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The Florida Panthers World Tour – Coming to a Town near You

October 9th, 2009 2 comments

Yes, the Panthers have been around. Christopher Columbus would have been proud and impressed.

Winger David Booth recently designed a T-shirt that has been circling the locker room; to commemorate a flying preseason for the Cats.

It features a rock ’n’ roll style Panther on the front. And on the back side can be read: “Florida Panthers – World Tour 2009”.

Thereafter follows a list of dates and “gigs” that many an aspiring rock band might drool jealously upon:

9-12 Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia
9-15 Halifax, Nova Scotia
9-16 Ottawa, Ontario
9-17 Montreal, Quebec
9-18 Edmonton, Alberta
9-20 Calgary Alberta
9-22 Dallas, Texas
9-23 Sunrise, Florida
9-30 Tampere, Finland
9-30 Helsinki, Finland
10-2 Helsinki, Finland
10-3 Helsinki, Finland

Since then three more gigs have been added to the schedule due to popular demand:

10-9 Raleigh, North Carolina
10-10 Sunrise, Florida
10-12 Tampa, Florida

Suiting enough, this mini-tour ends on Columbus Day: Here’s to the memory of you Christopher and your stunning feat of mal-navigation!

 

Vokoun the Workhorse

 

With the Finnish excursion now firmly put to the books, the Panthers need to find their feet quickly. They have 3 games in 4 days to look forward to.

Goalie Tomas Vokoun in particular will have his stamina and resiliency tested as he looks to be playing one consecutive game after another.

With recently acquired back-up goalie Scott Clemmensen on leave, due to family matters, youngster Alexander Salak will be with on this tour as well. When Scott will return is still unknown and head coach Peter DeBoer has already said that Vokoun will be playing in these games whether Clemmensen returns or not.

Tomas Vokoun is of course no stranger to playing hefty minutes. He has always done so in the past and there is no use in confusing him now. Last campaign he also played in the opening five games of the season.

Vokoun strikes me as the kind of goalie that produces his best when he gets a lot of action. He doesn’t like standing or sitting around idly. The more the merrier for Tomas it seems and he’s getting his Christmas wishes early this year.

 

Some Early Question Marks

 

Otherwise the lineup looks relatively intact from Helsinki.

Center Steven Reinprecht got a shot off the skate in practice the other day, but X-rays showed no sign of any fracture. He will thus play tonight.

Whether or not another centerman, new signing Dominic Moore, will feature in any of these games is still unknown. The reason behind his delay in linking up with the team is VISA issues. As soon as they are resolved he’ll join and likely be thrown straight in to the fray by Coach DeBoer.

If Moore does arrive before tonight’s game or any of the other two, it will likely mean that defenseman Ville Koistinen won’t be utilized as a makeshift forward on the fourth line. If he’ll return to the blueline or be made to sit out the game(s) is not yet clear.

It would likely be either Koistinen or rookie Dmitry Kulikov that would be made redundant for the time being when Dominic joins the lineup. But knowing DeBoer he’ll likely be shuffling things around as soon as results aren’t forthcoming; so it may be a very brief spell on the sidelines in that case.

It is also worth noting that the Panthers have announced the signing of 23 year old right winger Victor Oreskovich on a two-way deal.

Oreskovich is a player that Peter DeBoer knows well from the juniors and he’ll be assigned to the Rochester Americans of the AHL. Victor was originally a third round draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche. This offseason he attended Florida’s training camp and also featured in four preseason games.

 

Boxed In at Carolina

 

Looking closer at that game in Carolina versus the Hurricanes it would seem that the Panthers are in for a tough matchup. The Cats may have won their last game in Raleigh 5-0, but that was in all honesty before the Canes got together as a team and started to click last campaign.

It is likely to be a much tighter affair this time around.

During the week the Panthers have been working hard on special teams and coverage assignments in the defensive zone. Both of which were Achilles heels in the opening head-to-head with Chicago. With a spanking new defensive corps these issues are predictable to occur in the early going.

The best way to minimize the threat of opposing man-advantages however is, as it always has been, to stay out of the box.

Carolina have a good enough team to punish Florida if the Cats again can’t play fair; as the Blackhawks did in game two.

And knowing your defensive assignments, well, that’s just basic hockey ABC. Give it a few games and some practice and that should not need to be a continued issue.

The Hurricanes meanwhile have also started the new season in a wobbly fashion: Losing 0-2 and 2-7 to the Flyers and Bruins respectively. They then rallied to trump the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 2-1 shootout victory on Tuesday.

Both teams should be rested and well prepared for this game, having not played in the last 3 and 6 days respectively. That does however also make the game a highly unpredictable one. It’s hard to see which team will show up with the greater hunger and will to win.

