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Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 2:04 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Senators want to follow up on Tuesday's solid effort

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Coming off an impressive 4-0 victory at Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean saw no need to make any lineup changes for the back end of the Florida trip Wednesday night.

That means that Craig Anderson, who stopped 28 shots against the Lightning, again will be in net against the Panthers, a team for which he played from 2006-09.

Ottawa will go into the game against Florida with a solid 5-4-3 record in the second of back-to-back games, and the easy victory over Tampa Bay was the perfect setup.

"For back-to-back games, I'm not sure it could have been better, the way things went for us, having a lead and being able to play everybody and not chasing the game," MacLean said. "We were ahead the whole game and we were able to manage minutes way better than if you were chasing the game. Tonight our expectation is that we should be up and running and ready to go."

The Senators have been up and running since a seven-game losing streak where they managed one goal or less five times. Ottawa is 2-0-1 in its last three, with a victory over Nashville and an overtime loss against Edmonton.

In those three games, the Senators scored 11 goals, two more than during their losing streak.

"We've talked about it," captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "We've always struggled getting off to good starts. We've been doing that the last few games. We're up and the other team has to go a little bit more on offense and that opens up more chances. So getting that first goal is a big reason why."

The Senators will try to wrap up a memorable father-son trip against the Panthers. MacLean invited the fathers into the locker room for his pregame speech Tuesday night, but he wasn't sure whether he'd do it again on Wednesday.

One of those parents on the trip is Mike Foligno, father of Nick Foligno and a longtime NHL player. Mike Foligno's 14-year career, incidentally, ended with a 39-game stint with the Panthers in their inaugural season in 1993-94.

"I just thought it was a great opportunity for the dads to really see what their sons have to go through when it comes to gettting prepared for a game and the detail that goes into it," MacLean said. "It's not just put your skates on and tape the stick and go out and play. There's a lot more work involved in the preparation part of playing in the National Hockey League."

Alfredsson said preparation could make the difference against the Panthers.

"We know that we're not a superstar team where we can go on three out of six cylinders and win," he said. "We have to fire on five or six to win games, and then really pay attention to details. Playing last night as well, it's even more important when it's back-to-back games. Mentally, our focus has to be really good for us to have a chance to win."

Here is Ottawa's projected lineup:

Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Bobby Butler
Colin Greening - Kyle Turris - Daniel Alfredsson
Kaspars Daugavins - Zack Smith - Erik Condra
Nick Foligno - Jim O'Brien - Chris Neil

Filip Kuba - Erik Karlsson
Chris Phillips - Sergei Gonchar
Jared Cowen - Brian Lee

Craig Anderson
Alex Auld
Posted On Wednesday, 02.15.2012 / 1:12 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Days after first goal, Strachan gets contract extension

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers defenseman Tyson Strachan's memorable week got even better on Wednesday.

Three days after scoring his first NHL goal in his 75th career game, the 27-year-old Strachan signed a one-year contract extension. And for the first time in his career, it's a one-way deal.

Asked after Florida's morning skate Wednesday whether his week could get any better, Strachan replied: "I didn't buy my lottery ticket, so I don't think so. It's been a huge week. I get a huge goal and that's obviously a huge, exciting moment for me, and then to get the phone call a couple of days ago about a contract and get everything worked out there and just know that they're thinking of me in the plans for the future is an exciting thing for me.

"I'm just excited. That's about the only word that describes it. I'm excited to be part of it and excited to keep moving forward and to get some wins down the stretch."

Strachan, who played 67 games for the St. Louis Blues over the past three seasons, signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Panthers last July. He was recalled in January when injuries starting hitting the Florida blue line.

In eight games with the Panthers, Strachan has 1 goal and 2 assists along with a plus-3 ratio.

"It's deserved," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "Tyson Strachan has proven in the last couple of weeks that he certainly doesn't look uncomfortable out there at the NHL level. He has some experience. He's played in a quality organization in St. Louis and has come in here and played in the minors and when the opportunity arose he was certainly prepared for it. Well-deserved contract extension for Tyson Strachan."

Florida will face Ottawa on Wednesday night without regular defensemen Ed Jovanovski (hand), Dmitry Kulikov (knee) and Jason Garrison (lower body). In addition to Strachan, the Panthers also will have recent call-up Colby Robak in the lineup.

Robak played 14:40 in his NHL debut in Sunday's 4-1 victory over the Islanders and finished a plus-2.

"I thought he was fine," Dineen said. "I thought he looked comfortable out there. I thought he responded to a lot of the Islanders' pressure well."
Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Panthers' Garrison to miss at least a week

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will be without Jason Garrison, who leads all NHL defensemen with 13 goals, for the next 7-10 days due to a lower-body injury.

