Amazing how another hockey season has come and gone for the Panthers. Thanks to all of you fans for your support all season long. We all wanted to reach the playoffs and as those home games in March proves, we ARE a good hockey town. They in essence were our playoff games and the BAC was jumping every night. Now comes the off-season, always full of curiosity and anticipation.
For those looking for quick deals, it doesn't happen that way in the NHL. The draft is when the trading period really starts and July 1st is the start of free agency. Teams are allowed to sign their own players before that date. The Panthers must go through evaluations of each player and figure out where they fit in. That process is ongoing now.
The Cats have numerous restricted and unrestricted free agents to look at. Included in the unrestricted free agents are Branislav Mezei, Steve Montador, Wade Belak, Jassen Cullimore, Magnus Johansson, and Rob Globke while Gregory Campbell, Garth Murray, Drew Larman, Martin Lojek
, Rostislav Olesz, Stefan Meyer, and Anthony Stewart all fall in the restricted free agent category.
The playoffs promise to be exciting with individuals like Ovechkin and Crosby ready to rise to new heights. Marquee teams like the Rangers and Red Wings have great opportunities to go far in the postseason. I will keep you updated throughout on any moves the Panthers make.
Until next time...
3.24.08, 10:57 AM :::: Last Six
The Cats continue their red hot march Tuesday in Tampa. The Panthers are 3 points out of a playoff spot and will need to get two points from the Lightning. After beating Tampa at home Saturday night it's now an 8-0-1 record in March.
The "Sunrise Express" line, that was the winning entry in the online contest, came through. Nathan Horton scored twice as the line continued its hard nosed style of play. Tomas Vokoun looks to add to his 30 wins against the Lightning. Vokoun saved the day with 16 big saves in the 2nd period on Saturday.
With Ville Peltonen liely out of the lineup with a foot injury, Josef Stumpel could return for the Cats. There's no room for error. Stumpel will hopefully add some offense to the lineup. Six games to go & Florida may need to win them all to play in the postseason. All of the teams in the race are in action tommorow night. I'll call it Super Tuesday on ice! This playoff push has been fun...let's keep it going!
Until next time...
3.17.08, 9:26 AM :::: On A Roll
And now it's 7 in a row...the hot Panthers won again at home beating Atlanta Sunday 3-1. The Cats never trailed and got balanced scoring, big stops from Tomas Vokoun and the game-winning-goal from the playoff hungry Olli Jokinen. He has the winner in the past two games. The Panthers are off until Thursday's Game Of The Year against first-place Carolina. The Hurricanes keep on wining and lead the Cats and Washington by 5 points in the Southeast Division. Carolina will play at Atlanta Wednesday before coming to South Florida.
The Panthers ahve tied the franchise record by winning seven in a row and remain undefeated in March. The schedule sets up well, and with 7th place Boston and 8th place Philadelphia not winning consistantly, Florida has a chance at not only the division crown, but the last couple of playoff spots as well. Eight games remain, four at home and four on the road. Half of those are against Atlanta and Tampa Bay, two teams out of the playoff race.
Brett McLean has been a huge key to this run. I think, finally, his energy, hard work and great attitude, I don't think the smile ever leaves the guy's face, has rubbed off on this team. The Panthers are keeping their game simple, limiting odd-man rushes and playing winning hockey overall. Vokoun and Craig Anderson have both been strong. It's hard to remember the last time the Cats allowed a "bad" goal.
The playoff beat goes on...the Panthers are on a roll!!!
Until next time...
3.14.08, 10:08 AM :::: Unbelievable Friday Night
Now they have a real shot at the playoffs! What a Friday night in Sunrise as a sell out crowd watched the Panthers beat the Rangers 3-2 for a 6th win in a row. The Cats again came through in the 3rd period, scoring the only goal and Tomas Vokoun would not allow the stars of New York to beat him. The Panthers are on the doorstep now of 7th and 8th place in the East and are five points behind division leading Carolina. The Cats play Atlanta Sunday at home at 5pm while Carolina hosts Ottawa at 3pm.
Olli Jokinen scored the game winner, his first goal in eight games, his 31st on the year. He has been playing well of late and now with the goal has to feel real good about his game. His linemates Rusty Olesz and Brett McLean continue to shine and for the first time in a long time the Cats are getting contributions from the whole team. Jasen Cullimore had a goal and an assist in the win, one game after Karlis Skrastins scored the game winner to beat the Islanders. Goaltending has been super with Craig Anderson winning the first half of the six-game streak and Vokoun the last three. Kamil Kreps, Radek Dvorak and Ville peltonen played a gritty game against the Rangers and came through matched up with NY's big guns.
