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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 2:02 PM

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

Panthers call up pair of forwards

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will have some different faces up front Thursday night when they face the Minnesota Wild, but coach Kevin Dineen was very cryptic after the optional skate.

Jon Matsumoto and Michal Repik were called up from San Antonio on Thursday, but the Panthers were only one forward short -- the result of Matt Bradley sustaining an upper-body injury in Sunday’s 2-0 loss against Anaheim.

Asked why two forwards were called up with only one spot open, Dineen said: "Our feeling was that there's always options as far as how you're going to put a lineup on the ice. For us, both Jonathan and Michal were both playing well in San Antonio and now that gives us a little bit of depth at forward."

By all indications, center Marcel Goc could be another scratch for the Panthers. He left Wednesday's practice early, didn't take part in the optional skate and his spot in the locker room was gone on Thursday.

Goc has been centering a line between Sean Bergenheim and Mikael Samuelsson, which has cooled off after a hot stretch.

In practice this week, the Panthers also had a different top line, with Tomas Kopecky replacing Tomas Fleischmann alongside Stephen Weiss and Kris Versteeg.

Fleischmann worked on a line with Shawn Matthias and Mike Santorelli.

Veteran John Madden, who has missed the last two games with a lower-body injury, skated on Thursday but Dineen said he would not play against Minnesota.

Here is the Panthers' projected lineup:

Tomas Kopecky - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Michal Repik - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Fleischmann - Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli
Krystofer Barch - Jon Matsumoto - Jack Skille

Brian Campbell - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Thursday, 02.23.2012 / 1:35 PM

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

Sturggling Panthers searching for offense

SUNRISE, Fla. — Goals have been hard to come by for the Florida Panthers during their disappointing homestand. They’re hoping things will change in the finale Thursday against Minnesota.

In losing in regulation to Ottawa, Washington and Anaheim over the past week, the Panthers scored only three goals. It’s their lowest-scoring three-game stretch of the season.

The reasons for the scoring woes include a struggling power play, the absence of three regular defensemen and some occasional overpassing.

Coach Kevin Dineen also believes his team has to stop letting the opponent dictate the pace of the game.

“For us, our speed game needs to first and foremost come as a factor in every game,” he said after Thursday’s optional morning skate. “A lot of times we’re starting in our own zone and we feel that if we can play solid defense it can transition into good offense. If we get our speed going, that opens up the opportunities in the other zone.”

The Panthers, who will go into Thursday’s game tied with Winnipeg atop the Southeast Division with 65 games but with four games in hand, are coming off a 2-0 loss to Anaheim on Sunday.

Florida outshot the Ducks 31-27 but had few quality scoring chances.

The power play didn’t help, going 0-for-4. In a 2-1 loss Friday to Washington, the Panthers were 0-for-3 with the man advantage.

“It obviously becomes an issue when you’re in tight-checking, tight-scoring games,” Dineen said. “When you get a man advantage, you have to take advantage of it. We’re certainly aware that our power play needs to produce. Sometimes it might not be goals on the board, but it’s walking out of there with what I call feel good, that you walk out it’s up-tempo, opportunities present themselves, and the game carries on from there. But it would certainly be nice to score more consistently on the power play like we did earlier in the year.”

Kris Versteeg, who leads the team in scoring with 48 points, says low-scoring games are to be expected at this time of year.

“I guess you just keep the pedal to the metal is one thing you’re going to do,” Versteeg said. “The power play has got to get us some goals here now. We’ve also got to work hard to draw some penalties to get us on the power play. It comes hand in hand. We’re just going to keep doing what we do. We’ve been throwing a lot of pucks at the net.”
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Posted On Sunday, 02.19.2012 / 11:15 AM

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

Weiss set to tie Panthers' games played mark

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Center Stephen Weiss is by far the longest-tenured member of the Florida Panthers. After Sunday night's game against Anaheim, no one will have played more games for the franchise, period.

Weiss will play in his 613th game for the Panthers Sunday, tying Radek Dvorak for most in franchise history.

