever that ends) and the future.
In saying that, it should be an exciting month as the Panthers chase for a playoff spot for the first time in over a decade. Here’s hoping it’s a great month ahead for the Panthers team and fans alike.
|Forwards Kris Versteeg (left) and Michael Frolik (right) will be switching jerseys from the time they faced off against one another in Helsinki two seasons ago. November 3rd will be Versteeg's first time playing against his former team, the Blackhawks. (Getty Images)
While it's often tough to start a rivalry with a Western Conference team due to the lack of meetings in a given season, the Panthers could easily have that against the Chicago Blackhawks. That rivalry, if there is one, is all of the personal variety as seven players (and a General Manager) have spent playing time on the other team.
Forwards Jack Skille (one game) and Michael Frolik (two games) have already played against their former teams after being traded in a February 9th deal that involved five players.
Then there is veteran defenseman Steve Montador who spent three seasons in South Florida (2005-2008) who will suit up for the Blackhawks for the first time in a Chicago jersey but has faced the Panthers seven times either with Anaheim or Buffalo.
Where the game gets really interesting is it will be the first time against their former team for four players with three of them wearing the opposite jerseys as late as the Western Conference first round. Brian Campbell's arrival in South Florida was the kick-off for General Manager Dale Tallon (who everyone knows that he has Chicago roots) to his makeover of the Panthers this past summer. Tallon acquired Campbell at the NHL Draft on June 24th for forward Rostislav Olesz. Tallon then acquired forward Tomas Kopecky for a conditional seventh-rounder three days later. On July 1, after signing several free-agents early in the day, Tallon swung a deal for former Blackhawk Kris Versteeg (spent last season split between Toronto and Philadelphia). Campbell, Kopecky, Versteeg and Olesz will all be playing against their former team for the first time.
What makes this meeting all the more story like is that it's the first of two meetings between the two. The two teams will meet again on January 20th in Chicago. The schedule makers have seemed to want to start a bit of a rivalry as this will be the third consecutive season that the teams meet twice. Florida and Chicago has split each of their games the previous two seasons. Florida has won both of their games (in Helsinki to open 2009-10 season and last March in Sunrise) by a one-goal margin while Chicago dominated in their two victories (in Helsinki in the second game of the 2009-10 season and last March in Chicago) by identical 4-0 shutouts.
The Blackhawks, while losing a lot of parts of the roster that earned them a Stanley Cup (including Campbell, Kopecky and Versteeg) two seasons ago, still have a lot of firepower. Led up front by captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. They have two of the game's best on the blueline in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook while goaltender Corey Crawford had a breakout season last year as he went 33-18-6 with a 2.30 goals against average and .917 save percentage.
It will be a tough task but the Panthers, led by their new charges, will be juiced up for their first action against their former team, thus making for a great game on November 3rd.
|The Panthers will rely heavily on new acquisition Jose Theodore to start the season with Scott Clemmensen out for about a month. (Getty Images)
Before the start of the season, this question might have been more of a hot topic as Scott Clemmensen was having a very solid training camp and looked to be pushing Jose Theodore for split duties if not more.
Then came news that Clemmensen went through a minor knee procedure and would miss about a month put that whole debate on the shelf. At least for now.
Theodore, meanwhile had an unnormal pre-season, giving up 12 goals in two starts. For Theodore, he'll be looked upon early and often between the pipes and while the pre-season has some people nervous, he has shown that he is a gamer.
“At the end of the day, a lot of our success early is going to ride on him,’’ said Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen. “He’s a guy who has been down these roads before. I believe in him."
"I’ve been around long enough to know I need to be better," said Theodore following the pre-season. "I’m pretty confident. I will work hard and work ethic overcomes many things. I’m confident for the start of the season."
Theodore has been a successful netminder in this league, having seven seasons with more wins than losses. He's won the Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) while in Montreal and posted solid numbers with Washington (30-7-7, .911 SV%) and Minnesota (15-11-3, .916 SV%) in the last two seasons.
