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Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:06 PM

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

Versteeg back from flu in time to face Jets

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Kris Versteeg did not enjoy watching his Florida Panthers on television when they faced Washington on Wednesday night. He even admitted to screaming at the TV at times.

"It's tough watching, it's way more nerve-racking watching a game from your house," Versteeg said. "You're sitting there and you're on your hands. I don't really ever get nervous when I play, but when it's out of your control it's a lot tougher."

Versteeg won't have that problem Friday night against Winnipeg as he returns to the lineup after missing the Panthers' 4-2 victory over the Capitals because of the flu.

The Panthers' leading scorer with 43 points, Versteeg didn't take part in practices Monday and Tuesday when the Panthers returned from the break but got back on the ice Thursday.

"I'm slowly getting there," Versteeg said. "Hopefully, I'll get some more energy back every day by day now. Yesterday hopefully I got over that hump. Today, you start getting energy back and start feeling good again."

Versteeg is expected to take his place again on the top line with Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann after Tomas Kopecky replaced him against Washington.

Even though he's not ready to say he feels 100 percent physically, Versteeg expects to give nothing less than an all-out effort.

"It doesn't matter if it's an injury or whatever, I always expect myself to go out there and play hard no matter how I feel," he said. "You do what you can to get ready for the game."

Versteeg spent a day in Chicago after the Panthers began their All-Star break following a game against Philadelphia on Jan. 24 and started feeling sick over the weekend.

It made for a forgettable All-Star break.

"Saturday I think is when it really hit me," Versteeg said. "Didn't really get to do much over the All-Star break besides laying in bed. I got to visit a buddy (in Chicago) on Wednesday, but that was about it. Didn't get out too much. You want to get away and you want to do some stuff, but I got some quality time with my bed.

"It was really unfortunate. But, you know, I guess it was a lot of soul-searching in five days."

At least Versteeg wasn't alone, as his younger brother Bryce was visiting from Canada. Bryce, who's 21, also got sick.

Kris Versteeg said his temperature went "well over 100" and he couldn't sleep for "about five nights."

You'll have to forgive the Jets if they wished Versteeg had stayed sick just a little bit longer.

After beating Florida 4-3 in a shootout on Oct. 31, Winnipeg has dropped the teams' last two meetings and watched Versteeg collect 5 goals and 2 assists in those games.

Versteeg recorded his first career hat trick at Winnipeg on Nov. 10, his empty-net goal clinching a 5-2 victory. Then on Jan. 21, Versteeg had 2 goals and an assist as the Panthers beat the Jets 4-3 in Winnipeg.

Before that game, Versteeg had gone nine games without a goal, his longest drought of the season.

"We gave him some offense that he didn't have to earn too much of," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I shouldn't say that, he's a good player for them. He's the one guy that's really kind of hurt us.

"You've got to give him full marks and full credit. He's a guy that's got skill and speed, and he's got that long stick and he can make plays. He's a guy we've got to be aware of."


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Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:40 PM

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

Flu sidelines Panthers' leading scorer Versteeg

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will be without their leading scorer when they face the Washington Capitals Wednesday night in a battle for first place in the Southeast Division.

Coach Kevin Dineen said after the Panthers' morning skate that right wing Kris Versteeg would miss the game because of the flu.

Versteeg, who also missed practice on Monday and Tuesday, leads the Panthers with 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists).

His place on the top line with Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss is expected to be taken by veteran Tomas Kopecky.

Versteeg is one of six Panthers players who will miss the game because of injury -- also out are defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Dmitry Kulikov, forwards Jack Skille and Scottie Upshall, and goalie Jose Theodore.

Dineen said Wednesday that Theodore has been bothered by a knee he injured against Montreal on New Year's Eve and will be given a few days off.

The Panthers called up goalie Brian Foster from San Antonio on Wednesday to back up veteran Scott Clemmensen.