While Dvorak had two different stints in Florida (1995-99 and 2007-11), Weiss has been a mainstay for the Panthers since making his NHL debut in April 2002.

The fourth overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Weiss earlier this season became Florida's all-time leader in assists.

Weiss again is likely to center a line between Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg against the Ducks. The Panthers will have a new defenseman in the lineup after recalling Nolan Yonkman from San Antonio Saturday to replace rookie Colby Robak, who was sent down.

Here are the projected lineups for Sunday's game between the Ducks and Panthers:

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Jason Blake - Ryan Getzlaf - Corey Perry
Bobby Ryan - Saku Koivu - Teemu Selanne
Matt Beleskey - Nick Bonino - Andrew Cogliano
Niklas Hagman - Rod Pelley - George Parros

Francois Beauchemin - Cam Fowler
Luca Sbisa - Lubomir Visnovsky
Toni Lydman - Sheldon Brookbank

Jonas Hiller
Jeff Deslauriers

FLORIDA PANTHERS

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille
Krys Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Mike Weaver
Nolan Yonkman - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:28 PM

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

Panthers' poor starts a point of emphasis for Dineen

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida coach Kevin Dineen likes the way his team has battled back all season after falling behind early. He just wishes they would stop getting so much practice at it.

It's become a nasty pattern recently for the Panthers, who have allowed a goal within the first six minutes of the game five times in their last six outings.

The reason for the slow starts is simple, Dineen says.

"Yeah, unprepared and we're not ready to start games," he said after Friday's morning skate. "It's cost us games and we've found ways to fight back throughout the year, but it's a real sticking point for us right now is our starts."

Dineen, who is hoping for a fast start Friday night against Washington, took full responsibility for the problem.

"A coach's responsibility is to make sure his team is prepared and I obviously haven't done a good job in the last number of games. We've come out weak and our players haven't been ready, so certainly that falls on me.

"That's easy to point fingers elsewhere, but I think most important is you look at yourself and say, what can you do better? That starts with us as a staff making sure that our players are ready from the first drop of the puck through the first period right to the end. Very cliché, but we're going to need a 60-minute effort against an extremely hungry hockey team tonight in a game with a large level of importance."

Against the Devils and Islanders last weekend, the Panthers gave up an early goal, but that's all they allowed and they rallied for 3-1 and 4-1 victories, respectively.

No such luck against Ottawa on Wednesday night, when the Panthers tied the game at 1-1 after falling behind early but then gave up five more goals in a 6-2 loss.

Center Stephen Weiss said it's the players who are to blame for the slow starts.

"Well, he doesn't go on the ice," Weiss said of Dineen. "It's not his fault, it's the guys in the room who need to make sure they're sharp and ready to go. We've had decent starts, it's just a matter of keeping the puck out of our own nets the first 10 minutes of the game. Just being sharper defensively on our assignments, we'll be fine."

For his part, Washington coach Dale Hunter wasn't making a big deal of Florida's slow starts heading into Friday's matchup.

"It goes from game to game," Hunter said. "Both teams are going to go out and they're going to work hard. Whoever executes the best is going to get the win."

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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 4:09 PM

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

Panthers can create separation in Southeast

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kevin Dineen had his game face on when he addressed the media following his Florida Panthers’ morning skate Friday.

Dineen really didn’t seem to be in the mood to do a lot of talking. He looked as though he was ready for their showdown Friday night against the Washington Capitals to get here already.

It’s a huge game for the Panthers, who will go in with a four-point lead over the Capitals in the Southeast Division and with a chance to create some space.

Everybody knows what’s at stake. Dineen doesn’t need to say a whole lot to his players.

“There’s no message,” he said. “I don’t have to say anything. It’s there for the taking. We understand what the situation is right now. The game is sitting there for you and it’s very clear what the picture is. Now we’ll see what the response is.”

It’s the next-to-last meeting of the season between the teams, with each side winning twice at home.

The final meeting will take place on April 5 in Washington in the next-to-last game of the regular season for both teams.