With Clemmensen out to start the season, the backup position falls to 21-year old Swede Jacob Markstrom. How much Dineen decides to play him remains to be seen but with 11 games in the opening month, one would think he gets into a game or two, if not more. With goaltenders taking usually the longest to develop, maybe Markstrom "grows up" quickly when thrown in a game and seizes momentum.
Once Clemmensen comes back healthy, he'll figure to push Theodore and get several starts. The netminder has averaged 31 games the last three seasons, 27 the last two with the Panthers. Last year, Clemmensen had very respectable numbers, posting a .911 SV% and 2.62 GAA.
Keep an eye on the man between the pipes. Like a quarterback in football, the goaltender is an integral part of the team and a reason why they could return to the playoffs or why they could be on the outside looking in.
|Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and goaltender Scott Clemmensen defend against Pittsburgh forward Pascal Dupuis during a game last season at the BankAtlantic Center. (Getty Images)
For the Panthers, one of the biggest games on the docket this season will be against the Penguins on November 19th. There are numerous reasons, stemming from the Penguins having the Panthers numbers the last couple of years, to the match-up against Pens superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to the start of a four-game homestand over Thanksgiving week.
Starting with the first part, the Penguins have taken seven of the last eight games over the last two years. While the Panthers have been competitive in games (losing four times in overtime or the shootout) over that span, Pittsburgh has found ways to come out on top. Florida lost all four matchups last season, going 0-3-1, while being outscored 14-7.
Then you have to factor in the fact that the Penguins, have a deep team that has been to the playoffs, has won a Stanley Cup (2009) and therefore is battle tested. They just go through the regular season and prepare for a Cup run.
That deep team is led by their superstars; Crosby and Malkin. Prior to a concussion last season, Crosby had posted more than a 100 points in four of his first five seasons in the league. Malkin, also has put up 100 points in two of his last four seasons prior to 2010-11 where he faced several injuries which limited him to just 43 games. Malkin is back healthy this season while Crosby is still working his way back but both should be around when the Panthers and Penguins take to the ice.
Pittsburgh isn't limited to just the two superstars as they have Jordan Staal, Tyler Kennedy and James Neal up front along with Kris Letang and Paul Martin on the back end and Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes.
For Florida, this game marks the start of a busy eight day stretch as they play five games over that span. Four of those will come from the comfort of the South Florida ice as the Panthers will host Pittsburgh (Nov. 19), New Jersey (Nov. 21), the NY Rangers (Nov. 23) and Tampa Bay (Nov. 25) before traveling to Tampa Bay to finish it up (Nov. 26). There's nothing like a Thanksgiving week with four strong opponents (Tampa twice) during one of the busiest holiday weeks of the year. The BankAtlantic Center has some of it's largest crowds on hand over the week and it all starts with Pittsburgh.
The November 19th meeting will be the second time the two teams meet (October 11th in Pittsburgh is the first). With Thanksgiving around the corner, it's a great time to start the week off right, against a formidable foe with superstars throughout the lineup.
|Head coach Kevin Dineen and assistant Craig Ramsay discuss strategy during a Panthers pre-season game. The duo will be making their Panthers coaching debuts on October 8th on Long Island. (Eliot J. Schechter)
About half of the Panthers roster will be taking the ice come October 8th for the very first time in a Cats jersey. Behind the bench it will be the same as half of the coaching staff will get their first games as Panthers against the Islanders.
The Panthers hired former NHL forward Kevin Dineen as their new bench boss on June 1. They then added former Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay as an assistant to complement assistant coaches Gord Murphy and Robb Tallas who were kept on from the previous regime.
Add in new Panthers video coach PJ DeLuca and three of the six coaches (other being Strength and Conditioning coach Craig Slaunwhite) and the Panthers have a different look and voice heading into the upcoming season.
With three new coaches to go with a multitude of changes on the playing roster, the question is how quickly can the staff come together and what kind of impact will they have on their "charges".
If experience in the ranks are any indication then the Panthers should be just fine.