The one piece of good news for the Panthers on the injury front is the expected return of veteran forward Marco Sturm, who has been out since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 20. Sturm was injured when he was hit by a puck in the face while sitting on the bench.

Here is the projected lineup:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Tomas Kopecky
Shawn Matthias - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Marco Sturm - John Madden - Sean Bergenheim
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:31 PM

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

No Vokoun against former team, projected lineup

SUNRISE, Fla. — Tomas Vokoun again won’t get the chance to play in the building he called home the past four years.

Washington coach Dale Hunter said after Wednesday’s optional morning skate that he would go with Michal Neuvirth against the Florida Panthers tonight.

Neuvirth also got the call when the Capitals played at the BankAtlantic Center on Dec. 5 in a game the Panthers won 5-4.

Vokoun, whose wife and two daughters still live in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Parkland, did not attend the optional skate.

He did get to face his former team on Oct. 20 in Washington. He made 20 saves that night and recorded a 3-0 shutout.

Vokoun was in net for Washington on Tuesday night when the Capitals dropped a 4-3 overtime decision at Tampa Bay in the team’s first game back from the All-Star break.

“It’s tough coming off five days off and play back-to-back games,” Hunter said in explaining the decision to go with Neuvirth. “It’s a lot to ask.”

Here is the projected lineup:

Marcus Johansson - Mathieu Perreault - Alexander Semin
Matt Hendricks - Brooks Laich - Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera - Jeff Halpern - Mike Knuble
Joel Ward - Cody Eakin - Joel Rechlicz

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

Michal Neuvirth
Tomas Vokoun
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 1:14 PM

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

Caps' Schultz gets a chance after long layoff

SUNRISE, Fla. — Capitals defenseman Jeff Schultz admitted he was a little surprised when he got word Wednesday morning he would be in the lineup aagainst Florida.

The sixth-year veteran has been a regular in the press box since Dale Hunter took over as head coach and he’ll be making his first appearance in 2012.

“It feels good,” Schultz said after the Capitals’ optional morning skate. “It’s been a long time. Now it’s just going out there and playing within myself. Just doing what I do out there.”

Schultz has been a healthy scratch for the past 12 games, ever since he had 9:46 of ice time at Columbus on New Year’s Eve.

After playing in four of Washington’s first five games under Hunter, Schultz has been scratched 20 of the past 22.

Hunter said the decision to play Schultz had to do with the Capitals playing back-to-back games — Washington dropped a 4-3 overtime decision Tuesday at Tampa Bay.

Asked what he wants to see from Schultz, Hunter said: “He’s a defensive defenseman. We want to see him play sound defensively. He’s not an offensive D and he’s not going to be a tough guy out there, so we need a defensive defenseman.”

Schultz, who didn’t play fewer than 64 games in any of the last four seasons, has no goals and 5 assists with a plus-one ratio in 27 games this season.

John Erskine, who played 7:42 against Tampa Bay, is expected to sit out to make room for Schultz.

“I was a little bit (surprised) with how the last couple of months have gone,” Schultz said. “You don’t really know too much of who’s playing and who’s not, so it was a little bit of a surprise this morning.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to do what I can to help the team. I guess you don’t want to go too far outside, but I think (the key) is just not doing anything too fancy. It’s just playing within yourself and when you’re on the ice, do what you do, and when you’re not, cheering the guys on.”
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Posted On Wednesday, 02.01.2012 / 12:58 PM

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

Florida's Upshall needs surgery, out at least a month

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers’ run of bad luck continues.

For the third consecutive week, a Panthers player will undergo  surgery — this time it’s forward Scottie Upshall.

Upshall will undergo sports hernia surgery Thursday, and coach Kevin Dineen said after Wednesday’s morning skate that Upshall would be out a minimum of one month.

The first of the Panthers’ many free agent signings last July,  Upshall initially was injured in a November game at Winnipeg.

He then missed the next 30 games before making his return Jan. 20 at  Chicago. Upshall sat out the next night at Winnipeg, but was back in the lineup Jan. 24 against Philadelphia in the Panthers’ last game 
before the All-Star break. He played 11:28 that night.

