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Posted On Friday, 01.13.2012 / 2:06 PM

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

Panthers wary of injury-riddled Penguins

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will face a reeling and wounded Pittsburgh team Friday night at the BankAtlantic Center, but they're not about to take the Penguins lightly.

Pittsburgh comes into the game on a six-game losing streak and without the services of stars Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Kris Letang.

When asked about facing a struggling Pittsburgh team, Dineen quickly replied, "It's a dangerous team, too. I have a lot of respect (for them). I coached against Danny Bylsma in the American League and watched how his team played so well last year under similar circumstances. They are definitely a little bit wounded, but that's an animal you always beware of."

That sentiment was echoed by Panthers center Stephen Weiss.

"Even a team like that, as good as they are, when injuries creep up to those type of players, it's tough to sustain that and they've had to do it for almost two years now," Weiss said. "It's starting to catch up a little bit, but that's a good hockey club. They play so well as a team, their systems. They're having a tough time putting it in, but they don't give up much a game. So we'll have to be ready."

For the Panthers, the game represents an opportunity to solidify their hold on first place in the Southeast Division and build off one of their most impressive victories of the season.

After going 0-1-1 on a trip to face the Rangers and Devils, the Panthers came home Monday night and handed the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks a 2-1 defeat.

"We felt that was a really important game against the Canucks, one of the top teams in the League, a Stanley Cup finalist last year," Dineen said. "That was a really important game and in review I think (we were) very strong from the goaltending on out."

Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup in 2009, but the team the Panthers will face Friday night will look vastly different. The biggest reason, of course, is that the Penguins will be without Crosby.

"Certainly it's different when he's not in the lineup," Weiss said. "You come to the rink with a bit of a smile on your face when he's not playing because he's that good, but that team has a lot of weapons. Just the way they play as a unit is tough enough, so we'll have to be ready. With them losing a few in a row, they'll be even a little bit more ready to go, so it'll be a good hockey game."
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Posted On Friday, 01.13.2012 / 1:44 PM

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

Theodore skates, but Clemmensen to start vs. Pens

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Goalie Jose Theodore took part in Florida's morning skate Friday, but he will not dress when the Panthers take on the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight.

This will be the fourth consecutive game Theodore has missed since sustaining a knee injury in a 3-2 victory over Montreal on New Year's Eve.

Veteran Scott Clemmensen, who is coming off a strong performance in Monday's 2-1 victory over Vancouver, will be in net against Pittsburgh, with recent AHL call-up Brian Foster again serving as his backup.

Theodore could be ready to return Monday night when the Panthers face Boston before heading out for three road games in four nights.

The Panthers also could be close to getting three of their four injured forwards back in the lineup.

Jack Skille (shoulder), Sean Bergenheim (groin) and Scottie Upshall (lower body) all took part in Friday's morning skate, albeit wearing non-contact jerseys.

Here are tonight's projected lineups:

PENGUINS

Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Pascal Dupuis - Dustin Jeffrey - Tyler Kennedy
Steve Sullivan - Matt Cooke - Richard Park
Eric Tangradi - Craig Adams - Arron Asham

Brooks Orpik - Deryk Engelland
Matt Niskanen - Ben Lovejoy
Paul Martin - Zbynek Michalek

Marc-Andre Fleury
Brent Johnson

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Tomas Kopecky - John Madden - Mikael Samuelsson
Marcel Goc - Shawn Matthias - Michal Repik
Krystofer Barch - Mike Santorelli - Matt Bradley

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 2:46 PM

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

Booth will watch as Canucks play his old mates

SUNRISE, Fla. -- As frustrating as it is, this is nothing new for David Booth.

Once the face of the Florida Panthers, Booth had been looking forward to going up against his former team ever since he was traded to Vancouver on Oct. 22. Instead, Booth will be watching from the press box as he continues to work his way back from a knee injury.

It's the continuation of a pattern for Booth, one he could do without.