The homestand continues Sunday as the Panthers can tie the franchise record for wins a row with a 7th straight. This run has been fun to watch and the thought here is it's not over yet!
Until next time...
3.12.08, 8:27 AM :::: Stretch Drive
The stretch drive is here and if the Panthers continue their winning ways things will get very interesting. With Philadelphia blowing a 3-0 3rd period lead at Toronto and then losing in overtime, the Flyers lost a valuable point. Heading into Wednesday's action, the Cats sit 7 points behind both Philly and Carolina. Both have more road games to play than the Panthers in the near future. The Cats don't even leave the state until April! In order to make the ending matter though, Florida must keep winning.
The Islanders are struggling as is Sunday's opponent Atlanta. Friday, the Rangers are in town and they NEVER lose of late. Three huge games and the atmosphere will be good in the BAC...that's if the Panthers play the way they can and should.
That means continued solid and spirited play from Olli Jokinen and Nathan Horton. Horton is on a tear with points in his last five games and two game-winning-goals in overtime in the past three games. Olli is not scoring goals right now and that is just fine by me! He has four assists in two games, has been good in the defensive zone and is playing with passion. Those are things that are equally, if not more important than goals. David Booth and Stephen Weiss
are doing a good job as well and the goaltending has been strong.
The next three games will tell us if we truly have a chance of being in the playoff race the final weeks of the season. Five points of the six would do the trick.
It's up to the coaches to have the players fresh and ready to go. I like the two days off the team had on Sunday and Monday. The players aren't going to learn much in practice 72 games into the season anyway. Let them pour everything into the games. The Panthers will have a big mountain to climb but they won't have any chance to get to, or near, the top without holding up their end of the bargain. Just win and let the chips fall where they may!
Here's what Carolina has coming up this week.
Wednesday @ Chicago
Friday @ Buffalo
Sunday vs. Ottawa
Should be an interesting week.
Until next time...
2.15.08, 10:4.8. AM :::: Still Smarting
Things have certainly been interesting of late for the Florida Panthers. In one week we watched Richard Zednik's gruesome injury and recovery, two thrilling games at home, an OT loss to Montreal and a 3rd period comeback to beat Washington, and another collapse in Carolina.
The last one still hurts. Florida was in charge with a 4-2 lead with 15 minutes left. The Cats were finally ready to turn the corner as a team and grab a share of first place in the division. Instead of turning the corner the Panthers turned down a dark alley and got mugged… again! Carolina dominated the rest of the game, scoring three goals and winning 5-4. The Panthers could not fight back and let the Hurricanes take two points that should have belonged to the Cats. And while we have seen our share of injuries, that can not be used an excuse.
Carolina has been decimated all season and is without future hall of famer and the heart of their team, Rob Brind'Amour. The Panthers do lead the league in man games missed but have also had key players healthy all season. Olli Jokinen, Nathan Horton, Jay Bouwmeester, Bryan Alllen, and Tomas Vokoun have been able to play night in and night out.
I am not a big believer in excuses whether its referees or injuries because every team in every sport has to fight through these things. Without Stephen Weiss
and Richard Zednik able to play the lineup is now depleted. But both of those players were healthy all season long and the Cats still played .500 hockey during that time. Florida needs to quickly bounce back from Saturday's loss. Pittsburgh and Boston are winnable games. The team defense must improve and the team must realize what is at stake. The Panthers have showed a good amount of resiliency this season... They will need a lot of it to get back on track after the Carolina loss.
Until next time...
2.04.08, 10:41 A.M. :::: Super Weekend
Sure, the NFL took center stage with the Super Bowl, Richard Zednik, Bill Lindsay and yours truly went with the Giants by the way, but the Panthers scored two huge wins to make it a super weekend on ice in Florida.
Following Friday's thrilling 4-3 shootout win over Vancouver at home the Cats went to Tampa Saturday night and came up with more late game heroics.
A pair of goals in the final six minutes of the game gave the Panthers a 3-2 win in Tampa and moved the Cats just three points out of first place. Tomas Vokoun was huge again in goal with 44 saves and kept the team alive until the offense came through. Vokoun has been the team's best player on the ice and off the ice he is a true stand-up guy and leader. The professionalism he has brought to the organization is beyond my expectations. With less than 6 minutes to go Olli Jokinen's team leading 25th of the season, he picked the Patriots by the way, tied the game. Then with 1:02 left Richard Zednik ended his personal scoring drought and scored the game-winning goal.