I think this will be a tense game that will go down to the buzzer.

With both teams likely to have stressed defense in practice, due to both having a hard time to keep opposing forwards out of their zone, I’m sure that emphasis will shine through in the game as well.

However, with Carolina having a record of 15-2-0 at home against Florida since Feb. 16, 2004; they must be seen as the favorites to clinch the points in the end analysis.

 

Selling Out

 

The next day the Panthers go home to play their first home game. Outside of Finland that is…

The New Jersey Devils continue their three game road trip and make a visit. Tickets have been selling fast and the Bank Atlantic Center is expected to be a complete sellout.

After having lost their initial two home games of the season, the Devils travelled to Tampa and made an astonishing last second push in regulation to tie the game and eventually win the contest. Again the Lightning lost in a shootout.

It would seem the shootout curse has now switched over to Florida’s west coast. Good riddance!

The New Jersey Devils is as always a tricky customer. With Martin Brodeur between the pipes you can never be assured to score. The Panthers players are also likely to arrive with tired legs in this contest; after having played in North Carolina the previous evening.

Nonetheless, with the B.A.C. packed with hopeful fans there can be no excuses.

The Cats need to display some sharp claws and dig deep for a memorable performance. With the fragile fanbase that exists here; every big crowd turnout is a new chance to redeem the club and gain some new followers in the process.

The importance of this game for Florida can hence not be stressed enough.

 

“Tampa Bay Lightning is a Box of Chocolates; you never know what you’ll get”

 

I don’t think it was Columbus that uttered those words, but it is to him we now return.

For the Panthers he’ll make an appearance in Tampa Bay this coming Monday, on Columbus Day. It will be a symbolic way to end the long preseason tour and early campaign as the Panthers thereafter get some rest (until next Friday’s game versus the Flyers) and then return to the regular season grind.

With five regular games under the belt we should be in a much better position to judge what this year’s reincarnation of the Cats hold in store.

Before we come to that point however we have the Floridian derby against the Lightning, a game that will be contested by fierce cross state rivals. Although prior to the game against the Panthers, the Bolts have a chance to redeem their early season woes against Carolina on Saturday.

So far, after three games, it is fair to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning have not got off to the start they were hoping for.

Much was expected of Tampa Bay for this season in terms of overall on-ice improvement. This has yet to come to fruition and they remain winless to this point.

To me it seems that the Bolts last season put all their efforts into their forward compartment; with the end result of the team becoming unbalanced. This summer therefore, the management focused solely of the upgrade of the defensive corps.

However, the rising evidence seems to suggest this has only led to a new imbalance; with 9 defenders battling for icetime.

It is hard to understand this logic. But we all know the Tampa Bay Lightning organization work in strange ways. Who am I to question their reasoning?

I’m probably too conservative. I like the idea of balancing the team, whilst at the same time I detest the idea of letting players sit on the bench rolling their thumbs without playing any competitive games. But hey, I’m sure they know what they are doing… Right?

Anyway, the Panthers often find the Bolts to be a tricky opponent to unlock. And it being a derby game; one never knows how things will unfold.

This could go either way.

Nonetheless, I do dare wager that the Lightning will struggle this season if they do not address the glaring issue of imbalance. A couple of trades are likely necessary to rectify the problem: The sooner the better for the team and its fans in western Florida.

As for the Panthers, we will not get anything for free this season. Yet, the team is being slowly molded into Coach Peter DeBoer’s own image. And if the players can display his level of competitiveness, never-say-die attitude and directness, we should be fine.

It is a long road to travel however, and while the Florida Panthers players may feel like they’ve already circumvented the Earth a couple of times; truth is that the real journey starts today…

Tender Goalie Issues

October 6th, 2009 2 comments

The season may only have begun, but that doesn’t mean players are immune from criticism in the early going. Always in the line of fire are the goaltenders; where one bad game can be enough to have the fans clambering all over their back. Ask Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala – for whom it only took four periods before patience ran thin.

The notoriously fickle fans in Toronto haven’t exactly been enamored with the Finns early displays and, despite Vesa still recovering from hip and groin surgery in the off-season, he has found little sympathy from the many vociferous hockey fanatics north of the border. With promising NHL rookie Jonas Gustavsson waiting in the wings, the call has rung out for the Swedish ‘Monster’ to be the No.1 – in Toskala’s place.

In the 6-4 defeat against the Caps, the Finn got the hook in favor of the Swede after the first period and now Head Coach Ron Wilson has decided to go with Gustavsson in-between the sticks in tonight’s contest from the getgo – against their rivals the Ottawa Senators. This despite Wilson sticking up for his current No.1 by stating that the defense had not helped the goalie with their poor defensive display, in the two opening defeats of the season.