“He’s a big part of our team and we haven’t seen a lot of Scottie Upshall this year,” Dineen said. “I don’t want him coming back and limping through this season. I think that it’s important that if we get Scottie in the lineup, we have to get the real deal instead of what we’ve seen for the majority of this year, which is just not good enough to help us get where we are.”

Dineen, who revealed he had sports hernia surgery himself during his NHL playing career, said he didn’t second-guess the decision not to have Usphall have the surgery earlier.

“It was handled the exact way it should have been,” Dineen said. “What you try to do is you try to rehab these injuries, you want to make sure that you get a program together that tries to strengthen all the areas surrounding it as well as your whole body.

“At the end of it, if he’s still feeling that pain on a daily basis, we’re not getting the player that we need. So he’ll have this surgery tomorrow and we’ll move from there.”

Upshall, coming off a career-high 22 goals last season, has only one goal and two assists in 17 games this season.

His surgery will follow those of defensemen Ed Jovanovski (hand) on Jan. 18 and Dmitry Kulikov (knee) on Jan. 23.

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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:32 PM

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

Potential lineups for Flyers, Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Here is what the rosters could look like when the Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers face off tonight at the BankAtlantic Center. The Flyers opted not to skate Tuesday morning, while the Panthers held an optional skate:

FLYERS
Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Brayden Schenn
Matt Read - Sean Couturier - Wayne Simmonds
Tom Sestito - Maxime Talbot - Jakub Voracek
Jody Shelley - Ben Holmstrom - Harry Zolnierczyk

Kimmo Timonen - Braydon Coburn
Erik Gustafsson - Andrej Meszaros
Matt Carle - Marc-Andre Bourdon

Ilya Bryzgalov will start in goal, with Sergei Bobrovsky the backup.

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Shawn Matthias - Marcel Goc - Mikael Samuelsson
Scottie Upshall - John Madden - Tomas Kopecky
Krys Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Jason Garrison - Mike Weaver
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Keaton Ellerby - Tyson Strachan

Jose Theodore will start in goal, with Scott Clemmensen the backup.

For more on tonight's game, check out the preview here.
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 1:08 PM

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

Strachan excited to be back in NHL with Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Tyson Strachan made one thing perfectly clear after his first morning skate with the Florida Panthers. The team's recent call-up is not an offensive threat with a big slap shot like new teammate Jason Garrison.

"I saw that guy shooting out there today," Strachan said with a smile. "It's pretty impressive.

"I'm a defenseman, I am a defensive defenseman, I would say. I've got a big, physical body. I like to bring a little bit of jam to the game and play with a little bit of an edge, and on top of it I can jump up a little bit and try to shoot when I can. But don't count on me for 20 this year, that's for sure."

Strachan returned to the NHL on Monday when he was called up from San Antonio after defenseman Dmitry Kulikov underwent knee surgery.

The 27-year-old Strachan will make his Panthers debut Tuesday night when the Philadelphia Flyers come to the BankAtlantic Center. A fifth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2003, Strachan bounced back and forth between Peoria and St. Louis the last three years, but he's been in the AHL throughout this season.

"It's been a lot longer down there than I was hoping, but at the same time the opportunity is here," Strachan said. "That's hockey and that's life, when the opportunities come, you've got to be ready to take care of them and hopefully this is a nice opportunity and I seize it."

Strachan became the eighth player the Panthers have called up from San Antonio this season, but the first defenseman. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Strachan had 3 goals and 7 assists in 30 games for San Antonio this season, but he has no goals in 67 NHL games.

"Tyson is a veteran guy that's played NHL games before," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "What was really nice about giving Tyson the call is that it wasn't an easy decision. We have some options to use at the American League level. We've been through a large chunk of the San Antonio roster on the forward side of things, but for our defense it's the first time we've reached out to them and Tyson is a guy who, according to his coach, was the right fit for us right now."