Dineen spent 19 years in the league playing and picking up 760 points in 1,188 career games. After his career, he spent a season with the Columbus Blue Jackets before coaching the Portland Pirates (AHL) for the past six seasons. There he had a brilliant career as the main bench boss for the affiliates of the Anaheim Ducks and Buffalo Sabres. Dineen compiled a record of 266-155-59 (.619 winning percentage) while developing players such as Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Dustin Penner, Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis and Luke Adam. The last three won AHL Rookie Of The Year awards the past three seasons.
"You see the potential that's there," said Dineen. "The youth, the veterans, the skill that was added this summer, you have a lot of reason for optimism. It makes for a very exciting time."
Then you can't forget about Ramsay who has nearly 40 years of NHL experience as a player and a coach. Hired on July 7, Ramsay played in 1,070 games (all with Buffalo) over his 14-year NHL career while registering 672 points. After retiring, Ramsay has been an assistant coach in Buffalo, Florida, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Boston. Ramsay was the Atlanta Thrashers head coach this past season.
“He brings an in-depth knowledge and experience to the Panthers organization which will be an invaluable resource for our players to draw from," said Dineen of Ramsay.
The Panthers staff, led by Dineen, infused with talent thanks to Panthers management should see the results this season. Finishing with just 72 points last year, the Panthers new coaching staff has a chance to make a big difference.
"I think Dineen has an opportunity in Florida to make the most dramatic improvement of all the coaches mentioned," said ESPN's Craig Custance in a response to a twitter question about what new head coach (Dineen, Minnesota's Mike Yeo, Dallas' Glen Gulutzan and Winnipeg's Claude Noel) will do the best and why. "GM Dale Tallon has not only done a great job accumulating talent, he's creating an atmosphere in South Florida in which players should enjoy playing. There are some great personalities on that team, and I think Dineen has the opportunity to mold them into a squad that should well exceed the 72 points Florida posted last year. If success is measured in improvement over last season, I think Dineen will lead the way."
The Hockey Hall of Fame elected four more players with their class of 2011 and two former Panthers were among them as goaltender Ed Belfour and center Joe Nieuwendyk received the call Tuesday afternoon.
For Belfour, he was elected to the Hall on his very first try. The 18-year vet finished his NHL career playing with the Panthers. During the 2006-07 season, Belfour posted a 27-17-10 record with a .902 save percentage. 'Eddie the Eagle' is currently third all-time in goalie wins with 484, and twice won the Vezina Trophy while also winning the Stanley Cup in 1999.
"It is hard to put into words what this means to me," said Belfour in a release. "I would like to thank all of my teammates and people along the way who helped me achieve my hockey dreams."
Nieuwendyk spent parts of two seasons with the Panthers following the NHL lockout. Playing in 80 games with the Cats, Nieuwendyk recorded 64 points before back problems caused him to retire. 'Newy' recorded 564 career goals while finishing with 1,257 points and hoisted the Cup three different times (1989, 1999 and 2003).
"Every player does their best year after year and strives to play at a very high level," said Nieuwendyk. "I truly love the game and love to compete, and I'm pleased to be honoured by the Hockey Hall of Fame."
The duo join Igor Larionov (2000-01, class of 2008) and Dino Ciccarelli (1997-99, class of 2010) as players that have worn Panthers jerseys during their careers to become a Hall of Famer. Other people with Panthers ties that are currently Hall of Fame include Bill Torrey as a builder (class of 1995), Roger Nielson as a builder (class of 2002), Bob Clarke (inducted as a player in 1987) and Billy Smith (inducted as a player in 1993).
Other former Panthers that were up for the award included John Vanbiesbrouck, Pavel Bure, Stu Barnes, Sean Burke and Mike Vernon.
The induction of Belfour and Nieuwendyk as well as Doug Gilmour and Mark Howe will take place on November 14th in Toronto.
Just a quick post for now...
They say that waiting is the hardest thing and that's totally true.
The NHL Draft kicks off in less than four hours but it still seems like an eternity away. It's been a long day so far of just waiting around in the hotel, typing up stories, working on things for the website and just waiting for the phone to buzz to hear that there's been a trade, or to know who in fact the Panthers will go with at number three.