“The mood is good,” Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. “It’s the same as usual really. The key is try not to change anything. You just want to go through your normal routine and prepare the same way, but in the back of your mind you know it’s a little bit more important than usual.”

The Panthers have lost in regulation at home only six times all season, but they’re coming off their most lopsided loss at the BankAtlantic Center — a 6-2 pounding at the hands of the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night that snapped their three-game winning streak.

The Capitals, meanwhile, come into the game having won only three of their last 11 (3-5-3) and facing a crucial stretch that could go a long way toward determining their playoff fate.

Beginning with the game at Florida, Washington will play six games in nine days, with five of them on the road. Included in the stretch are two back-to-back sets, the first one being Friday and Saturday at Tampa Bay.
 
“We should look at it game-by-game starting tonight and go from there,” veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik said. “We know the schedule is not easy and it won’t be any easier. For everybody, it’s the same. We just have to start focusing on the game we have tonight and these two points. It’s huge. We have to start playing like a playoff game with a little bit more enthusiasm and energy in the game and start winning on the road. Hopefully we get two points tonight.”

That the Panthers and Capitals would find themselves in a game of this magnitude at this juncture comes as a surprise to most observers.

Washington was expected by many to cruise to a fifth consecutive division title this season, and if any team was going to challenge the Capitals, it was supposed to be Tampa Bay, not Florida.

“That’s sports,” said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who joined the Capitals as a free agent last summer after spending four years in Florida. “If we knew how things would turn out, it wouldn’t be interesting. It’s a huge game for us. Obviously we need to win. That’s how I look at it. It doesn’t really matter to me who the team opponent is today, but we need to win. We’re in desperate mode.

“Everybody who’s in this dressing room has played hockey for a pretty long time. They know what we’re up against. They’re not for the first time in this situation. It’s not like a game we need to win or it’s over. We’re not in a good present situation. We’re chasing them, but saying that, you’re never going to help your cause if you’re feeling sorry for yourself or if you feel you’re so nervous you can’t even play. It’s another hockey game, you have to leave everything out there you have. That’s what all the focus should be on and not what’s going to happen a month from now or the standings or anything like that.”

There indeed is a lot of hockey left after Friday night. Both teams will have 25 games remaining.

But not many will be as important as this one.

“I wish that was the trick that you wouldn’t make too much of it, but obviously the game has a large dose of importance,” Dineen said. “We were brutal in our last game. We didn’t play well. And we’ll see what our response is tonight. But there’s no masking it or pretending that this game doesn’t have a high level of importance for both teams.”
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:58 PM

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

Vokoun, Theodore may finally get chance to face off

SUNRISE, Fla. — Tomas Vokoun finally will get the chance to play in his former home building Friday night, and in front of his wife and two daughters on top of that.

Jose Theodore, meanwhile, looks like he’ll be getting his first shot, period, at his former team.

While Florida coach Kevin Dineen wouldn’t confirm Theodore would be in the nets for a Friday night Southeast Division showdown against Washington, all indications are that for the first time in five meetings this season we’ll get the much-anticipated Theodore-Vokoun battle.

Theodore was signed by the Panthers last summer to replace Vokoun, who had been with the team since 2007-08, but the two didn’t face each other in the first four meetings.

Vokoun did face Florida twice and shut them out both times — 3-0 on Oct. 18 and 4-0 on Feb. 7 — but both games were at the Verizon Center.

When the Capitals played at Florida on Dec. 5 and on Feb. 1, Coach Dale Hunter went with Michal Neuvirth and Washington lost both times, 5-4 and 4-2.

“Those are coach’s decisions,” Vokoun said. “For me, when they tell me I’m playing, I’m playing. Sometimes you like the decision, sometimes you don’t. It’s a big game and you hope they have confidence in you to start you in a situation like that. That’s pretty much as far as I take it.”

As he’s done previously this season, Vokoun stayed at his house in the Fort Lauderdale area Thursday night after the Capitals flew in from Washington.

Vokoun battled the flu early in the week, but said Friday morning he felt fine after three days of practice.

