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As roster overhaul continues, Cats finding chemistry

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL -- The massive chemistry experiment that is the Florida Panthers added a new ingredient Monday.

Marco Sturm practiced with his new team for the first time ahead of the Panthers' game against the reeling Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

With the departure of David Booth for Vancouver in Saturday's trade that brought in Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson, the Panthers now have just eight players who were on the team prior to last season's trade deadline: Stephen Weiss, Keaton Ellerby, Dmitry Kulikov, Jack Skille, Shawn Matthias, Mike Weaver, Jason Garrison and Mike Santorelli.

It would be understandable for the Panthers to take some time to come together as a team considering the drastic turnover that has taken place, but first-year coach Kevin Dineen -- a new arrival as well -- refuses to use that fact as a crutch.

"We had a couple of real stinkers there that I'd love to blame on chemistry, but I think we just really got outworked and outplayed," he said after his team's morning skate Monday. "So it's a convenient excuse, and now we have to add a couple of new bodies in there. But that's a bit of our motto, that we're not using excuses."


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The two "stinkers" to which Dineen was making reference would be back-to-back 3-0 losses last week to Washington and Buffalo, teams that sit at No. 1 and No. 4 in the Eastern Conference standings. Florida's only other loss of the season came at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are No. 2 in the East.

So it would be safe to say that thus far, the chemistry experiment has not blown up.

"This is a new team," said rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson, the third pick in the 2010 draft. "We had a couple of rough games, but at the same time we came together in certain key situations and pulled out wins. It's only going to get better."

While Sturm will make his Panthers debut Monday night, Samuelsson stayed behind in Vancouver to continue getting treatment on a groin injury that forced him to miss the last two games.

"It's a bit of a process, but it's not unhealthy," Dineen said. "He'll be in our lineup contributing before you know it."

Another new player -- at least as far as Dineen is concerned -- will be Santorelli, who will make his season debut after missing the first seven games with a shoulder injury. He will center a line with Sturm and Skille.

"He just adds speed," Dineen said of getting Santorelli back. "With David out of our lineup, speed is one area that would play into it because that was one of David's greatest assets. I think Mike does a pretty good job of balancing that out."

Sturm said he was excited to be joining the Panthers after wiping out the initial shock of being traded so early in the season. Still, he says the Canucks were giving him signs that something was brewing.

"I wasn't playing for a few games and they wouldn't tell me why," Sturm said. "So I kind of figured it out."

He said he will provide some leadership and was told that he will be expected to play on the penalty kill, which is one of the numerous roles he has played throughout his career.

"I've seen him play in so many different spots," Dineen said. "He played on the power play most recently in Vancouver, he can play penalty kill, he can play high in the lineup, low in the lineup. That's the beauty of having a guy that has his depth of experience -- he understands that whatever role we use him in that he's a valuable piece of the puzzle."

It's a puzzle that has almost completely new pieces compared to eight months ago, but so far they look to be fitting together fairly well.
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