It was great to see a large number of Panthers fans in Tampa, led by the always supportive Booster Club.
We can use all of the cliches...gut check time, backs to the wall but the bottom line is the Panthers needed the four points and got them with two hard fought efforts. Two nights, two 3rd period comebacks, two one-goal wins and the Panthers are back in the thick of the playoff race.
The road takes the Cats up to Canada this week and Boston and Buffalo over the weekend. They should all be intense games and we will have them all on FSN Florida. Tune in...it should be fun! Next update from the Great White North.
Until next time...
2.02.08, 11:58 A.M. :::: As Advertised
Friday night was one to remember at the BankAtlantic Center. A goaltending duel between former Panther Roberto Luongo and current Cat Tomas Vokoun ended up as advertised. The Panthers played perhaps their best game of the season and scored an inspiring 4-3 shootout win. The promotional giveaway scored big as well as the Panthers gave away 25 flat screen tv's. 5 were awarded when the game started and 5 more for each Panthers goal.
Vokoun stole the show with some great stops in overtime and the shootout. After two big saves late in OT, Vokoun then stopped Marcus Naslund on a penalty shot. Clearly, he was in a zone and the all-star goalie carried that into the shootout, denying all 3 Canuck shooters.
Nathan Horton scored the only goal in the shootout, beating Luongo to win the game. It was a thrilling night of hockey in South Florida. The team played with energy and passion and the fans responded to create a great atmosphere in the arena. Vokoun and Horton were the stars of the show but it was a total team effort that produced the big two points. The trick moving forward is for the Panthers to bring that type of effort every night.
Until next time...
1.04.08, 10:33 A.M. :::: Unsung Heroes
Unsung heroes… Any successful team needs players who step out of the shadows and contribute in a positive way. The Panthers had a pair of players do just that Thursday in New York.
Jasen Cullimore scored his first NHL goal since Halloween, 2006 to lift the Cats to a huge 4-3 overtime win against the Islanders. Cullimore fired a slapshot high on goalie Rick DiPietro for his first goal as a Panther. He has been a great find. The Cats signed the free agent after the season began, and is now a top 4 defenseman. He leads the team in the plus/minus department.
Thursday's win was the first of the season for goalie Craig Anderson. Making his first start in more than a month, Anderson stood strong stopping 37 shots.
The victory ended a three-game losing streak and keeps the Panthers right in the mix for the division title and playoff race. Big props to Anderson and Cullimore who made the most of their opportunties.
Speaking of opportunity, we all have a great one coming up Saturday on FSN Florida at 3pm. The Cats are here in Pittsburgh to play Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Tuesday, Sid will be in town for his first of two regular season visits. Hope to see you out at the rink... It will be a treat.
Until next time...
12.24.07, 1:18 P.M. :::: Ending 2007
It will be time to get off the couch and stop hanging out after the holiday.
It's back to work for the Florida Panthers Thursday at Atlanta. 2007 wraps up with 3 games in 4 days this week. The Cats have home games Friday against Montreal and Sunday at 5pm vs. Philadelphia. The standings are so tight in the Southeast Division and in the Eastern Conference that every game from this point on will have somewhat of a playoff feel.
The Panthers have been solid over the past few weeks going 5-1-2 to move up in the standings. There have been solid contributions from many players but more will be needed to continue the hot run. Radek Dvorak and Brett MacLean have stepped up their games and are doing the little things and pitching in on the score sheet. Olli Jokinen continues to be the team's only reliable scorer as Nathan Horton is in a goal drought. The Cats will need Horton to put pucks in the net and also await the return of perhaps the team's most consistent forward this season, David Booth.
Jokinen has 19 goals and his last two were huge. Down 3-1 to Carolina his goal got the team back in it and the Panthers went on to a big 5-4 win. Against Toronto Olli's power play goal late in the 2nd period tied the game at one. The Cats would lose the game 2-1 in OT.
Tomas Vokoun has been phenomenal and will continue to carry the load into 2008. The Panthers will play some back to back games and although he doesn't have a win yet, back-up Craig Anderson is very capable.
The crowds have been into it at the BankAtlantic Center and the players take notice of the support. The first part of the season has set the team up for a good shot at the division title. Let the games begin, again!
Until next time...