Dineen said after the optional morning skate he hadn't decided who he would pair up Strachan with, but one possibility would be Mike Weaver. The two were teammates in St. Louis in 2008-09 and 2009-10 during Strachan's stints with the Blues.

"He's an easy guy to play with," Strachan said of Weaver. "I know just from my St. Louis days playing with him, he talks a lot. Just to get settled in is a big thing right now after not being in the League for a little bit. Playing with anybody right now ... the whole D corps is great. Whoever I'm paired up with, I'm excited for."
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Posted On Tuesday, 01.24.2012 / 12:45 PM

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

Knee surgery to sideline Kulikov 6-8 weeks

SUNRISE, Fla. -- After dealing with a rash of injuries among their forwards and then at the goalie position, the Florida Panthers are now hurting on defense.

A week after veteran Ed Jovanovski was sidelined with a broken hand, Dmitry Kulikov underwent knee surgery on Monday to address a meniscus injury.

Coach Kevin Dineen revealed the news after the Panthers' optional morning skate Tuesday morning and said Kulikov would be out 6-8 weeks.

"That's obviously a big loss for us," Dineen said. "I wish his knee felt as good as his attitude. He's such an enthusiastic young man and he's been such a big part of what we've done this year. It's a tough loss for us, but we've got some resiliency and we'll need that right now without him in the lineup."

Kulikov was at the BankAtlantic Center Tuesday morning walking on crutches and wearing a wrap around his knee.

The defenseman told NHL.com the injury was one he's been playing with for about five years.

"I wasn't planning on this, obviously, but it happens," Kulikov said. "As long as it didn't bother me, I didn't want to do the surgery. I was hoping I could wait until the end of the season and then have it done, but unfortunately it happened, it got worse. So I had the surgery. Now I'm going to try to get back as fast as possible and we'll go from there."

Kulikov said he aggravated his knee injury when he checked the Jets' Jim Slater behind the Florida net in the first period of Saturday night's 4-3 shootout victory at Winnipeg.

The Panthers' 2009 first-round pick finished the game and ended up getting 22:07 of ice time.

"I think I just twisted it or hit it against the boards," Kulikov said. "That aggravated it, made it worse. I was able to finish the game. I was getting worse and worse throughout the game. Afterwards, on the plane, it was getting worse and worse. The next day I couldn't even get downstairs at my house. I had to get it done."

In 46 games this season, Kulikov has 4 goals and 20 assists to rank fifth on the team with 24 points -- two shy of his career high of 26, which he accomplished in 72 games last season.

Kulikov also is third on the team in average ice time behind fellow defensemen Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison.

With Kulikov out, the Panthers will need even bigger contributions from their other two former first-round picks on defense, Erik Gudbranson (2011) and Keaton Ellerby (2007).

"It (stinks) that Kuli's out," Gudbranson said. "He's such a big part of our defensive corps. He's probably one of the better defensemen we've had all year. It's tough to see him out and for the period that he's out.

"That makes us step up. We know that everybody has to step up. I'm excited about the opportunity. It was unfortunate for him, but I've got to step up. Everyone does."
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Posted On Monday, 01.16.2012 / 3:35 PM

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

Playing better, not division lead, is Panthers' concern

SUNRISE, Fla. -- For the first time in almost two months, the Florida Panthers woke up Monday morning to find themselves out of first place in the Southeast Division.

Their run of 57 consecutive days at the top of the division ended on Sunday when the Washington Capitals beat Carolina 2-1 to match Florida's 50 points and take over first by virtue of their 24 victories to the Panthers' 21.

"Obviously, you're aware of what's going on around the League, but more importantly is you take care of the areas that you've got to strengthen and you keep on encouraging what our strengths are as a team and keep emphasizing those," coach Kevin Dineen said.

After a 3-2 overtime victory over Carolina on Dec. 18, the Panthers found themselves nine points ahead of the Capitals, winners of the division the last four seasons.

