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Posted On Friday, 12.30.2011 / 6:32 PM

By Alain Poupart - Correspondent / - 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 - Correspondent / - 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 - Correspondent / - 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 - Correspondent / - 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:

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.

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 - Correspondent / - 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 - Correspondent / - 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 - Correspondent / - 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 - Correspondent / - 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:

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

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 - Correspondent / - 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 - Correspondent / - 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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— Calgary Flames forward Sean Monahan after a win against the Nashville Predators on Friday
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