12.21.07, 9:21 A.M. :::: A Great Victory
Thursday's victory against Carolina was the type of win playoff teams look back upon and think, now that was a turning point in the season. Coming off a strong 3 and 1 road trip, the Cats were back at home where they had gone 1-3-1 in the previous 5 games.
Taking on a Carolina team that usually finds a way to beat them, and trailing 3-1 after the first period, it would have been easy for the Panthers to lose focus and be satisfied with what they had done on the road. Instead, the Cats pushed harder, got it tied in the 2nd on goals from Olli Jokinen and Jozef Stumpel and then won it in the 3rd. As impressive as the 5-4 victory was to put the Panthers three points out of first place of the division, I was impressed with the final 20 minutes in two particular areas.
In the past, Florida has taken penalties, some legitimate and some not, with games on the line, late. Penalties in the 3rd period on this night? Try none!
Also in the Past, the Panthers would be tentative with the lead in the 3rd and their goal would turn into a shooting gallery. Number of shots allowed in the 3rd period on this night? Try five!
Add in goals from guys like Brett Mac Lean and Radek Dvorak and you realize this s a team coming together. On a night when out of this world of late goalie Tomas Vokoun allowed four goals, his teammates went out and got five. You can look up and down the line-up and see contributions from everywhere. From Tanner Glass getting things stirred up with some big hits to Jasen Cullimore continuing his solid play to Rostislav Olesz playing the best all around game of his young career, everyone helped in this victory. All are signs of a Panther team coming together, believing in one another and playing with passion.
The crowd at the end of the game was as loud as I have heard in Sunrise in some time. The fans are knowledgeable and realized how hard the players worked and how big of a win this was. Now above .500, the Cats are in position to make a big move in the standings. Saturday night will be special with a full house and Toronto in town. The Panthers will go for their 2nd four-game winning streak of the season... And try to keep climbing in the East standings. We have waited a long time for this type of play from the Panthers... Enjoy the ride! Are you a believer yet?
12.13.07, 9:50 A.M. :::: Crucial Road Trip
After a tough home-stand the Panthers are on a crucial four-game road trip. The Cats failed to seize a golden opportunity to put points in the bank during a five-game set in Sunrise. They went 1-3-1 with each loss coming by one goal.
There are different ways to look at the close losses recently and over the past few years. Rarely do the Panthers not "show up" and get blown out. But they clearly still have problems closing out games and winning the tight ones. Whether it's a bad bounce or a bad call at some point we need to look at what the team isn't doing right. Players do seem to get a bit tentative late in games with the lead and they themselves have said it's hard not to have bad thoughts creep into their minds. That mentality needs to change.
On the plus side the Cats are still right there in the race to win the Southeast Division. Goalie Tomas Vokoun has found his grove and seems to be getting more comfortable on and off the ice in South Florida. He has given the team a chance to win almost every night. Against Calgary he played what I'd say was his best game of the season. And if not for his teammates letting him down late, he would have had back-to-back shutouts.
Jay Bouwmeester continues to lead the defense which has now found some consistency in its pairings. The grit and determination of Steve Montador and Jason Cullimore has been good to watch. Montador is having his best offensive season as well. Ruslan Salei was a beast in the Calgary game matching the big Flame forwards hit for hit.
Up front, and I can't put it more bluntly, the Panthers NEED more from Nathan Horton and Josef Stumpel. They are making more than 6 million dollars between them and need to score more. Both are on pace for considerably less goals than last season. This is usually the time of year they heat up and the Cats need it now. Richard Zednik needs to pick up his game on this road trip as well. They can't rely on Olli Jokinen and David Booth all the time. Hopefully Booth's knee injury isn’t too serious. With the super season he's having it would be a shame if he misses Saturday's game back in his hometown of Detroit.
The home-stand did not produce the points the team needed so it's now make-up time out on the road where the Cats have been playing well. They will need to against the three western conference teams and a trip up to Montreal. If the team can do in the season's final 50 games what they've done the past two seasons, we are in for a heck of a ride the rest of the way!
Until next time…
12.07.07, 1:52 P.M. :::: A Little Inspiration
The Panthers spent Thursday's non gameday at South Florida hospitals visiting kids. I was at Broward general as Cory Murphy, Brett MacLean and many other players signed autographs and gave out Panthers memorabilia.
Events like this really out things in perspective. Seeing the expressions on the kids faces as the players, wearing their game jerseys, walked into their rooms was great to see. It is easy to forget about those who suffer, until you see them first add. The fact that there are children out there that are in difficult medical situations opens one's eyes. The other half of the team went to Joe DiMaggio's Children's Hospital. It was a great day for the players to make an impact off the ice in our community.
