|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.
The NHL released the 2011-12 regular season schedule today adding to a jam packed weekend with the NHL Awards and the NHL Draft sandwiched around it.
The Panthers will open up with two games on the road (at the New York Islanders on October 8th and at the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 11th) before finally opening their home portion of the 2011-12 season against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It's the second straight year that the two teams will meet in the Cats home opener.
Remember last year's opener? Florida scored early and often with four goals in the opening period on their way to a 6-0 shutout victory. Would be nice for a follow up to kick off the We See Red home opener.
At first glance of the schedule, there's a lot of interesting things to take in. First off is the time change for Saturday night contests. In years past games have started at 7:00pm. This year game start will be 7:30pm. Wondering what effect it will have (if any).
Another interesting look is that this schedule seems to be more balanced than in years past. The most games in a row either at home or on the road is just four games. In year's past the team has played on the road or at home for five, six, even seven games at a time. A more balanced schedule should keep the team on their toes but not also make them traveling vagabonds. There will be four different four-game home stands as well as two different four-game road trips.
The schedule makers made sure that the Panthers played host during the holidays which is great because that's when some of the biggest crowds are on hand at the BankAtlantic Center. Florida will host the Penguns (Nov. 19), Devils (Nov. 21), Rangers (Nov. 23) and Lightning (Nov. 25) during Thanksgiving and then will host the Maple Leafs (Dec. 27), Rangers (Dec. 30) and Canadiens (Dec. 31) around the Christmas/New Years Eve time.
Florida will play in 14 sets of back to back games this year but only play five of them in the first three months of the season. That means a lot of them in the second half of the season. A lot of them will be played in the month of March where they will play in four different back-to-back situations.
One final interesting point, at least on our behalf is the amount of weekend games, especially on Sunday. The Cats are home for 22 games on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Eight of them, which has to be the most in a long time, will be played on Sunday. It's great to see in that families can come out thanks to an early start time (5:00pm) and enjoy the game.
Welcome back everyone to the Panthers Insider blog. It's been a while, ok a long time since our last post but with the upcoming draft and free agency right around the corner as well as the release of the 2011-12 schedule, we figured it was a great time to fire up the Insider Blog. Hopefully this time it sticks longer than the last time.
There was a lot of excitement at the hotel in Minnesota yesterday when we arrived in the afternoon. Panthers scouts, as well as GM Dale Tallon and Assistant GM Mike Santos, were buzzing around the hotel lobby coming and going to meetings. Those meetings were meant to go over their final draft list to make sure the list was set.
There's a couple of big events today. First, we'll be in attendance at the Draft Luncheon where the top ten rated players or so will be on hand to talk to the media. We'll have interviews with them on the site later. Then the media will meet with Tallon and hopefully head scout Scott Luce to talk about tomorrow's draft. Following those meetings, Tallon and Luce will hold some meetings with some of the prospects before meeting with the Panthers staff again.
Much more later. We promise.