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Q & A with Panthers Writer Steve Gorten/Sun-Sentinel

Wednesday, 09.13.2006 / 12:00 AM ET / News
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Q & A with Panthers Writer Steve Gorten\/Sun-Sentinel

Can Alex Auld and/or Eddie Belfour replace Luongo?

For the first time since 2000, there are questions about the Panthers' goalie. The 25-year-old Auld is still unproven as a No. 1 and the 41-year-old Belfour is coming off lower back surgery and a disappointing season. Even if the dynamic works out well with Auld and Belfour splitting time, neither will steal games like Luongo did. Expect some drop-off. To what extent will largely determine whether this is a playoff team.

What will they get from their veterans?

Forwards Joe Nieuwendyk, Jozef Stumpel, Gary Roberts, Martin Gelinas and Chris Gratton were five of the team's top eight scorers last season. Stumpel was the biggest surprise after a slow start. With Roberts and Nieuwendyk, the primary concern is always health. Roberts missed 24 games while Nieuwendyk sat out 17 last season. It'll be interesting to see how Gratton responds to being rewarded with a two-year extension for a strong season.

Can Todd Bertuzzi put his personal ghosts behind him and recapture his glory?

Though unlikely he'll ever shed the Steve Moore incident, leaving Vancouver should help Bertuzzi's focus. So will the fact he'll be an unrestricted free agent after this season. While his point totals the past two seasons -- 71 and 60 -- aren't bad, they're not on par with the previous two -- 97 and 85. He'll be motivated to make a good impression.

What will be the line combinations?

Coach/General Manager Jacques Martin says nothing's set. They'll tinker with various combinations but won't take a serious look at possibilities until the second half of training camp. The Panthers probably will start camp with the same first line (Roberts-Jokinen-Stumpel) as last year, Ville Peltonen-Nieuwendyk-Bertuzzi as their second line, Gelinas-Stephen Weiss-Nathan Horton as their third line and Rostislav Olesz-Gratton-Juraj Kolnik as their fourth.

Can Olli Jokinen continue his ascent into the upper echelon?

Jokinen established career highs in goals (38), assists (51) and points last season, and tallied nine game-winning goals. Now with a new four-year contract, the 27-year-old team captain says he has even more to prove to validate the deal. With the addition of Todd Bertuzzi, Jokinen has a good shot to surpass Pavel Bure's single-season franchise scoring record (94 points).

How much will adding Ruslan Salei and Bryan Allen and having a healthy Branislav Mezei improve the defense?

Salei is undoubtedly a stronger free-agent acquisition than Sean Hill, Eric Cairns and Alexander Karpovtsev -- none of whom are still here -- were during the previous offseason. Salei and Jay Bouwmeester will probably be the top pairing, with Allen, who came in the Luongo trade, and Mike Van Ryn as the No. 2. After missing most of last season with a knee injury, the defensive-minded Mezei should bolster their No. 3.

What will Nathan Horton do as a follow-up to last year?

In his first full NHL season, Horton tallied 28 goals and 19 assists despite some lingering shoulder issues that arose in the second half. After Horton re-signed this summer, Keenan said the Panthers expect him to start producing like Carolina's Eric Staal (45 goals, 100 points). If Horton can eliminate the stretches of inconsistency that plagued him last season, a 40-goal season is attainable.

Have the Panthers completely adjusted to the crackdown on obstruction?

They say they have, but the jury remains out. They were their own worst enemy last season, repeatedly taking bad obstruction penalties -- often late in games -- even as they stressed being more disciplined. Having to kill one power play after another kept some of their top players off the ice and wore down those forced to play heavy minutes short-handed.

Can the Panthers be a better road team and avoid another miserable November?

You have to assume the Panthers' unfathomable 1-9-3 record last November can't possibly be duplicated. It knocked them back to the point of no return in the playoff chase. But even if they avoid such a stretch, they must improve their road record (12-23-6). They lost a club-record 13 in a row on the road at one point, and their play was drastically different at BankAtlantic Center than away. If they can be slightly better on the road, they might not be sitting at home come April.

What can we expect from Stephen Weiss?

Great things if you ask Nieuwendyk, who has often compared Weiss to the Devils' Scott Gomez. Weiss was creating with the puck, quarterbacking the power play and serving as one of the Panthers' top penalty killers when a wrist injury forced him to miss the season's final 41 games. This could be the breakout season for Weiss that 2005-06 had started to be.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 x - MTL 77 47 22 8 203 174 102
2 x - NYR 75 47 21 7 228 177 101
3 x - TBL 77 47 23 7 249 201 101
4 PIT 76 42 23 11 210 190 95
5 NYI 77 45 27 5 235 215 95
6 DET 75 40 23 12 220 206 92
7 WSH 76 41 25 10 223 188 92
8 BOS 76 38 25 13 201 196 89
9 OTT 75 37 26 12 218 203 86
10 FLA 76 35 26 15 190 207 85
11 PHI 76 30 29 17 198 219 77
12 CBJ 75 36 35 4 207 232 76
13 NJD 76 31 33 12 168 194 74
14 CAR 75 28 36 11 174 204 67
15 TOR 76 28 42 6 198 244 62
16 BUF 76 21 47 8 148 255 50

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Huberdeau 73 13 36 9 49
N. Bjugstad 72 24 19 -7 43
J. Jagr 71 15 26 -2 41
J. Jokinen 75 8 33 -2 41
B. Boyes 73 12 23 10 35
A. Ekblad 75 11 24 11 35
J. Hayes 66 18 13 -5 31
A. Barkov 65 14 17 -1 31
B. Campbell 76 3 22 2 25
B. Pirri 43 20 2 5 22
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 26 17 12 .921 2.33
A. Montoya 5 7 2 .888 3.08
 
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