Garrison was injured in the second period of Saturday's 3-1 victory at New Jersey

In addition to his 13 goals, Garrison is second on the team in average ice time at 23:33, and his plus-6 is the second-best mark on the team, and tops among Panthers blueliners.

"Big hole in our lineup," coach Kevin Dineen said after practice Tuesday. "He's played a great level of hockey and he'll be missed in the next week."

Garrison becomes the third Panthers defenseman to be sidelined by injury, joining Ed Jovanovski and Dmitry Kulikov.

Kulikov, who underwent knee surgery Jan. 24, is expected to be out for at least another couple of weeks, but Jovanovski could be close to returning. He had surgery on his hand Jan. 18, two days after being involved in a fight with Boston's Daniel Paille. Jovanovski took part in Tuesday's practice.

"Jovo has taken some good strides," Dineen said. "Now he's progressing to handling the puck and using his stick, which he hasn't done, but he's kept his conditioning up. Believe me, he will want to be back sooner than he's ready. He is very enthusiastic about getting back in the lineup, but that final decision will be made by our medical staff."

With the injuries on the blue line, Florida recently recalled Tyson Strachan and Colby Robak from San Antonio of the AHL.

Strachan, who had appeared in 67 games for St. Louis over the past three seasons, scored his first NHL goal in Sunday’s 4-1 victory against the Islanders; it was the same day Robak, a 2008 second-round pick, made his NHL debut.
Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 3:25 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kings' Sutter expects different look from Panthers

SUNRISE, Fla. — Kings coach Darryl Sutter began watching tape of the Dec. 1 game between Los Angeles and the Florida Panthers to get ready for the rematch Thursday at the BankAtlantic Center, but it didn’t take him long to realize it was useless.

“When I started doing it,” Sutter said Thursday morning in the midst of a six-game road trip, “I said, you know what, this is not going to serve much.”

The logo will be the same, but it’s a much different Florida team that the Kings will face this time. Eight players who will be in the lineup for the Panthers on Thursday night didn’t play in that 2-1 Kings victory in December, a list headed by leading scorer Kris Versteeg.

Versteeg was out after taking an elbow in the face two nights earlier in Carolina, and it was one of only two games he has missed all season.

But he’ll be there Thursday night playing between linemates Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss, and it’s a trio that has earned the respect of Sutter.

“The big thing with these guys and I know them good enough, their big line is the best line we’ve played on the trip,” Sutter said. “When you break it down, center-left-right, it’s the best line we’ve played. From an individual standpoint we’ve probably played guys you think are more top players than they are, but this is the first time we’ve played a line that when they’re spread out ... they’re a 50-goal line already. In this league, that’s pretty significant. And when you’ve got (Brian) Campbell at almost 40 points and you’ve got Jason (Garrison) with 13 goals, you’ve got your hands full. That’s how I look at it.”

Along with Versteeg, the other Panthers players who will suit up Thursday night after not playing in the Dec. 1 game are forwards Mikael Samuelsson, Marcel Goc, Krys Barch, Matt Bradley and John Madden, along with defensemen Keaton Ellerby and Tyson Strachan.

Four of the eight players who played on Dec. 1 but won’t be playing Thursday night are injured and the other four are in the minors.

Even though he wants a different outcome, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen gladly would take a similar effort from his team than what he got against the Kings two months ago.

Florida outshot Los Angeles 42-26 in that game, but lost on goals by Jack Johnson and Dustin Brown and strong goaltending by Jonathan Quick.

“I thought that was one of our strongest games,” Dineen said. “We played a very well-rounded game and we ended up with no points. Sometimes you walk out of those losses and you go, that was a hard-fought game and it doesn’t end up in your favor. That’s the kind of hockey we’re looking to get back to.”
Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 2:48 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Kings not frustrated, but hope for more scoring

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Los Angeles Kings will enter Thursday night in seventh place in the Western Conference standings when they face the Florida Panthers at BankAtlantic Center. It’s not all that bad considering the Kings are dead last in the entire League in goals.

“At the end of the day, right now we’re in a playoff spot,” said captain Dustin Brown. “Regardless of our scoring, that’s all that really matters for this team. Do we want to get better at our scoring? Yeah. I think a lot of guys are frustrated in here with the type of scoring, or lack thereof, that we have with this team.

“At the end of the day we’re capable of winning games 1-0 and 2-1 because of the way we play defense. Again, we’ve got to find ways to score more goals but we’re also capable of winning games without scoring many.”

That’s precisely what happened when the Kings faced the Panthers on Dec. 1 at Staples Center. That night, Los Angeles was able to pull out a 2-1 victory despite being outshot 42-26.

