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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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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:28 PM

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

Panthers hardly surprised by Huberdeau's heroics

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Jonathan Huberdeau's five-point performance in Team Canada's 8-1 opening victory over Finland Monday was great to see for the Florida Panthers. But it wasn't exactly surprising.

Huberdeau, selected third by the Panthers in the 2011 Entry Draft, showed that kind of offensive ability when he led the  team in scoring in the preseason.

"What did I think? Basically, what everyone else thought -- the kid is unreal," said Panthers rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who played for Team Canada last year. "I said this in training camp, it's unbelievable to watch him play. He doesn't necessarily take the hardest stride, he doesn't have the hardest shot, but he's by far the smartest player out there on any given night. He's always in the right position. He's certainly well warranted going third overall."

The Panthers sent Huberdeau back to the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QJMHL before the start of the NHL season so he could mature physically and get stronger.

"He was a really close decision for us at training camp," coach Kevin Dineen said. "At the end of the day, for me I think it'll make him a better player down the line. You look at (Boston's) Tyler Seguin, the way he's exploded this year and the way that he felt his way through the season last year, the maturity level for an 18-year-old kid is so large. You look at our lineup, there's not too many with the exception of maybe Jovo (Ed Jovanovski) and (Dmitry) Kulikov that haven't put time in the American League and I think that's a good training ground. When he gets here, somewhere down the line, we'll rely heavily on him."

Dineen said he was able to watch about five minutes of Canada's rout of Finland.

"I saw Canada go up 4-1 and I saw him score that nice goal and I certainly liked to see that stat line today of him putting up the points," Dineen said. "It's exciting to see."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:06 PM

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

Weiss not ready to return for banged-up Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss will miss his second consecutive game Tuesday night because of an upper-body injury.

Weiss, who was called "the heartbeat" of the Panthers by coach Kevin Dineen earlier this season, was injured in Thursday night's 4-3 overtime loss at Ottawa. He sat out the Panthers' 8-0 shutout loss at Boston the following night.

"He had a good skate this morning, but we're not going to go with Stephen until he's 100 percent ready to go," Dineen said after the morning skate. "He's just been too valuable for us. His heart has been telling him that he's getting close to return, so we'll make the final decision for him."

Weiss is second on the Panthers in scoring with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) and leads all forwards in playing time with an average of 20:36.

"He's a very versatile player," Dineen said. "There's players that have maybe different skill sets that stick out more in the League, but certainly as a coach you just keep banging on that drum because he's an easy guy to reach for in all key situations."

Weiss is one of seven injured forwards on the Panthers, along with Scottie Upshall, Marcel Goc, Jack Skille, Sean Bergenheim, Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm.

The Panthers were so shorthanded up front in the loss at Boston that rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson was moved to right wing.

Dineen said Tuesday that Gudbranson, the third pick in the 2010 Draft, actually might have been the team's best forward on that forgettable night.

"It was fun, it was a lot of fun," Gudbranson said of the experience. "Change it up a little. I just went down low and tried to use my size and change the tide a little bit. I certainly enjoyed it. It's something that gives you experience and you can learn a lot of things and bring stuff back to defense with them.

"If we have a full lineup, I don't think he wants me up front because there's a few better hockey players up there. As of now, I look at it as a way to learn, a way to develop, work on quick feet, work on quick hands and in tight situations. That's how I’m looking at it."

The Panthers will have 12 forwards for Tuesday night's game after Mark Cullen was recalled from San Antonio for a second time this season. He'll be one of five forwards in the Florida lineup whose season began in the AHL.

"We've played through injuries this entire season," wing Kris Versteeg said. "We haven't had a full lineup this entire season. We don't know what it's like to play fully healthy, but we have guys that have come in and have stepped up to the challenge. They've been doing a great job for us so far and we're going to need it again tonight with a couple more guys going down, Weiss going down.

"We're going to need another guy to step up down the middle and win some big draws for us and score some big goals and make big plays. That's how we're going to beat a team like Toronto."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 2:04 PM

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

Projected lineups for Maple Leafs, Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Here's how the lineups could look tonight when the Florida Panthers host the Toronto Maple Leafs at the BankAtlantic Center:

MAPLE LEAFS
Joffrey Lupul - Tyler Bozak - Phil Kessel
Clarke MacArthur - Tim Connolly - Nazem Kadri
Matt Frattin - Mikhail Grabovski - Nikolai Kulemin
Darryl Boyce - David Steckel - Joey Crabb

Keith Aulie - Dion Phaneuf
Jake Gardiner - Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson - Cody Franson

James Reimer

PANTHERS
Tomas Kopecky - Mike Santorelli - Kris Versteeg
Tomas Fleischmann - Shawn Matthias - Matt Bradley
Krystofer Barch - Tim Kennedy - Michal Repik
Evgenii Dadonov - Mark Cullen - Bill Thomas

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

Jose Theodore
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.27.2011 / 12:48 PM

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

Maple Leafs place Liles on injured reserve

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman John-Michael Liles on IR Tuesday as he continues to experience concussion-like symptoms.