On ice, the Panthers had a much better effort Wednesday against Ottawa but the bottom line is a third straight one-goal loss. The Cats spotted the Senators a 2-0 lead seven minutes in and worked hard to recover but never got the lead.
Friday they will try to end the three-game slide against the Islanders and will wrap up a five-game home-stand Tuesday against Calgary. These are as close to must wins as you can get because after the Flames game the Cats hit the road for a four-game trip that will be tough.
Improved St. Louis, always solid Detroit, much improved Chicago and Montreal are on tap. The Cats need keep the desperation at a high level because, well… they ARE a desperate team. The opportunity is there for a pair of wins at home the next two games.
The Panthers must come through or they will find themselves further behind in the playoff race.
Tanner Glass has been called up due to Garth Murray's injury. I love the Glass story...9th round draft pick from Dartmouth who will run through a wall to make a play. Although he likely will not see much ice time as a fourth liner, his path to the NHL is an inspirational one. Maybe some of his dedication will be contagious.
Expect Tomas Vokoun to have a big game after being pulled after allowing 2 goals on 5 shots last time out.
Until next time...
11.26.07, 10:31 A.M. :::: Back To Work
It's back to work for the Panthers after a well timed weekend off from the coach. The Cats are on the ice Monday at Incredible Ice then leave for Washington on Tuesday to begin a stretch of three games in four nights: Wednesday at the rejuvenated Capitals, Thursday at home against Boston and Saturday against those same Caps as they come to Sunrise.
The Panthers may have power play specialist Cory Murphy back in the lineup for all or some of the games. The 1st year d-man has been out with a bruised shoulder.
The Panthers are in the middle of a hot streak, winning three in-a-row and four of five. Friday's thrilling shootout victory at home against the Rangers was the season highlight. In fact, it was one of the best games in the 10 year history of the BankAtlantic Center. More importantly it was the 2nd straight game the Cats were tied going into the 3rd period and won the game. The fragility of this team in 3rd periods appears to be fading.
Led by strong goaltending by Tomas Vokoun, the Panthers are now finding ways to win games as opposed to losing them. The energy and production of David Booth, Kamil Kreps and Stephen Weiss
have been key and captain Olli Jokinen continues to score big goals including the shootout winner against New York.
So, why the turnaround and why now you may ask? Here is one theory...
Maybe players are just getting better, playing smarter and realizing what they need to do to win games. Jokinen and Vokoun were openly critical of the team earlier this season and perhaps the calling out of players not giving an all-out effort has helped.
The schedule is favorable over the next 2 weeks with the majority of games at home. The Cats have a chance to continue their climb in the East and in the division. I like the balance up front right now. With Weiss and Booth piling up points, it takes some pressure off top liners Jokinen and Richard Zednik.
I am most excited about the shutdown, smart, hard working 3rd line of Kreps, Ville Peltonen and Radek Dvorak. They have speed and the 23 year old Kreps is absorbing years of wisdom from the two veterans. They play the right way and bring the same effort every night.
Add Rusty Olesz back to the lineup on the 4th line and any trio on the ice can burn you. Not many teams have that kind of depth. The November jinx is over...now we'll see if the Cats can make it a December to remember!
Until Next time...
11.16.07, 8:41 A.M. :::: Closing Out A Close Game
And all together now, a big sigh of relief. The Panthers held on Thursday night to a one goal lead late and beat Washington 2-1.
There were many positives in the game but above all it was the ability to close the game out that tops the list. Florida got goals from Richard Zednik and Kamil Kreps, and Tomas Vokoun made 26 saves. Ice time was balanced which means the team as a whole brought a strong effort.
The Cats are getting hard work and determined play nightly from Ville Peltonen, David Booth, Stephen Weiss
, Gregory Campbell, Kreps and others. They may not be the big names but that are playing winning hockey. The team can not rely on Olli Jokinen and Nathan Horton to do all the scoring and do everything else as well.
With three wins this month the Cats have matched last November's win total and still have 6 games left in the month. The team needs to play determined hockey every game and not fall back when they pick up a few wins.
The line-up was reinforced by Zednik and Bryan Allen who both returned in the win against Washington. Garth Murray should play his first game as a Panther next week and Rostislav Olesz is not far off either. Cory Murphy could be back any day from a bruised shoulder so the Panthers health is improving.