He’s been hot of late, giving up only nine goals in his last five starts, with a 1.76 GAA and a .943 save percentage during that time. He’s been perfect against the Panthers, making 20 saves in the October meeting and a season-high 42 in the Feb. 7 game.

“He’s played really well against us the two games he’s played ... obviously, he hasn’t let a goal in,” said Florida center Shawn Matthias. “We’ve just got to get more pucks at him and just stand around. It’s probably not going to be a pretty one the first one, we’ll just try to get gritty and get under their skin a little bit and throw everything at them.”

On the other side, Theodore has yet to face the Capitals, for whom he played in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The Panthers went with Jacob Markstrom in the first meeting this season, and Theodore missed the other three games with injuries. While with Minnesota last year, Theodore was the backup when the Wild beat the Capitals early in the season.

“Theo is not the biggest guy, but he’s going to try and come out a little bit and play the angle a little bit more,” said veteran Capitals forward Brooks Laich. “He’s pretty acrobatic, but a big guy can sit more in his net. A smaller guy has to come out and cut the angles a little bit more. Try and get as many pucks as we can, and certainly the most important thing is get traffic and try and make a smaller, shorter goalie battle through traffic.”

Given the significance of the game, the Vokoun-Theodore matchup won’t draw as much attention as it might have earlier in the season.

“That’s not my concern who’s the other goalie,” Vokoun said. “I’ve got my job. I’ve got to go focus on my job and we as a team have to focus on what we need to do to beat them. Whoever they play, they play. Just like I’m sure they’re not really worried who we’re playing.”
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:19 PM

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

Panthers' Madden out with lower-body injury

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Veteran center John Madden will miss the next couple of weeks because of a lower-body injury.

The 38-year-old three-time Stanley Cup winner played 10 minutes in Wednesday's 6-2 loss at Ottawa and was a minus-2.

Madden has yet to register a point in 15 games with the Panthers since being signed Jan. 4.

For Friday's game against Washington, Mike Santorelli will move from right wing on the third line to take Madden's spot centering the fourth line, and Krys Barch will return to action after being a healthy scratch the last two games.

Jack Skille will move up to the third line alongside center Shawn Matthias and left wing Tomas Kopecky.

Madden is one of six players who will miss the Washington game, along with defensemen Ed Jovanovski, Dmitry Kulikov and Jason Garrison, and forwards Scottie Upshall and Marco Sturm.

Here is Florida’s projected lineup for the game against the Caps:

Tomas Fleischmann- Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Jack Skille
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Mike Weaver
Colby Robak - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore will start in goal, with Scott Clemmensen the backup.
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Posted On Friday, 02.17.2012 / 3:14 PM

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

Green could return for Caps in limited role

SUNRISE, Fla. — Defenseman Mike Green was among the last players on the ice during Washington’s optional morning skate, but coach Dale Hunter didn’t dismiss the possibility Green could make his return against the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

“We’re working him right now,” Hunter said while Green was still on the ice. “We’re going to see how it is. Still it’s game time. We could play him on the power play – game-time decision.”

Hunter said the Capitals would dress seven defensemen if Green does play.

Green, who underwent sports hernia surgery on Jan. 17, has appeared in only three games since he had two goals and two assists Oct. 22 in a 7-1 victory over Detroit that gave Washington a 7-0 start on the season.

Alex Ovechkin skipped the optional skate, but Hunter was quick to say there was nothing wrong with his star forward and he would be in the lineup Friday.

Veteran Mike Knuble was among the first group of players off the ice, an indication he could be back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch the last three games.

Here is Washington’s projected lineup for Friday night against Florida:

Alex Ovechkin - Marcus Johansson - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Mike Knuble
Jay Beagle - Jeff Halpern - Joel Ward

Karl Alzner - John Carlson
Jeff Schultz - Dennis Wideman
Roman Hamrlik - Dmitry Orlov

Tomas Vokoun
Michal Neuvirth
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 3:48 PM

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

Panthers shoot for season-best four-game win streak

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers have regained first place in the Southeast Division thanks to their current three-game winning streak. But they'll be going for a rare feat Wednesday night when they play host to the Ottawa Senators.