The Kings, who will be playing the fourth game in a season-long six-game road trip Thursday night, are coming off a 3-1 victory at Tampa Bay. It was only the 19th time in 54 games this season that Los Angeles had scored more than two goals.

“Hockey is a funny game,” Brown said. “It’s a confidence thing. If you look around at the numbers of the guys in this room, they’re probably having statistically one of their worst years. I’ve never been on a team where you see it happen to such a big number of big guys that are having down years.”

The two biggest disappointments in terms of goal-scoring this season have been second-line wingers Dustin Penner and Jarret Stoll.

Penner scored at least 23 goals four of the last five seasons but has only five goals in 42 games so far. Stoll has five goals in 54 games after finishing with 20 last season.

The center on that line is Mike Richards, who will be playing in his 500th NHL game Thursday night. The former Flyers captain, who scored 11 goals in 13 games in November and December but has only one tally in his last 19 outings, says the victory at Tampa Bay was a good example of how the Kings can have success without putting up big numbers.

“We’re not going to be a team that just throws our sticks on the ice and gets two or three,” Richards said. “We’ve got to go out there and earn it. But at the same time, we’ve got to make the other team work hard and get pressure by our checking and how hard we work. We know our identity. Obviously we’d like to score more goals. Everyone does. But our biggest focus is keeping the puck out of the net and then moving forward.”

Here is the projected lineup for the Kings when they face Florida on Thursday night:

Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dustin Penner - Mike Richards - Jarret Stoll
Brad Richardson - Colin Fraser - Trent Hunter
Kyle Clifford - Andrei Loktionov - Trevor Lewis

Rob Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Jack Johnson - Willie Mitchell
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
Jonathan Bernier
Posted On Thursday, 02.09.2012 / 2:04 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Panthers' goaltenders getting healthy

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers' goaltending situation is getting muddled as players get healthy again.

Jose Theodore and Jacob Markstrom, who both have been out with knee injuries, joined Scott Clemmensen when the Panthers held their morning skate in preparation for Thursday night's game against Los Angeles.

Another positive sign came Wednesday when Brian Foster, who backed up Clemmensen the last four games, was sent back to San Antonio of the AHL.

“We went from a goaltending issue to we’ve got a bit of a glut out there today," coach Kevin Dineen said. "No complaints from the coaching staff for us organizationally. It's nice for us to have a number of options for tonight’s game."

Clemmensen is expected to make a seventh consecutive start against Los Angeles, but Dineen didn't rule out the possibility of Theodore starting.

The former Vezina and Hart Trophy winner hasn't played since Jan. 20 in a 3-1 loss at Chicago. He initially was injured in a 3-2 victory over Montreal on New Year's Eve and returned Jan. 18 to start at Colorado in a game the Panthers lost 4-3 in overtime.

"I'm not going to break him in slowly," Dineen said. "As soon as he deems himself fit, and this morning's skate is a good, positive step for him, then he is a legitimate option to play tonight."

After a tremendous nine-game stretch where he was 5-1-3 with a 2.13 goals-against average and .935 save percentage, Clemmensen struggled in Florida's last two games. He gave up five goals on 32 shots in Saturday's 6-3 loss at Tampa Bay and then gave up four goals on 24 shots Tuesday in a 4-0 loss at Washington.

For the season, Clemmensen is 8-4-5 with a 2.80 GAA and a .908 save percentage, while Theodore is 14-9-5 with a 2.50 GAA and a .916 save percentage.

"He has been good this year and he'll continue to play an important role in our season," Dineen said of Theodore. "You can sit there, you can fiddle around, but goaltending is a key position in our League. A goaltender that comes in and makes that big, timely save is a real difference-maker. He did that on numerous occasions early in the season."

Markstrom, meanwhile, is still recovering from knee surgery, his second over the past year. He likely will be sent to San Antonio once he's ready to play.

"I'm just taking it day by day and trying to get back," Markstrom said. "You want to get back and play. It's never fun to watch your buddies play, so you always want to get back as fast as possible but you don't want a setback and you don't want to rush it. So you take it day by day, and hopefully I’ll be back playing soon."

Here's the Panthers' projected lineup:

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

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

Scott Clemmensen
Jose Theodore
Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 3:47 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Jets will monitor Byfuglien in back-to-back after injury

SUNRISE, Fla. — Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien didn’t exactly ease back into things when he returned to the Winnipeg Jets lineup.

After missing 16 games because of a knee injury, Byfuglien led the Jets with 25:36 of ice time during a 2-1 overtime victory Thursday at Tampa Bay.

Byfuglien will be in the lineup again Friday night against the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers, but the Jets will be careful to make sure they don’t ask for too much too soon.