A huge three-game road trip starting in Carolina will be a test for the Panthers. They will need everyone giving maximum effort and if they can win 2 of 3 it would be a success.
Until next time...Goldie
11.14.07, 11:18 A.M. :::: The Ones That Got Away
They are the ones that got away. They being the last two games the Panthers have played and two others in October. The Cats had points in the bank in Toronto, Nashville, home against Carolina Monday and last night in Atlanta only to watch them slip away.
Each game, the Cats seemed tentative late as if they were trying to hang on. It is that type that has hurt them in tight games the past 3 seasons. For the majority of these contests Florida is the better team, playing an aggressive style. But when the clock winds down something inexplicable happens. They start to play tight and back up in their own zone. That's why the goals the past two games are not totally flukes as they went in off of Panther players. With so many guys in front of their own net trying to protect it, it’s not a shock that a puck could bounce off of someone and go into the net.
The Panthers are by no means out of the playoff race but need to win some games starting Thursday at home against Washington. This team's leadership needs to instill confidence in the group and not allow the blown games to do any further damage. The Panthers look like they have a good find in a maturing David Booth, who's 3rd period goal in Atlanta should have been a game winner. Perhaps everyone needs to look at the young, energetic, all out Booth and use him as an example of the passion you need to win in sports.
The Capitals have not played since Saturday so you can bet they will be ready to go against the Panthers. There is a good chance Bryan Allen returns to the Florida blueline and that will certainly help. I also like the addition of hard nosed Garth Murray from Montreal. The organization is taking steps to improve the toughness on the team. Not necessarily from a fighting standpoint, although that always helps, but more from a banging, finshing checks style.
Remember, all November is hat month in Sunrise so c'mon out and get your free Panther hat at all of the November games.
Until next time...Goldie
10.15.07, 9:29 A.M. :::: On The Road
On the road again... I just can't wait to get on the road again...
For the first time this season the Panthers truly hit the road. After one game stops in New York and Tampa the Cats embark on a 6 day, three game excursion to Canada. Tuesday in Montreal, Thursday in Toronto and Saturday in Ottawa. Wins will not be easy to produce but the Cats have to feel pretty good after the last two games.
No one is jumping off any bridges, although we don't really have any in South Florida but you know what I mean. After starting with 3 losses many were pushing the panic button. Panthers players were not. Led in part by calming influence Tomas Vokoun, the Cats kept their cool and though they are still not playing a perfect 60 minutes they have won two in a row and scored 9 goals in those two home wins. More importantly, Vokoun earned a shutout and then made 40 stops in winning both games. It is no secret he needs to play at an elite level for the Panthers to have a good season.
In Saturday's win vs. Tampa Bay Olli Jokinen continued to show why he remains one the NHL's most productive offensive players. With power play perfectionist Cory Murphy, what a find he's been (averaging a point per game) alongside, Olli scored the season's biggest goal to date. The Cats let a 5-1 lead dwindle to 5-4 before Murphy played set-up man to Jokinen. Numerous times Murphy fed Olli for one timers and Jokinen cashed in. The goal made it 6-4 and gave everyone a big sigh of relief. I'm not sure what would have happened if a 5-1 3rd period lead at home was lost! In the process, Jokinen tied Scott Mellanby for the most points in Panther history at 354. The Panthers captain has also now played in 299 consecutive games. Robert Svehla, the rock, played 300 in a row.
This week should be fun... Sold out buildings and many Panther players will have family and friends in attendance to see them play. Denis Potvin and I will have the games in Toronto Thursday, 7:30, and Saturday from Ottawa, 7:30, on FSN Florida. Tuesday's game in Montreal is on the Center Ice package. We are not allowed to do the game on local TV in the United States because of the NHL's deal with Versus and its exclusive rights on Monday and Tuesday nights. Puck drop for that game is 7:40. Speaking of TV... It has been a blast calling the Panther games on FSN. It really is amazing to see the amount of work that goes in to each telecast. There are so many people involved that make the show go, I am just a small piece of the puzzle.
Until next time...
10.04.07, 9:03 AM :::: Game Day!!!
After months of waiting the Panthers finally face-off tonight here in New York City. Madison Square Garden is sold out and the atmosphere will be electric for opening night.
Many new faces will make their debuts for both teams. Big prize free agents Scott Gomez and Chris Drury for New York and Tomas Vokoun, Cory Murphy and Brett MacLean for the Cats.
Richard Zednik is out with a groin injury. Kamil Kreps has been called up to play on the 4th line.