The speedy 27-year-old forward has had his share of injuries since making his NHL debut on Nov. 20, 2006. He missed the chance to play in his native Detroit when he was out in 2007-08 and in 2009-10, and he also lost a chance to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2010 because of a concussion that wiped out most of his season.

And now this.

"It seems like throughout my career the games I look forward to the most are the games that I miss," Booth said after joining five other Canucks players and goalies Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider for a workout at the BankAtlantic Center Monday morning. "It happened with the Olympics, it happens when we go to Detroit -- I still haven't played in Detroit yet and I think this is my seventh year. This is a game that ever since I got traded I was looking forward to. It's frustrating, but there's plenty more hockey to be played."

Booth has been out of action since Dec. 6 when he was the victim of a knee-on-knee hit by Colorado forward Kevin Porter, who was suspended four games for the incident.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault indicated Sunday that Booth has been medically cleared to play and it's now up to the player to tell his coach when he’s ready to go.

As much as he would have liked to have faced his former team, Booth said Monday he's not at that point yet.

"It's all a matter of time," Booth said. "I've only practiced twice with the team after being off the ice for a month. That's tough. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where you get further injured. I've got to take my time and know when I'm ready.

"I thought I would be back in time, but you have to put your career first. If I go out there and I'm not stable on that knee and get hit again, that's not good for me. I know the Panthers play a hard game. I know they play the body, they get on the forecheck, so that's going to be a tough game. I don't want to be a negative to our team out there if I'm not playing the best I can play."

The Panthers traded Booth along with veteran center Steven Reinprecht for forwards Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm. Booth was informed of the trade while the team was going through pregame warmups with the Islanders at the BankAtlantic Center and reports indicated he was in tears upon being told the news.

"It was tough at the time, and coming back down here brings back a lot of good memories," he said. "But I'm happy to be a Canuck now. Everything works itself out. It was tough for the first month or so, but I got over that and just realized that this is my new home and I've got to make the most of the opportunity I've been given."

Booth had only one assist in six games with Florida this season and he also got off to a slow start in Vancouver. But he had 3 goals and 2 assists in the five games preceding his December injury.

"It took a good month to get acquainted," Booth said, "but the chemistry with my linemates started coming around and I thought I was playing some of my best hockey there before I got hurt."

Booth says he keeps tabs on the Panthers and watches their games whenever possible. With Monday night's game being the only meeting between Florida and Vancouver this season, Booth will have to wait until next year to face his former team.

Hopefully for him, he'll be healthy and ready to go on Feb. 23 when the Canucks travel to Detroit so he can end his curse and play an NHL game in his hometown for the first time.



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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 2:00 PM

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

Luongo enjoying being back in Florida

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Roberto Luongo still enjoys getting back to the BankAtlantic Center, but it's not so much because he's facing his former team.

Rather, it's because he gets to play in front of family and friends in the place he calls home in the offseason.

That includes the family of his wife, who he met while he played for the Panthers. Luongo's father-in-law, in fact, owns a pizza place in South Florida and the goalie took his teammates to eat there Sunday after the Canucks practiced at the BankAtlantic Center.

"My wife's side of the family is here, so there's a lot of people coming to the game," Luongo said. "It's always nice to come back here and play."

Luongo has had great success against the Panthers, who shipped him to Vancouver in a five-player trade in June of 2006. He has a 4-0-1 record with a 1.74 GAA, a .951 save percentage and one shutout. That includes a 3-2 victory during Luongo's rookie season with the New York Islanders in 1999-2000.

In his last visit to the BankAtlantic Center on Feb. 11, 2010, Luongo posted a 3-0 shutout.

But the goalie says facing his former team isn't as significant as it once was.

"Not as much as at the beginning, obviously," Luongo said. "It's more the excitement of playing in front of family and friends more than anything else that's exciting for me now."
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Posted On Monday, 01.09.2012 / 1:34 PM

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

With Markstrom ailing, Panthers recall goalie

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Panthers found themselves shorthanded in the nets when they held an optional morning skate Monday, so they called on a local college goalie to help out.