As much anxiety it is for the fans and the staff to wait until 7:00pm ET to get the draft started, it's got to be much worse for the prospects. The future, at least of where they could play, are hours away just awaiting for their names to be called. After that it's a lot of jubilation and relief to finally hear there names called.
As the time slowly ticks by, it will be interesting to see if/when the Panthers make a move. They've been busy at the draft in the past. In actuality, this is where they usually make the most hay with trades/draft picks/etc.
"A lot of conversation and a lot of pondering and a lot of positioning as far as what we might do or what we might trade and what we might get back in return," said Panthers GM Dale Tallon yesterday. "So it's very solid. It will be an eventful 10 days (including free agency) I would think but things are starting to percolate a little bit and it's fun. This is what I enjoy the most."
We'll just have to see what comes to fruition but can someone turn the clock ahead?
|The top 10 prospects pose for a photo at their Draft Luncheon the day before the NHL Draft. (Getty Images)|
For the Panthers it was full of meetings and more meetings, whether it was between the scouting department or a last chat with the prospects. Allowed to be in the room for some of them, there's definitely a lot of excitement that the Panthers will get a quality, highly skilled player wherever they pick. That should be music to Panthers fans.
"We're comfortable at three. That's a really good pick," said Panthers GM Dale Tallon. "We're going to get a really good player regardless of what happens in front of us."
"There's a lot of very good players," said Panthers head scout Scott Luce. "There might not be a lot of franchise guys that you can put that label on right now but there's a lot of players that have that ability to earn that based on the performance at the start of their careers. It might not be there now with the projection but in a couple of years of development and some NHL experience under their belt, they may become franchise players"
For the players, especially the top picks, their days were filled with a media tour throughout Minnesota, a coaching session with young skaters at the American Development Clinic in Mendota Heights, media luncheon to answer hundreds of media questions and then last minute interviews with interested teams.
"I think that would be easier but that's part of the whole draft process is the anxiety leading up to that moment," said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the No. 1 ranked North American Skater according to Central Scouting about not knowing if he would go number one to Edmonton. "It's all a part of the fun."
"They haven't been too bad because I haven't been getting much sleep," added Nugent-Hopkins about getting sleep over the last week. "I think tonight is going to be pretty hard to get to sleep that's for sure."
"I'm not used to all this attention," added Adam Larsson the No. 1 ranked European Skater. "But I like it so far. Hopefully it will be a great day tomorrow."
|Dale Tallon Interview|
|Scott Luce Interview|
|Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Interview|
|Gabriel Landeskog Interview|
|Jonathan Huberdeau Interview|
|Adam Larsson Interview|
For the top three rated North American skaters, Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau, all have been in contact with Florida.
"It (the meeting at the combine) was great," said Huberdeau. "You can't say if it was better than other teams but it seemed like they liked me. We'll see."
"Every time you hear about Florida, you hear great things so it would be great to play there," said Nugent-Hopkins. "They (the meetings) have gone really well."
"It would be great to play there," said Landeskog who actually visited Miami a couple days ago for a vacation with his friends and get away from the draft hoopla. "Not just the life there and the hockey and the great future they've got in front of them."
Florida kicked off the draft trading frenzy last summer when they made the trade with Boston for Dennis Wideman and what would eventually be Nick Bjugstad. This summer it was Philadelphia who kicked off the draft trading session with two huge trades. They traded Jeff Carter to Columbus for Jakub Voracek, the Blue Jackets first and third round picks while trading their captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a second round pick. With money to spend and picks available, Tallon has started to hear a lot of chatter.
"Lots of conversation. There's a lot going on. A lot of good things," said Tallon. "They (other teams) understand we have room and they understand we're going to be aggressive. We positioned ourselves painfully to get to this position so we have to start to reap the benefits of it."
It will make for an interesting 24 hours leading up to the first round. Draft coverage on VERSUS begins at 7pm ET.