Jonas has a lot of hype to live up to, as he was the most coveted netminder in the off-season, with several teams chasing his signature, before settling for Maple Land as his first NHL destination.

Having helped his former club Färjestad to the Swedish championship last season, he earned the nickname ‘the Monster’ in the process. That and the usual unrealistic hopes of the Toronto fans, leaves Gustavsson with a very big set of skates to fill tonight.

 

Keeping it in the Family

Due to family business, of an unknown sort, Panthers back-up goalie Scott Clemmensen has returned to his family home in Iowa. Whether he’ll be back in time for the next game against the Carolina Hurricanes is at this time not known. What is for certain is that the Cats management is not taking any chances and has recalled Alexander Salak from Rochester; after he was sent there just the other day.

 

One goaltender that has hit the new season running is last season’s Florida back-up goaltender Craig Anderson, nowadays plying his trade in Colorado as their No.1. In his first two contests he saved 73 of 74 shots as the Avs started the season on two winning feet. For his efforts Andy was awarded the opening week’s second star.

Maybe the Panthers will be left to rue his departure, if he can keep that kind of form going…

Stanley Cup ‘09 Predictions; Conference Semi Finals

April 30th, 2009 Comments off

In hindsight it seems I was not far off in my 1st Round predictions. A couple were spot on, whilst the ones I missed were tellingly the close series’, especially the 7 game ones were I picked the wrong game 7 winners on both occasions. Nonetheless, undeterred, perhaps even a bit encouraged, I shall here make my Conference Semi Final predictions too. So let’s start on the home front, in the East, where two Southeastern teams are holding the divisional flag high – despite its many critics (notably in the North)…

 

East

 

Boston Bruins vs. Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes have done very well to even be in this position, but question is: Can they do it again? Beating New Jersey in those closely fought seven game battles was impressive; I for one would have tipped the Devils to make it to another Stanley Cup Final, but the Carolinians obviously had other plans. Boston meanwhile made short shrift of the drunken centennial celebrators north of the border and swiftly disposed of its sorry corpse (can’t help but think the Panthers would have put up a sterner test for the Bruins than the Habs did).

Anyhow, Boston remains the Conference favorites and seems like a solid team without any real flaws, certainly none that has been obvious so far anyway, and the Canes will find it difficult to upset the buzzing B’s. It could still be a tight series, but I’m guessing most of the juice is gone from the sons of Raleigh and that the Bruins will be the main beneficiaries of that tight series against the Devils. It could even be a sweep, but the Carolinians are too good on home ice for that surely?

My Bet: Boston wins the series 4-1.

 

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

This should be a real dogfight and a series as close to impossible, as is possible(?), to predict. If however, as I think it will, this series goes all the way done the wire; the Penguins could have an edge in the fact that they played two games less that the Capitals in the opening round. Indeed, I think this may eventually tip the balance and present Pittsburgh with another crack at the not so coveted Conference Cup.

And in the name of consistency, (I didn’t, afterall, think the Caps would see off the Rangers in that seventh game), so I guess my hands are tied: The experience gained from last year, the superstars at their disposal and the extra rest from the first round will perhaps be enough to see the wobbly Penguins grab a spot in the Conference final. Yet, I have a feeling I might just be dreadfully wrong about this one… I guess we’ll see soon enough…

My Bet: Pittsburgh wins the series 4-3.

 

 

West

 

Detroit Red Wings vs. Anaheim Ducks

Anaheim really impressed when they saw off the President Trophy winners in the previous round and will now set their sights on the reigning Stanley Cup Champions from Detroit. Could it be another upset on the apple cart? Probably not…

The Detroit Red Wings showed their credentials when sweeping the floor of the Columbus New Jackets, and the players showed they have another level to reach in the playoffs, compared to regular season sludge; not least the experienced goalie Chris Osgood. There is plenty of pedigree in the Anaheim locker room also, but you need depth they don’t have to beat the Wings in a potential seven game series. It’s not enough with two superstar blueliners and a few other odds and ends to bypass Zetterberg, Datsyuk and C/O. It won’t be another sweep, but I’d be surprised if the Ducks pick up more than a couple of games from this battle.

My Bet: Detroit wins the series 4-1.

 

Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

As I predicted the Canucks made short shrift with the young Blues team, but the youngster from Chicago will pose a sterner test. Having seen off the brutes from Calgary, the Blackhawks have shown themselves to be legitimate contenders in their own right. Both teams have exceptional goaltending to fall back on and this will likely be a thriller series all the way. Perhaps the slight edge in experience that players such as Mats Sundin bring to the table will be that crucial extra ingredient in the end?