Jose Theodore, out since New Year's Eve with a knee injury, has been joined on the sidelines by Jacob Markstrom, who is nursing a knee injury of his own.

So the Panthers recalled Brian Foster from San Antonio of the AHL to back up Scott Clemmensen on Monday night against Vancouver.

Foster caught a flight out of Texas on Monday morning, so he wasn't present at the morning skate.

It's not clear exactly when Markstrom, who underwent knee surgery last season, hurt the knee. He was in net Friday night when the Panthers dropped a 5-2 decision at New Jersey in a game where the Devils scored two empty-net goals.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said Markstrom would meet with team medical director Dr. John Uribe on Monday night to get feedback.

"He had an MRI yesterday, which was encouraging," Dineen said. "Certainly we're leaning more toward the positive than otherwise."

In addition to Theodore and Markstrom, the Panthers will be facing the Canucks without the services of forwards Sean Bergenheim (groin), Scottie Upshall (lower body), Jack Skille (shoulder) and Marco Sturm (concussion).

CANUCKS
Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Daniel Sedin
Mason Raymond - Ryan Kesler - Chris Higgins
Cody Hodgson - Maxim Lapierre - Jannik Hansen
Mike Duco - Manny Malhotra - Dale Weise

Dan Hamhuis - Kevin Bieksa
Alexander Edler - Alexander Sulzer
Keith Ballard - Andrew Alberts

Roberto Luongo
Cory Schneider

PANTHERS
Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Tomas Kopecky - Shawn Matthias - Michal Repik
Mikael Samuelsson - Marcel Goc - Matt Bradley
Krystofer Barch - John Madden - Mike Santorelli

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
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Posted On Friday, 12.30.2011 / 6:32 PM

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

Power-play woes have stalled Rangers' momentum

SUNRISE, Fla. -- With the New York Rangers' power play slumping, Coach John Tortorella tried some different combinations at practice on Thursday.

He's hoping for better results starting with Friday night's game at Florida, although that doesn't necessarily mean more goals with the man advantage.

"The biggest thing with our power play that's frustrated me right now is, let alone not scoring goals, it's been the last little while here, the last few games, it's slowed our momentum down," Tortorella said. "We haven't even gained momentum off our power play. That's very important.

"You're not going to score on your power play all the time. You look at the percentages, it's 20 percent. It's not a high percentage. But you need to try to gain some momentum and we've gone the other way with it. I thought in practice yesterday it went really well, I'm hoping that we get some sort of momentum and that we get some goals out of it."

The Rangers have gone 1-for-16 on the power play over the last five games, the only goal coming from captain Ryan Callahan in the 4-2 victory over Philadelphia on Dec. 23.

New York also could use more overall production from center Brad Richards, whose only point in the last eight games came on his last-second game-winning goal at Phoenix on Dec. 17.

Tortorella said he would start Friday night's game with the same line combinations he had in Washington, but didn't rule out switching things around at some point.

That, however, does not include the line of Artem Anisimov, Derek Stepan and Marian Gaborik, which Tortorella says will remain intact.

Tortorella also confirmed that Henrik Lundqvist would be in net against Florida.
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Posted On Friday, 12.30.2011 / 6:18 PM

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

Rangers staying in the moment as Classic nears

SUNRISE, Fla. -- A couple of hours before his team's final game before the highly-publicized Winter Classic, New York Rangers coach John Tortorella said he didn't have to tell his players to stay in the moment.

In fact, he said he hasn't done that once since HBO cameras started following the team for the series "24/7," a behind-the-scenes look at the Rangers and the Flyers heading into Monday's Winter Classic between the teams at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park.

"We haven't even talked about it," Tortorella said. "We have other things to talk about regarding last game as far as within our play. I'm not concerned about that at all. I haven't been all year long. I think our team is mature enough. We've gone through a lot of different things at the beginning of the year, we've handled them. So that hasn't even been in the discussion."