Liles was injured on Dec. 22 when he took a hit from Buffalo wing Paul Gaustad during the Leafs’ 3-2 victory.

"We're shutting him down for a few days," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said after the team's morning skate. "He was better today, but not ready to go. If we run into a crisis, we've got to have another defenseman available in case of illness or another injury."

Liles joined five other Toronto players, including defenseman Mike Komisarek, on the injured list. The others are forwards Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, Philippe Dupuis and Matthew Lombardi.

"We just wanted to make sure," Wilson said. "You don’t want to over-diagnose somebody. You have to give it a couple of days and right now it's best that he just sits out and stays away from the rink for a couple of days. As simple as that."

Liles had appeared in the Leafs' first 34 games before being injured. He is tied with fellow defenseman Dion Phaneuf for fourth on the team in scoring with 21 points (4 goals, 17 assists) and is second in ice time behind Phaneuf with an average of 21:32.

"Injuries are part of the game," said Phaneuf, the Leafs' captain. "We're confident with the group that we have. He's definitely a big piece of our back end, but when guys get injured, other guys have to step up and I think we're definitely ready to do that. We did that last game and we're going to have to do it again."
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 2:36 PM

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

Doan hoping for family reunion against Ellerby, Cats

SUNRISE, Fla. — Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan is hoping for a little family reunion Tuesday night, but it remains to be seen whether he’ll get his wish.

Doan’s cousin is Florida Panthers defenseman Keaton Ellerby, but Ellerby has been a healthy scratch for nine of the last 11 games. The only two times Ellerby played during that span came when 2010 first-round pick Erik Gudbranson was sidelined with a charley horse.

Doan’s mother, Bernice, is the sister of Ellerby’s father, Calvin. Doan said the two families are close — Calvin Ellerby was the pastor who married Shane Doan and his wife Andrea.

The 10th pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Ellerby is a smooth skater with good potential but he has found himself as the seventh defenseman on the Panthers this year.

The Coyotes’ flight from Phoenix landed too late Monday night for Doan and Ellerby to get together, although they did speak by phone.

“I’m a huge fan of his,” Doan said. “I think he’s a great player and a really good kid. I wish him all the best. He’s an unbelievable skater and he’ll play in the league for a long time when he really gets his opportunity.

“Hopefully, I get the chance to play against him tonight and get the chance to run into him a couple of times.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 2:23 PM

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

Good pals Tippett, Dineen to meet as NHL coaches

SUNRISE, Fla. — When Dave Tippett was asked to provide a good Kevin Dineen story Tuesday, he just laughed. And then he added, “All the dirt on Kev you couldn’t print.”

Tippett and Dineen shared a lot of good memories as teammates on the Canadian Olympic team and then with the Hartford Whalers.

Tuesday night they’ll be facing each other as NHL head coaches for the first time when Tippett’s Phoenix Coyotes face Dineen’s Florida Panthers.

“To watch how his career has evolved — he’s moved into the upper echelon of coaching in games played and in wins — is not surprising at all because he was always one step ahead of the game,” Dineen said. “A very well tought-of player and a very well-rounded player – he was always maybe looked at as a defensive guy, but he scored some huge goals for us back in the day in the Whaler green.”

Tippett, in his third season with the Coyotes, ranks second in coaching victories since the start of the 2002-03 season behind only Detroit’s Mike Babcock.

Dineen, meanwhile, is off to a great start in his first season behind the bench with the Panthers.

“He’s done a very good job,” said Tippett, who was in Dineen’s wedding. “I don’t say that just because he’s a good friend of mine. You see how hard their team competes, you see that they have some structure – they’re finding ways to win close games. Those are all the earmarks of a guy that’s doing a good job as coach. They’ve got a lot of new faces, they’ve got a lot of people that he had to bond very quickly and it looks like things are going well for him.”

Tippett said Dineen should merit Hall of Fame consideration for his work as a player. And he said Dineen’s teams play just like their coach.

“You knew, even his teams in the minors, they were going to compete hard, they were going to be teams that were well prepared,” Tippett said. “Kevin was a guy that never left anything in the dressing room. When he went on the ice, it was to play hard and you can see his team, that’s the way they compete.”

