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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 2:56 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Panthers continue to mix and match with top line

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen will be going his fourth different top line in four games Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators.

Veteran Alex Kovalev will be the latest to skate alongside center Stephen Weiss and left wing Tomas Fleischmann. He follows Mike Santorelli, Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky on the line that’s missing last year’s right wing, Kris Versteeg, who is out with a lower-body injury.

"You're always hoping for different things when you put a group together out there," Dineen said. "Just a little different look. That's going to be part of the package here early is trying to find some chemistry that's going to work."

After beating the Carolina Hurricanes 5-1 on the strength of three power-play goals, the Panthers combined for one goal in losses at Ottawa on Monday and the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday.

The Panthers have scored two goals at even strength all season, neither of which was produced by the top line.

Fleischmann has two assists in the first three games, and Weiss has one assist.

"We just don't have the same player on the line every game," Fleischmann said. "It's tough to get something going chemistry-wise, but everybody is an NHL player and we have to get used to it. We've just got to work hard and it's going to come. It's just about the time, I would say. It's going to be OK."

Kovalev, who was given a one-year contract after coming to camp as a tryout player, had three points in the opener playing on the second line with Peter Mueller and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau, but has been shut out since.

"Flasher is a good shooter and Weisser can make plays," Kovalev said. "Hopefully, with my skill I can open up some space."

Versteeg, who underwent hip surgery in the offseason, sustained a lower-body injury in practice the day before the opener and was placed on the injury list Monday.

He's eligible to return to action Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, but Dineen said it was doubtful Versteeg would play in that game.

Dineen said the lineup change Thursday night is about more than just getting better production from the first line.

"I think everybody's shown well in that spot, but what we're trying to do is find balance through four lines," Dineen said. "With our injury situation, there's a little mix and match that would happen anytime. Those guys will be fine. They're high-end professionals."

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:54 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Wounded Panthers lose another in Caruso

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers will continue to be without some injured key players — at least in the short term.

And now there’s another player on the shelf, with coach Kevin Dineen confirming Thursday that defenseman Michael Caruso sustained a broken wrist in a 4-1 loss Tuesday at the Montreal Canadiens.

Caruso, a 2006 draft pick who made his NHL debut in the season opener Saturday, sustained the injury in the first period.

“Shame, I thought he actually had a couple of really good shifts to start the game in Montreal,” Dineen said. “Very unfortunate for him.”

The Panthers will face the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night and will again be missing four regulars from their Southeast Division championship team of 2011-12 — wings Kris Versteeg and Sean Bergenheim, center Marcel Goc and defenseman Erik Gudbranson.

All but Bergenheim have been skating, but Dineen said Goc and Gudbranson will be out at least through the game Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Versteeg, who was placed on the injury list Monday, will be eligible to return Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, but Dineen said Versteeg was doubtful for that game.

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Posted On Thursday, 01.24.2013 / 1:06 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-2013 At the Rink blog

Projected lineups for Senators, Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. — Here are the projected lineups for the Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators on Thursday night at BB&T Center:

SENATORS

Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Jakob Silfverberg

Guillaume Latendresse - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson

Colin Greening - Zack Smith - Chris Neil

Jim O'Brien - Peter Regin - Erik Condra

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Chris Phillips - Sergei Gonchar

Patrick Wiercioch - Andre Benoit

Craig Anderson

Ben Bishop

Injured: Jared Cowen, Mike Lundin

Scratches: Kaspars Daugavins, Mark Borowiecki

Coach Paul MacLean is going with the same lineup he used in the 4-0 victory Monday against those same Panthers, which was the team’s last game. The only difference is that Ben Bishop will serve as the backup goalie after Robin Lehner was reassigned Tuesday to Binghamton.

PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Alex Kovalev

Jonathan Huberdeau - Peter Mueller - Tomas Kopecky

Scottie Upshall - Shawn Matthias - Drew Shore

Jack Skille - Jerred Smithson - George Parros

Filip Kuba - Brian Campbell

Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver

Ed Jovanovski - Keaton Ellerby

Jose Theodore

Scott Clemmensen

Injured: Kris Versteeg, Marcel Goc, Erik Gudbranson, Sean Bergenheim,

Michael Caruso

Scratches: Mike Santorelli, Tyson Strachan

Captain Ed Jovanovski will be back in the lineup after sitting out Tuesday at Montreal, the second set of back-to-back games.

Drew Shore earned another start after making his NHL debut in a 4-1 loss against the Canadiens.

“He had a lot of enthusiasm out there,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. “Extremely coachable and knows the game. He’s a kid that has stepped in and really made a statement. I thought he had a good game to start his NHL career the other night.”