Radek Dvorak is back for a 2nd stint with the panthers and will wear #14. David Booth will go with #10.
The Cats need to get off to a good start and keep the big crowd as quiet as possible.
Look for the top defensive pairing of Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan Allen to go head to head with the Rangers top line of Martin Straka, Chris Drury and Jaromir Jagr. It will not always be easy for Jacques Martin to get the match-up he wants as the Rangers are the home team and have the final change.
There is a good chance that you will be able to tell the winner of this game by the number of penalties each team takes. If the Panthers let the high powered Rangers play a man up too often the outcome will not be a happy one for Florida fans. Taking fewer penalties and drawing more has been a focus of the coaching staff during camp.
Here's how the Cats will line-up up front to start the 07-08 season:
Peltonen Jokinen Stumpel
Olesz Weiss Horton
Campbell MacLean Dvorak
Booth Kreps Globke
Gametime is 7pm, actually 7:15 with the pregame MSG ceremonies, so we will have some time to introduce you to the new Panthers and talk to Jacques Martin live on the bench on our FSN Florida broadcast. Denis Potvin and I hit the air, in high definition at 7 sharp!
Until next time...
9.29.07, 11:37 AM :::: Bring On The Season
And at last a big sigh of relief...
The pre-season is over, and unlike New Jersey, Tampa Bay, Ottawa and others, the Panthers are free from the major injuries. Combine that with the team’s first winning exhibition record since 2000, all eyes are now fixed on the Big Apple for Thursday's season opener against the Rangers.
The Cats have had some bumps and bruises with Mike Van Ryn (groin) and Rostislav Olesz (wrist) but avoided any significant injury. The pre-season games went well despite losing the last two games to Atlanta.
For the most part the team's line-up is set. The competition for final roster spots and playing time in the regular season during camp was tougher this year. That shows better depth in the minors. Just think. That camp competition will be even tighter next season with Shawn Matthias
, Michael Frolik, Kendall McArdle and others knocking on the NHL door.
But those stories are way down the road.
The focus now is on getting off to a strong start. After Thursday at New York the next four games are against the Devils and Lightning, with three of those games in Sunrise. Chances are the Panthers, Jersey and Tampa ALL
won't make the playoffs so the importance of these early season games should not be minimized. Gaining points early in the season is like putting money into your 401k. It may not seem like all that much at the time but boy does it come in handy later on!
I will have more from NYC Wednesday and Thursday.
Until next time...
9.23.07, 3:21 PM :::: Hockey's Officially Back
The excitement continues to build towards the start of the Panthers season. Back from the road, the Cats play games at home Tuesday at Noon and Wednesday at 7:30. It will be good to see the familiar faces of Jokinen, Horton, Weiss, Bouwmeester and Van Ryn. I, however, will have a watchful eye on the new Panthers.
My thought is this...for the most part we know what to expect from the guys that have been here. Sure a Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss
or Rostislav Olesz could score 5-10 goals more this season but we at least have an idea of what they will do. The wild cards are the first time Panthers.
*Will Richard Zednik score 12 or 25 goals?
*Can Radek Dvorak be a PK ace add that needed speed to the line-up and help the team reduce it's penalties taken?
*Can Brett McLean be a heart and soul guy that leads on and off the ice?
*Will Cory Murphy be the power play quarterback the team has hoped to find for years?
*The biggest question of all may be in net. Can the combination of Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson play at an elite level?
Of course, the answers to these questions are in the eyes of the beholder but there is reason to think many could turn out in the Panthers favor.
Assuming the Cats get repeat performances from the veterans the team needs some positive contributions from newcomers to win one more game per month. That would add up to 12 more points and the Panthers reaching the playoffs. One thought is that Vokoun could steal a half dozen games on his own. He is a top level goalie and I think Anderson could make a name for himself in the dozen or so games he starts. These 2 should be a well above average tandem.
Cory Murphy is an intriguing story. If you run into him around town you would never think he plays in the NHL. But what he doesn't have in physical stature he makes up for with skill, smarts and maybe most importantly, desire. At 29 years old Murphy finally reaches the NHL after not being drafted out of Colgate. Too small they said. After lighting it up in Finland, the defenseman chose the Panthers over 8 other teams that contacted him. If he can run the power play, the Panthers will have a huge advantage over past seasons.
Zednik, Dvorak and MacLean can skate and all have something to prove.
5 new players will play key roles on this team. If 2 of them, Vokoun and Murphy, max out on their production and the other 3 contribute an average amount, we should have hockey in South Florida past the first week of April.