“We’ll watch how he does and how his fatigue factor is, but you know the thing is he’s a big man but he has power,” Jets coach Claude Noel said Friday morning. “I remember talking to the Chicago strength and conditioning guy and he said this guy is just not like the normal guys, he really has power in the way that he conducts things. And you can see that. When the guy goes to hit him, it’s like the guy hit a wall.

“It’s just the way he handles things. He hasn’t skated with us too much but our strength guys have done a reallly good job in keeping his conditioning up and it looks like he’s in a pretty good place.”

Truth be told, the Jets weren’t planning on having Byfuglien log as much ice time as he did in his first game back since Dec. 23.

Byfuglien hit the crossbar on an end-to-end rush in the second period and had an assist on Kyle Wellwood’s overtime game-winner.

“I thought that he managed the game fairly well,” Noel said. “He was really pretty active in the second period, got out there for some long shifts, which is a concern, but I thought his play through the shifts was better than I had anticipated. So when we were watching him we thought, well, you know, he’s doing OK, so let’s just see how we are doing in the third period.”

For his part, Byfuglien said after the game he didn’t feel any rust and would have no problem seeing as much ice time against the Panthers.

“I felt real good,” Byfuglien said after the game Thursday. “A lot better than I thought I would. It didn't take too long to get back in the mix of things.”
Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 3:26 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Jets take another crack at back-to-back success

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Winnipeg Jets finally experienced some success on the road this week. Now comes the tough part.

The Jets take on the Florida Panthers on Friday night in the second half of back-to-back games and they'll be looking to reverse an ugly trend.

It's the ninth set of back-to-back games for Winnipeg this season. The first eight games on the back end of a back-to-back produced these results: 4-1 loss at Ottawa; 3-0 loss at the New York Rangers; 4-2 loss at Boston; 7-1 loss at Detroit; 4-1 loss at home against Pittsburgh; 4-0 loss at Toronto; 5-1 loss at New Jersey; 3-0 loss at the New York Rangers.

Do the math and it adds up to an 0-8 record, with three shutout losses and the Jets outscored 34-6.

"I don't particularly think that the players concern themselves so much with back-to-back," Jets coach Claude Noel said Friday before he joined six of his players at the BankAtlantic Center for an optional morning skate. "It is what it is. You play the game. I really don't know that they can sit there, and they sit and blame fatigue. It just happens that we haven't won those games. I don't think that there's something there that we're afraid of. Certainly I never bring it up and I'm not afraid of it."

On the contrary, Noel might bring up the fact that the last time the Jets faced the Panthers, Jan. 21 at Winnipeg, Florida emerged with a 4-3 shootout victory after playing the night before in Chicago.

Of course, it must be pointed out that the Jets lost that game despite outshooting the Panthers 44-23.

"Last time we played these guys they had the back-to-back and we end up serving up some pizzas and lost the game," Noel said. "It was disappointing for us because we played pretty well, we outshot them, outplayed them, didn't give them too many chances and found a way to lose against a division rival. So we've just got to be better. We've got to find a way to get it done."

Friday night's game is the next-to-last in a six-game road trip that began Jan. 23 and wraps up Sunday afternoon in Montreal. The Jets won at Philadelphia and at Tampa Bay this week after returning from the All-Star break following a stretch of six losses in eight road games.

With the Jets playing their third game in four nights, Noel said he would go with Chris Mason in net against the Panthers. Ondrej Pavelec, who stopped 30 of 31 shots in Thursday's 2-1 overtime victory over the Lightning, will be back in net Sunday at Montreal.

Here is tonight's projected lineups for the Jets:

Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Kyle Wellwood - Nik Antropov - Eric Fehr
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Alexander Burmistrov - Aaron Gagnon - Antti Miettinen

Tobias Enstrom - Dustin Byfuglien
Ron Hainsey - Zach Bogosian
Johnny Oduya - Mark Stuart

Chris Mason
Ondrej Pavelec
Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:28 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - At the Rink blog

Ailing Dineen will still be behind the bench

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers will welcome leading scorer Kris Versteeg back to the lineup Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets, but now it's coach Kevin Dineen who is feeling a little under the weather.

Dineen is nursing a sore throat and didn't address the media following his team's morning skate. He will, however, be behind the bench Friday night.

Versteeg, who missed Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Washington, will take the place of Marco Sturm.

The veteran forward missed 14 games because of a concussion before returning to play 12:16 against Washington. Sturm was held out of practice Thursday for what was called a "maintenance day" and he also didn't take part in Friday's morning skate.

Scott Clemmensen, who stopped 41 of 44 shots in the Panthers' 4-3 shootout victory at Winnipeg on Jan. 21, will be in net for Florida.

Here are the Panthers' projected lines:

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

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

Scott Clemmensen
Brian Foster
Posted On Friday, 02.03.2012 / 1:06 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - 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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