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Posted On Saturday, 01.19.2013 / 1:57 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-13 Opening Day blog

Projected Lineup: Hurricanes at Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are going to be short-handed when they begin defense of their Southeast Division title Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Six regulars from last year’s team will be missing, the latest casualty being wing Kris Versteeg. He sustained a lower-body injury in practice Friday and left the morning skate early Saturday.

Taking Versteeg’s place on the top line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann will be Mike Santorelli, who was placed on waivers Friday.

Also out for Florida are forwards Sean Bergenheim and Marcel Goc as well as defensemen Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson and Mike Weaver. All are dealing with injuries, except for Kulikov, who just rejoined the team after signing a new contract.

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Posted On Saturday, 01.19.2013 / 1:43 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-13 Opening Day blog

New-look Hurricanes ready to make amends

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Carolina Hurricanes will begin this season exactly where they ended the last one, but they're confident they're a lot better than the team that last played at the BB&T Center.

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2011-12, the Hurricanes made a couple of significant moves in the offseason, most notably the acquisition via trade of center Jordan Staal and the signing of free-agent wing Alexander Semin.

The 4-1 loss against the Florida Panthers on April 7 left Carolina in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings, last in the Southeast Division.

The Hurricanes watched the Panthers celebrate clinching the division title that night, and Saturday night they'll watch a banner go up before the new season begins.

Carolina captain Eric Staal said that will just add even more motivation to a new season already filled with it.

"For the guys that we here, no question," he said. "They're the team that took our division last year and that's something that we want to make sure that we achieve this year. We want to turn the tables and we want it to be the other way around next time. We're ready to go."

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Posted On Saturday, 01.19.2013 / 1:40 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-13 Opening Day blog

Kulikov out for Panthers vs. Hurricanes

SUNRISE, Fla. — Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov rejoined the Florida Panthers after signing a two-year contract Thursday. But he will not be in the lineup for Saturday’s season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes.

After passing his physical on Friday, Kulikov took part in Saturday’s morning skate and at one point had a one-on-one conversation with coach Kevin Dineen.

“You’ve got to look at a guy, where he’s at and if he’s going to help you,” Dineen said. “Frankly, it’s disappointing he’s not ready to play.”

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Posted On Saturday, 01.19.2013 / 1:28 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - 2012-13 Opening Day blog

Kovalev ready to make Panthers debut

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The beginning of the NHL season is significant to every player, but for different reasons.

For Alex Kovalev, the Florida Panthers opener against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night represents the chance to be back in the NHL after being away in 2011-12.

The 39-year-old, who played 22 games in the Kontinental Hockey League last season, earned a contract with the Panthers this week after being invited to camp on a tryout basis.

"I'm just happy overall to be back on the ice, back in the big league and have a chance to play in the NHL again," Kovalev said.

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 4:50 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Smithson bringing faceoff ability, physical play

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers acquired veteran center Jerred Smithson a few days before the trading deadline to add depth up front, bring a physical presence and help on faceoffs.

After Smithson was a healthy scratch in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against New Jersey, coach Kevin Dineen decided he could use what Smithson had to offer.

There's been no looking back.

Smithson has recorded only one assist in the four playoff games he has played, but he's contributed in other ways.

Game 5 was a perfect example.

Even though he didn't make it on the scoresheet in the Panthers' 3-0 victory at the BankAtlantic Center, Smithson was credited with a team-high nine hits -- four more than anybody else on the team -- and also was a perfect 6-for-6 on faceoffs.

"That is my game," Smithson said of the physical play. "I'm not a huge offensive guy, even though this time of year you need to do a little bit of everything. You need those grinders to try to contribute offensively and the skilled guys, not necessarily to play physical, but to get in there and bump and check. It takes every little bit of effort this time of year. For myself, I know what I have to do to be effective and to help the team. Whether it was nine [hits] or just a couple, you've got to go out there and do it."

Ironically, the player that Smithson replaced in the lineup for Game 3 was Wojtek Wolski, the Panthers' other trade-deadline acquisition.

Wolski began the series playing on a line with Scottie Upshall and Shawn Matthias primarily because he offered more offensive potential than Smithson.

Smithson, who also had been a healthy scratch for four of the last five regular season games, could do little but wait for his turn.

"To be honest, it was frustrating there for a little while," said Smithson, whom the Panthers acquired from Nashville on Feb. 24 for a sixth-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. "That being said, we had such a good team and we were heading in the right direction. I was happy for the guys here, for the organization to finally get in and make the playoffs, and then to get that call, it was a relief. A lot of times you kind of don't know where you stand. I was ready and just waiting for the call. I'm glad I got it.

"Being around the game long enough now, it really does take everyone. Guys get banged up, whether it's injuries, suspensions, yada, yada, you have to be ready both physically and mentally. That's something I tried to pride myself upon is to be a good pro and be there for my teammates. If they need me, I'll be there."

Dineen said the change from Wolski to Smithson was a mattering of "tinkering," but there hasn't been any tinkering since.