A victory would give Florida its first four-game winning streak since March of 2008, when the Panthers won seven in a row in a futile late attempt at a playoff run.

To put in perspective just how long it’s been, the only current Panthers player who was on that team was center Stephen Weiss.

"It would be nice," Weiss said. "Those are where you really make ground up or separate yourself when you can string together five-plus games in a row. That would be huge. But as soon as you start thinking about it, your feet stop moving and your head takes over. We've just got to play as if we've lost three in a row and have that killer instinct and make sure we're ready to go for our first shift and take it from there."

More important than the streak, a victory Wednesday night would increase the Panthers' lead over Washington in the Southeast Division to six points, with a matchup between the teams looming Friday night at the BankAtlantic Center.

"We've got to keep the ball rolling," said center Shawn Matthias, who played four games for the Panthers in 2007-08 but was back in the AHL during the long winning streak. "That was the last time they made a real good push at the end. We're getting near the end here and we've got to keep pushing strong and we need to put a little streak together here to secure ourselves some space between us and the rest of the teams in our division."

In putting together their 27-17-11 record, the team's best 55-game mark since 2000, the Panthers have had three three-game winning streaks, including this one.

The first two ended with overtime losses, against Tampa Bay at home in November and at Buffalo in December.

While Coach Kevin Dineen isn't focusing on the winning streak, he is happy with the way his team has been playing of late.

"We get players that are feeling good about themselves, it makes our job easier," Dineen said. "Our video meeting (Tuesday) morning was really positive and you're able to build up on a lot of things. You're not searching for things, either, it's there and it shows up on the scoreboard and it shows up in their play. There's some positives to keep working on right now."

Dineen said after Wednesday's morning skate he hadn't decided whether to go with Jose Theodore or Scott Clemmensen in net to try to extend the streak.

Theodore returned Sunday after missing eight games with a knee injury and allowed only one goal on 27 shots in a 4-1 victory over the Islanders. Clemmensen, meanwhile, also gave up only one goal in the first two victories of the current winning streak -- against Los Angeles and at New Jersey.

Here is the Panthers' projected lineup for Wednesday night:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Sean Bergenheim - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli
Jack Skille - John Madden - Matt Bradley

Brian Campbell - Mike Weaver
Keaton Ellerby - Erik Gudbranson
Colby Robak - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen

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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 3:44 PM

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

Ex-Babcock assistant MacLean lauds Red Wings' feat

SUNRISE, Fla. -- As he talked to reporters while most of his players took advantage of an optional morning skate to engage in a friendly soccer competition, Ottawa coach Paul MacLean was asked about the Detroit Red Wings' record 21-game home winning streak.

MacLean is in his first season with the Senators, who take on the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night, after spending the previous six years as an assistant with the Red Wings.

With MacLean helping out Mike Babcock behind the bench, the Red Wings accomplished many things during those six seasons -- including winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 -- but he had to watch this one from the outside.

"It's disappointing ... I guess they haven't missed me," MacLean joked before reflecting on his former organization's latest feat.

"Anytime you can set new recrods for an organization like that that's been around so long and has set so many records, it's a testament to the continuity of the players and the continuity of the whole thing, from Mr. Ilitch (owner Mike Ilitch) all the way down to the training staff. A lot of people have been there a long time, and continuity and loyalty has a lot to do with it."

MacLean, who also spent one of his 11 seasons as an NHL player with the Red Wings (1988-89), said he wasn't surprised by Detroit's success despite an aging roster. The Red Wings sit atop the overall League standings with 80 points.

MacLean was asked how long he thought the Red Wings could remain contenders, and he pointed to seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom.

"It's hard to say," MacLean said. "When No. 5 decides not to play anymore, I think there could be a difference in their team at that point because of the element that he brings and the leadership that he brings. It's pretty huge. But they have some other quality people that are there, so who knows? At this point in time, I wouldn't be betting on them taking a nosedive anytime soon."
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