Broadcasting notes...our first TV game on FSN Florida is next Thursday, October 4th at Madison Square Garden. Panthers vs. Rangers in high definition at 7pm. It doesn't get any better than that!
This Saturday, the 29th at 4:30 FSN presents the Panthers season preview show. Tivo or tape it if you can't see it on Saturday.
And on radio, catch Panthers Unrestricted on 790AM TheTicket every Saturday until the season ends at 9AM.
Hockey is officially back! Until next time...
8.24.07, 9:47 AM :::: ANOTHER PIECE OF THE PUZZLE
Another piece of the Panther puzzle is now in place. Stephen Weiss
is a South Floridian and Panther for the next 6 years, joining Nathan Horton (6 years), Bryan Allen (5), Olli Jokinen (3), Tomas Vokoun (4), Brett MacLean(3), Mike Van Ryn (3) and Ruslan Salei (3) as Panthers with long term contracts. Jay Bouwmeester, under contract for this season, is likely next in long term deal parade. (the team has been locking up so many players I hope I did not forget anyone!) Others like Radek Dvorak, Richard Zednik and Craig Anderson are in for 2 years.
Once again, this franchise is putting its money on the table and building a winning team not just for a year or two but for the long term. That is a huge key in the "new NHL". Players are free agents earlier than ever and that will continue to be the case. Instead of waiting and getting stuck not being able to afford to keep your players, the Panthers are stepping up now, basically paying players for what they will do, not for what they have done. It is a philosophy that takes confidence in your hockey decision makers' evaluation skills and ownership willing to write the checks. The Panthers have both working for them. In this day and age in sports, player movement is commonplace. Panther fans have the luxury of knowing who will be on their team.
Weiss had his best season last year with 20 goals and playing a full season. He has had injury trouble in previous seasons and everyone hopes all of that is behind him now. Perhaps more importantly, Weiss stepped up in the off ice/leadership department. As the season went on he became a player that others looked at as a team leader, and that is as important as is on ice production. He really is just getting his career going and is a solid 2nd center behind Olli Jokinen. Weiss will likely center Nathan Horton and newcomer Richard Zednik. Nothing is set in stone, but if those 3 are together at the Garden on October 4th, I will be watching closely. Zednik is not afraid to get his nose dirty and is very strong on his skates. He would compliment Horton and Weiss nicely. (It's great we are close enough to the season to discuss these things again!)
Speaking of Jokinen and Horton...I have seen both of them on numerous occasions this summer. Let me just say this...I wouldn't want to fight either one of them! Both are in great shape. Jokinen has a Tiger Woods type physique...I have to find out what he did (not that I would be able to do it!). Horton is stronger than ever. It doesn't guarantee on-ice success but it will certainly help those guys. More importantly, it shows the commitment they have going into this season. Mike Van Ryn told me, "everyone is so excited...there is a different feeling this year."
One final note...it is personally and professionally exciting to have Bill Lindsay back with the Cats. He is one of the all time fan favorites and still holds the distinction of scoring the biggest goal in Panther history. He will follow his career hopes of being a broadcaster as Lindsay joins Randy Moller on the radio call on 790 The Ticket this season. It's nice to see the team reach back to those glorious early years of the franchise. Team history is an important part of sports and it is good to see the organization recognize that with the alumni game this summer, and bring a guy like Lindsay back to the fold. Plus, he will be buying yours truly some dinners on the road so that never hurts!
Until next time...
8.01.07, 8:57 AM :::: THERE'S A BUZZ AROUND
The calender says it's August and that means we creep closer to the Panthers opener October 4th in New York.
The energy from the past weekend has me thinking hockey on these hot and humid summer days. The '96 Cats were back in town and the turnout for the alumni game was unreal! Nearly 12,000 ready with rats came to the rink to watch the "old" guys do their thing. It was great to see Mellanby, Jovo, Fitzgerald, and Lindsay back in Panther uniforms. Just so many players that we still hold a place for in our hockey hearts. Many of them are still in hockey at varying levels, which shows their smarts on the ice have carried over into their post playing days.
There was a buzz amongst the fans about the upcoming season as well. People were talking about Olli, Horton, and Vokoun. Training camp begins in just 6 weeks and there is a sense of expectations for this team. The early schedule is not easy and the Panthers will need to break camp ready to go come October. It is right around the corner Panther fans...we all just have to hang in there for a couple of months!
Until next time...