For Dineen, facing a good friend is nothing new. He went through the same thing on Nov. 3 when the Panthers played host to the Chicago Blackhawks and Coach Joel Quenneville, who happened to be his best man.

Dineen can only hope for a better result this time — the Panthers lost to Chicago, 3-2, in a shootout.

For Tippett, he’s hoping his team can rebound from a tough 3-2 loss to the Rangers on Saturday when Brad Richards scored with one-tenth of a second left in regulation.

“That story is getting a little old there; it seems like every coach in this League was in my wedding,” Dineen said. “I’ve got lots of brothers that are out there and I’ve got a lot of great friends that have been extremely fortunate to make a living in this game.

“It’s nice when they’re in the other conference. We play them once this year. I was certainly disappointed to see how (Tippett’s) last game ended. I think that makes for a much tougher game for us when you have a team that’s going to be as grumpy as they are coming in to play tonight. We’ll have our hands full with that team.”
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Posted On Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 1:57 PM

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

Coyotes could get blue line boost in South Florida

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Phoenix Coyotes will have one of their defensemen back Tuesday night and they could have a new one in the lineup as well.

Coach Dave Tippett said after the morning skate that Rostislav Klesla would return after missing the last seven games because of a lower-body injury.

But Tippett said he hadn’t decided whether to play David Rundblad, who was acquired Saturday in the trade that sent Kyle Turris to Ottawa.

“He’s up for selection,” Tippett said. “He’s not ruled out yet, but he’s not ruled in, either.”

Rundblad, who did not play in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Rangers, had one goal and three assists in 24 games with Ottawa.

Here’s the projected lineup for the Coyotes:

Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Raffi Torres - Boyd Gordon - Kyle Chipchura
Taylor Pyatt - Cal O'Reilly - Lauri Korpikoski

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Derek Morris
Adrian Aucoin - Keith Yandle
David Schlemko - Rostislav Klesla
David Rundblad

Mike Smith
Jason LaBarbera

Injuries continue to force the Florida Panthers to shuffle their lineup.

Forward Bill Thomas was signed to a two-way contract Tuesday and should be in the lineup against Phoenix. Thomas had three goals and four assists in 24 games for the Panthers last season, but has played in San Antonio all season.

He will replace Sean Bergenheim, who is out with a groin injury. He was injured Sunday in a 3-2 overtime victory against Carolina after scoring his third goal in two games. Coach Kevin Dineen said he didn’t have a timetable for how long Bergenheim would be out of action. Bergenheim missed seven games earlier this season with another lower-body injury.

In another move, Tim Kennedy will skate up front after being recalled from San Antonio of the AHL for the third time this season. Kennedy will replace Greg Rallo, who was sent back down after making his NHL debut at the age of 30 on Sunday.

“We’re not looking to flip bodies right now and keep on moving guys in and out of the lineup,” Dineen said. “We want to find the right players and I know Tim Kennedy is the right guy for the job. He’s been here for the majority of the year and from everything that I understand Bill Thomas has put in a good stretch of hockey and deserves an opportunity to come back and play some games in a Panthers uniform.”

Here’s the projected lineup for the Panthers:

Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg
Marco Sturm - Tomas Kopecky - Bill Thomas
Shawn Matthias - Mike Santorelli - Mikael Samuelsson
Krystofer Barch - Tim Kennedy - Matt Bradley

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

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Posted On Friday, 12.16.2011 / 12:17 PM

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

Projected lineups for Flames, Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. – Here are the projected lineups for the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers for their game Friday night at BankAtlantic Center:

CALGARY FLAMES

Curtis Glencross - Olli Jokinen - Jarome Iginla
Alex Tanguay - Brendan Morrison - Rene Bourque
Blake Comeau - Mikael Backlund - Lee Stempniak
Tom Kostopoulos - Matt Stajan - Tim Jackman

Chris Butler - Jay Bouwmeester
Scott Hannan - Derek Smith
T.J. Brodie - Brett Carson

Leland Irving
Miikka Kiprusoff

FLORIDA PANTHERS

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

Jason Garrison - Brian Campbell
Dmitry Kulikov - Mike Weaver
Ed Jonanovski - Keaton Ellerby

Jose Theodore
Scott Clemmensen
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Quote of the Day

There was a lot of talk off the ice. From a player's standpoint, that's not the talk in the room. GMs make decisions, coaches make decisions, but as a team you have to come together and be ready to go, and we are.

— San Jose Sharks forward Tommy Wingels on his team's approach entering training camp