Tortorella said the focus before Friday night's game was making sure his team understood and learned from the mistakes made in its last outing, a 4-1 loss at Washington on Wednesday night.

That the Winter Classic is next for the Rangers is irrelevant, as far as Tortorella is concerned.

"I don't care what the Philadelphia ... Philadelphia is next on our schedule ... after this game," Tortorella said. "Listen, I know it's the Winter Classic and all this and all that, but we don't approach it that way. This is an important game for us to try to answer (for) a game I thought our decision-making was poor and I don't think we played hard enough. So this is an important game for us to try to get it back on the tracks."
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Posted On Friday, 12.30.2011 / 1:03 PM

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

Weaver earned his new contract

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Defenseman Mike Weaver was standing in the Florida Panthers dressing room Friday morning when teammate Kris Versteeg snuck up behind him and rubbed shaving cream all over his face.

"We did it! We did it!" Versteeg shouted before walking away laughing.

It was Versteeg's way of congratulating Weaver for signing a two-year contract extension, which was announced Friday morning.

The 33-year-old Weaver is in his second season with the Panthers after playing for four different teams in his first eight NHL seasons.

Weaver has been a dependable defenseman for the Panthers the last two seasons and a member of the first penalty-killing unit.

"Mike Weaver is one of those character players that is widely respected around the League," said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "He was a guy last year that I used as an example for some of my players in the American league how to play defense. His character as a player is not always going to show up on the score sheet, but he's one of those guys that goes out and consistently does a good job for us. He plays against other teams' top lines. Not only does he play against them, but that's a role he really relishes.

"That's a very strong signing for the Florida Panthers and really bodes well for both him and us. It's a win-win situation for the next couple of years."

For Weaver, the extension is a nice reward for a career spent overcoming obstacles -- starting with his lack of size, as he's listed at just 5-foot-10 and 179 pounds.

After playing four years at Michigan State, he signed with the Atlanta Thrashers, but never appeared in more than 40 games in his three seasons with the team.

He then spent two seasons with Los Angeles, another with Vancouver and two with St. Louis before the Panthers signed him in August 2010.

"I just look one game at a time, one season at a time," Weaver said. "I've worked my butt off ever since I turned pro to get in a situation I'm able to feel comfortable in. It's nice to be here in Florida, for sure.

"When we agreed on the contract, it's amazing looking back what I've gone through to this point."

Weaver has no goals and 9 assists this season, but offense never has been his forte. He has 6 goals in 458 NHL games and only three since the start of the 2007-08 season.

Weaver, however, is a terrific defensive defenseman. He rarely gets caught out of position or beat 1-on-1, plus he's second on the team behind Jason Garrison with 62 blocked shots.

With the offensive success of fellow Panthers blueliners Brian Campbell, Garrison and Dmitry Kulikov, as well as the presence of five-time All-Star Ed Jovanovski and rookie Erik Gudbranson, the third pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, it's easy to overlook Weaver.

And that's just the way he likes it.

"As long as I'm out of the paper, I'm fine," Weaver said. "That's the way I look at it. My game is most valuable to the current organization that I'm in. A lot of GMs or scouts come to the game, I really become unnoticed out there. That's my game -- keep it simple and not be in the limelight."

His teammates, though, know he valuable he is.

"It's good for him that he stays here," said Kulikov, who has been partnered with Weaver this season. "He brings a good attitude to the team and he brings a lot of hard work. He's a hard-working guy and he's good defensively."
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Posted On Friday, 12.30.2011 / 12:30 PM

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

Panthers' Weiss to be a game-time decision

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss took part in the morning skate, but coach Kevin Dineen wasn't ready to say afterward that Weiss would be back against the New York Rangers tonight.

Weiss has missed the last two games -- an 8-0 loss at Boston last Friday night and a 5-3 victory against Toronto Tuesday -- because of an upper-body injury.