Smithson hasn't given Dineen any reason to change things around.

"What Smithson does is that gives them a little bit of stability out there," Dineen said. "They know they have someone that's very responsible on the defensive side of things and they can create on the offense as well."

Smithson and Upshall actually were teammates in Nashville in 2006-07 and the following season until Upshall was traded to Philadelphia, but Smithson said he didn't recall playing on the same line very often.

"Maybe a couple of games," Smithson said. "It seems such a long time ago now. He's an easy guy to play with. He works real hard, he skates well, he can get in there on the forecheck. For myself, it's get in on the forecheck, get the puck loose or give him a good dump and let him use his speed. Both guys are real easy to play with."


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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 3:04 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore, Garrison on ice for Panthers

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison were on the ice Wednesday, but whether they'll be in the lineup for the Florida Panthers for Game 7 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Thursday against the New Jersey Devils (8:30 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, NBCSN [JIP], TSN) remains unknown.

Theodore and Garrison were among six players who took the ice for a 30-minute optional skate at the Panthers' practice facility.

Theodore was scratched for Game 6 Tuesday because of what was described as a lower-body injury. Scott Clemmensen stopped 39 of 42 shots in Florida's 3-2 overtime loss, but coach Kevin Dineen said Wednesday that Theodore will be in net for Game 7 -- health permitting.

"I just watched him there for a few minutes and he looks pretty good out there," Dineen said. "That's encouraging for us. It gives us that option to go with him [Thursday]. That will be a health-based decision.

"I've been playing this game all series long who we're going to start, and the truth of the matter is there's a question mark because we have trust in both our goalies. But Theo has been our go-to guy, and if he's available, he'll be the one running, I think."

Theodore shut out the Devils in his last start, making 30 saves in the Panthers' 3-0 victory in Game 5 Saturday.

He took part in Florida's practice Monday but wasn't on the ice for the morning skate Tuesday.

"It's hard," Theodore said Wednesday. "After a shutout, you've got a good feel. You want to get back in there. You feel good about where your game is at and then you have a little setback. Obviously it was frustrating to watch the last game, but today is a new day. It was good to be back on the ice."

Theodore has appeared in only one Game 7 in his 16 NHL seasons, but it was a memorable one.

Playing for Montreal, Theodore helped the Canadiens complete their comeback from a 3-1 series deficit with a 2-0 shutout at Boston in the 2004 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

"It was a fun night," Theodore said. "Coming into Game 7 and winning in a shutout was obviously a good feeling and it was fun. It seems like it's been a long time, but you still remember that feeling after the game. There's nothing like playing a Game 7, and when you do accomplish a win, it's really a good feeling."

Theodore would love nothing more than to get the chance for more Game 7 heroics.

"I feel better than [Tuesday] for sure," he said. "It was a good day today, but then again, when you play in such an important game as Game 7, you've got to make sure you're able to really help your team and not be a distraction.

"Obviously it's do-or-die. These are the kind of games you want to be part of. Everybody when you're a kid and you play hockey, you always imagine that Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Obviously, it's a game everybody wants to be part of and help the team win."

Garrison, for his part, is playing in the playoffs for the first time.

His goal in the final minute of the first period of Game 3 helped the Panthers rally from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3.

However, he was a late scratch prior to Game 4 and hadn't been on the ice since then prior to his skate Wednesday.

"I've still got another day and a half here to prepare myself," Garrison said. "Obviously you want to play, but you want to do what's best for the team. You don't want to put the guys on the ice in jeopardy by any means. I'm just going to take this day and a half. If I'm going to play, I'm going to make sure I can go out there and play the way I play."

Joining Garrison and Theodore on the ice Wednesday were Game 6 healthy scratches Mike Santorelli, Krys Barch and Wojtek Wolski, along with defenseman Keaton Ellerby, who missed the last two games after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 4. Ellerby, seeing his first action since March 15, was in the lineup in Garrison's place.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 1:08 PM

By Alain Poupart -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Panthers vs. Devils series blog

Theodore, Garrison part of Panthers' optional practice

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Goalie Jose Theodore and defenseman Jason Garrison were back on the ice Wednesday when the Florida Panthers held an optional practice.

Theodore was scratched for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against New Jersey Tuesday because of what was described as a lower-body injury.

Garrison has missed the last three games of the series after being a late scratch prior to Game 4 Thursday. He hadn't practiced since.

Along with Garrison and Theodore, the only players on the ice for the Panthers on Wednesday were Game 6 healthy scratches Mike Santorelli, Krystofer Barch and Mike Santorelli, along with defenseman Keaton Ellerby, who missed the last two games after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 4. Ellerby, seeing his first action since March 15, was in the lineup in Garrison's place.

Game 7 is scheduled for Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the BankAtlantic Center.
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