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Raising Their Compete Levels

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers head coach Peter DeBoer, center, watches in the second period as the Panthers were down 5-1 against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL hockey game in Sunrise, Fla. Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009. Panthers center Nathan Horton, second from right, and center Steve Reinprecht, right. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
By Dave Joseph for

CORAL SPRINGS – A little more than 12 hours after getting beaten and bruised by the Sabres at BankAtlantic Center, the Panthers were reacquainted with the art of competing hard in the corners, along the boards, and in front of the net.
Coach Peter DeBoer worked his players through drills Thursday morning at incredible ICE that had the crease, goal line and corners crowded with bodies; half upright and half crashing to the ice.
“We weren’t happy with our compete level (Wednesday) or preparation or readiness to play,” said DeBoer, referring to the Panthers 5-2 loss to the Sabres. “I think we delivered that message today as a staff. I think the players know that. No one is ducking responsibility.”
Defenseman Keith Ballard, benched during Wednesday’s second period, admitted he has struggled this year and reiterated DeBoer’s comment that their performance Wednesday was inexcusable.
“Especially at home,” Ballard said. “People pay money to see us play. That was embarrassing.”
Despite their performance Wednesday – one that allowed five goals in the first period and two in the opening two minutes - this is the same Panther team that rallied back to beat the Flyers 4-2 four days previously. So while no one was happy with Wednesday’s performance, no one was screaming through the halls with their hands over their heads.
“The reality is we’re seven games into an 82 game schedule and you’re going to have periods during the season like this,” DeBoer said. “The fact that it’s right off the bat magnifies it for us because of our history (of poor starts). But it’s way too early to be panicking.”
The Panthers had their chances to crawl back into Wednesday’s game. But during a 5-on-3 man advantage (for 1:02) when trailing 3-0, the Panthers could only muster one shot on Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. The Panthers failed to convert on five consecutive power plays.
“We had some power play opportunities and unfortunately we didn’t capitalize on them,” said Steven Reinprecht, who has scored goals in consecutive games. “I think that was the story of the night. We didn’t execute our game plan whether it was on special teams or during (full strength).”
DeBoer said it’s more than just following a plan.
“You can draw up all the x’s and o’s you want and all the systems you want, but if you’re not going to out-battle the guys across from you for the puck, or get your nose dirty…that’s a huge part of the game,” he said. “Every team in this league is prepared from a system and x’s and o’s point of view. From there it’s execution and compete level, and we weren’t very good in either department.”
Clearly, the Panthers need to make some changes. They have to get into what defenseman Bryan McCabe called earlier in the week “those dirty areas.” They also need to start games with more urgency. They’ve been outscored in the first period 11-2 so far this season.
It will have to start this weekend with games on the road Friday against Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh and Saturday in Philadelphia. Both are pivotal games. The Penguins are 8-1 and have outscored their opponents 33-19. Sidney Crosby will be celebrating his 300th NHL game Friday. The Flyers, after playing one game in 11 days, will be playing their second of three games in four days when they meet the Panthers.
“It will be nice to get back on the horse and try to put this one behind us,” said Reinprecht.. “Both games will be good tests. They’re both really good teams and we’re going to have to be at the top of our game.”
The Panthers have been in this spot before. After opening last season with an 8-11-2 record, they made some changes including trading Wade Belak for Nick Tarnasky. The Panthers went the rest of the regular season 33-19-9.
It’s a safe bet the Panthers won’t wait 21 games this year for things to change.

DeBoer said he wouldn’t name a goaltender until Friday morning. Scott Clemmensen, who stopped 25 of 27 shots against the Flyers, was pulled from Wednesday’s game after allowing two goals on three shots in the first two minutes. DeBoer reiterated Thursday Clemmensen wasn’t pulled because of his play but rather to try and “shock” the team into competing harder.
“We weren’t prepared to play, it was not the start we wanted,” he said. “At that point we tried to shock them into playing. You have a couple options. You can call a timeout and scream and yell; we did some screaming and yelling in the Philadelphia game. That’s not something you can do every night. I made a decision to change goalies and, hopefully, shock something into them, but that didn’t work, either.”

The Panthers won’t see Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who’s expected to be miss up to six weeks with a broken wrist…The Flyers will start backup goalie Brian Boucher either Saturday against the Panthers or Sunday against San Jose. The Flyers play at Boston Thursday night…You don’t need a crystal ball to believe Panthers rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov will likely stay with the Panthers rather than be returned to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The 18-year-old led all Panther players Wednesday with 24 minutes of ice time, including 4:28 on the power play. Kulikov is fifth among all rookies in average ice time with 18:21. 
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