But Florida has won only three times in its last 10 games (3-5-2), while Washington is on a run of seven victories in nine games.

Kris Versteeg, who scored the game-winner in that Dec. 18 victory, says the Panthers are more concerned about regaining their earlier form than who's where in the standings.

"I don't think you think about that at all," he said. "They've had games in hand on us all season. We've always talked about it. It's hard to get on top and it's harder to stay. We're still learning that here."

With Washington idle before wrapping up a four-game homestand Tuesday with a game against the New York Islanders, the Panthers can quickly regain first place in the Southeast.

But to do so, they'll have to beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Monday night.

The Panthers are hoping the impending return of goalie Jose Theodore and four injured forwards -- Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall, Marco Sturm and Jack Skille -- can get them back in the right direction.

Florida has gone a month without winning two in a row, and Versteeg knows that's not the way to get into the playoffs -- something the Panthers haven't done since the 1999-2000 season.

"We want to be better than we have as of late," Versteeg said, "but with the healthy bodies we're getting back a lot of things start to change and I think we're starting to get accustomed to that, too, and get used to the guys coming back.

"The last few games, you win one, you lose one, you win one, you lose one; we can't be a .500 team and expect to make the playoffs. We've got to find a way to string a few here together and be a little more consistent in our winning streaks."
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Posted On Monday, 01.16.2012 / 1:38 PM

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

Panthers, Bruins have played two very different games

SUNRISE, Fla. -- In their first two meetings with Boston, the Florida Panthers had perhaps their biggest victory of the season and unquestionably their most embarrassing loss.

The teams meet for Round 3 on Monday night at the BankAtlantic Center, and don't think the Panthers have forgotten the 8-0 drubbing they absorbed at TD Garden on Dec. 23.

That game came 15 days after the Panthers recorded a 2-0 shutout at Boston on a night when Jose Theodore stopped 40 shots.

"Obviously we're not looking for the little Christmas coal we got last time against them," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "That was a pretty lopsided game, and deservedly so. We didn't play very well vs. the Bruins. I like the way, for the majority of the games, we've played on home ice and we're certainly going to need a strong effort to beat and compete with the Stanley Cup champions."

In that last matchup, the Panthers were coming off a 4-3 overtime loss at Ottawa the night before, but worse were playing without seven injured forwards.

Florida was so shorthanded up front, in fact, that rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson was used as a right wing.

"We had a really rough go," Gudbranson said. "We played as individuals, we didn't play as a five-man unit. We hear it from our coaches, we hear it from everybody and we know inside this room if we play as a unit that we're a very good team, we're one of the best teams in the League. It's going to be key to do that tonight."

As if the revenge factor didn't provide enough motivation for tonight's game, the Panthers also are coming off a lackluster performance Friday night in a 4-1 loss against a Pittsburgh team that came in on a six-game losing streak and missing several key players.

The Bruins also are coming off a disappointing performance, a 4-2 loss at Carolina on Saturday. Since a seven-game winning streak that began on Dec. 10 and included the rout of the Panthers, Boston has gone 4-3.

Coach Claude Julien says his team needs to battle harder and take pucks at the net. That's where his focus is, and not on the Panthers having extra motivation to avenge an ugly loss.

"Basically, our whole game has just kind of slipped a little bit, not to the point of being a bad team but to the point of being a very mediocre team right now," he said. "We've got to bring it back to the level that is expected of our group.

"I don't know what kind of game we can expect from them. I would look more at, what kind of game do we expect to play tonight? We've just got to be better. When your team isn't playing at the level it should be, you like to focus on your team a lot more than worrying about what the other team is going to do."

For his part, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara expects a tough battle on Monday.

"They're really good at home," Chara said of the Panthers. "They play a very hard style. We just have to be ready to do our thing and make sure we work extremely hard and don't take anything for granted.

"We played really well that game (on Dec. 23) and they had not a great night. That's going to happen. I'm sure they're going to be way better tonight."
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