"He had a good day," Dineen said. "I hope he can play tonight. We're going to give him the afternoon and probably dress an extra forward for warm-up and make a final decision post-warm-up whether he's physically able to play or not."

Weiss was among seven forwards who missed the Toronto game. None of the other six -- Marco Sturm, Mikael Samuelsson, Sean Bergenheim, Jack Skille, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc -- are expected to play tonight or tomorrow against Montreal.

At the morning skate, Weiss centered a line with Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky. He has played all season with Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann on a line that's been among the most productive in the League.

Versteeg and Fleischmann were split up during Weiss' absence; Fleischmann skated with Shawn Matthias and Matt Bradley.

Dineen wasn't ready after the morning skate to make any declarations about his lines.

"I'm not one to play cagey, but we're going to make a lot of decisions after warm-up," he said. "A lot of dominoes will either fall or come into place depending on the health of our team. At this point, it's almost hourly. We'll see where we're at post-warm-up."

Here are the projected lineups for the Panthers, and the Rangers, who did not skate this morning:

RANGERS
Artem Anisimov - Derek Stepan - Marian Gaborik
Carl Hagelin - Brad Richards - Ryan Callahan
Brandon Dubinsky - Brian Boyle - John Mitchell
Ruslan Fedotenko - Mike Rupp - Brandon Prust

Ryan McDonagh - Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto - Anton Stralman
Jeff Woywitka - Stu Bickel

Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal, with Martin Biron the backup.

PANTHERS
Tomas Kopecky - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Tomas Fleischmann - Shawn Matthias - Matt Bradley
Tim Kennedy - Mike Santorelli - Michal Repik
Krys Barch - Mark Cullen - Bill Thomas

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jovanovski - Erik Gudbranson

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, 12.27.2011 / 3:12 PM

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

Can Theodore repeat last game vs. Leafs?

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers handled the Toronto Maple Leafs a 5-1 defeat when the teams met on Nov. 8, but the final score might have been a bit misleading.

The big story that night was the goaltending, in particular the performance of Florida's Jose Theodore.

Toronto outshot Florida 39-28, including a 31-14 margin in the last two periods. But the Leafs weren't able to solve Theodore as the Panthers extended their 1-0 first-period lead.

The Leafs most likely will get another crack at Theodore tonight when they face the Panthers at the BankAtlantic Center.

"He's a really good goalie that in our building played extremely well against us, and we're going to have to get lots of pucks on him," said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. "Like any goalie in the League, you get pucks on him, but the biggest thing is you've got to get traffic and we're going to have to do that tonight. We're going to have to get in front of him, we're going to make it uncomfortable for him to see the puck, and if we do that, we'll be successful."

That Nov. 8 victory snapped a three-game winless streak for the Panthers, and they find themselves on another three-game slide heading into tonight's game.

Theodore's performance in that first meeting certainly was one that caught his coach's attention.

"That was a real statement game for me," said Panthers coach Kevin Dineen. "He played strong games up to that one, but that was one where they really put some pressure and had some quality shots and he looked so comfortable in that game. That was a little bit of a turning point in our relationship. I've always felt that he was our No. 1 guy, but I think that was certainly a statement game."

Theodore has been impressive this season, with a 13-8-4 record and a .919 save percentage, but he's coming off a rough outing in Boston, where he gave up four goals on 14 shots before being pulled after the first period of an 8-0 loss.

But the Panthers were facing a tough challenge that night, playing on the road for a second consecutive night and missing seven forwards with injuries.

The Panthers are confident they'll get a strong outing from Theodore tonight.

"Toronto has been playing well,' said Panthers forward Kris Versteeg. "They've got a lot of guys that can put the puck in the net. They've been playing with some confidence. Our goalie is going to have to step up a lot, with Kess (Phil Kessel), he gets a breakaway somehow every game and (Joffrey) Lupul and these guys who can find their way into scoring areas. Our goalie has been great for us all season, and we don't expect anything less."
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