Remains to be seen what wins this series for the victorious team, but if I have to pick one… it would have to be the Canucks. Home ice advantage and some added veteran leadership makes them seem like a slightly healthier contender than the Hawks of Chicago. It will be a much anticipated series however and one worth watching more closely as it evolves and progresses.

My Bet: Vancouver wins the series 4-3.

Stanley Cup ’09 Predictions, 1st Round of 16

April 15th, 2009 Comments off

A mere few minutes prior to the first puck dropping in anger, in the Stanley Cup 2009 Playoffs, I shall dare a preliminary prediction of what will unfold in the first Round of 16. Ready to eat my words in a week or two; here is my initial bet:

 

East

Boston vs. Montreal

What a match-up! Two rivals going head-to-head in the first round. Montreal celebrating 100 years; whilst Boston celebrates winning the Eastern Conference, this year. It will most likely be a tough series with sparks flying. However, Boston has, in my view, the upper hand both when it comes to physical strength and overall quality – and last but not least – goaltending.

My bet: Boston wins the series 4-1.

 

Washington vs. NY Rangers

Will the offensive prowess of the Capitals trump the gritty grinding Rangers down? I think that this will be a game that goes all the way down the wire, but the New Yorkers superior goaltending in the form of Henrik Lundqvist may very well be the difference in the end.

My bet: NY Rangers win series 4-3.

 

New Jersey vs. Carolina

Two teams similar in many ways and with plenty of tools to make a concerted run in the playoffs. However, one of them must be eliminated and odds are it will be fellow Southeasterners Carolina which is forced to fold in the end. Considering both sides have superb goaltending, it will be many close games, probably with a few overtime victories that will be decisive. My guess is that the Devils have the extra manpower and grit to grind down the Hurricanes.

My bet: New Jersey win series 4-3.

 

Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia

A resurgent Penguins side should have the quality to see of a Flyers side that lack either good goaltending or a solid defense. Too many penalties from their aggressive style brand of hockey – could also be costly if the Pittsburgh superstars are given too much room to operate in. Pittsburgh is a dark horse in this year’s Stanley Cup and will be a threat to anyone in the East anyway. Should be able to see off Philadelphia rather comfortably in the end – although it may hurt along the way…

My bet: Pittsburgh win series 4-1.

 

West

San Jose vs. Anaheim

Probably the one team the Sharks didn’t want to meet and the one they could have problems seeing off in the end. The power of a resurgent Ducks’ side is not to be underestimated. Although, I can’t quite see the President Trophy winners being eliminated in the first round, they could come too close for comfort.

My bet: San Jose win series 4-3.

 

Detroit vs. Columbus

So, Columbus finally made it to the postseason, aye? Well, hope they enjoyed the ride up until this point; because it’s likely to be a case of “here, but no further”. The reigning Stanley Cup champions should, despite a shaky penalty kill and goaltending, have enough juice to see off the Jackets. Might be a spill or two along the way, but this should be one for the bank.

My bet: Detroit win series 4-1.

 

Vancouver vs. St. Louis

Like their fellow Central Division foes Columbus, St. Louis will be thrilled to be in a playoff at all, but are unlikely to progress – despite an impressive end to the regular season. Could be a premature closing stage for the Blues, after a mere four games played, but that would be too cruel wouldn’t it?

My bet: Vancouver win series 4-0.

 

Chicago vs. Calgary

This is likely to be the most interesting game from a neutrals perspective. Chicago are a young up-and-coming side that have done exceptionally well to get this far and in the manner they have achieved their success. Calgary made the biggest splash on transfer deadline day by acquiring the old Panther captain Olli Jokinen. Whether he’ll be the Flames’ answer to playoff success I’ll leave unsaid, but at least the guy gets to play in the playoffs once… Would expect the grit and strength of Calgary to be the tipping point somewhere along the road in this series, question is if skill and style can overcome muscle hockey and cause what, despite ranking, must be seen as an upset. I don’t think so, but I hope I’m wrong…

My bet: Calgary win series 4-2.

Tonight Is the Night

April 7th, 2009 1 comment

To be honest I doubted we’d be here – with three games left and having a, not great, but good shot at the playoffs – yet here we are and tonight is one of those nights where things could essentially, although not mathematically, be decided.

Deciding – it would almost certainly be if the Panthers lost and the NY Rangers beat Montreal in the ‘Garden’. However, if we win – we’re still in it. But what a game to win! Away to Philadelphia… One of the toughest, literally, home teams in the league. Yes, we beat them there on March 26th, so its definitely possible, but will lightning really strike twice?

As this the final week began yesterday, some good news came to Florida’s aid as Montreal dropped a 2-1 lead and lost at home to Ottawa 2-3, in no small part thanks to Dany Heatley; who scored twice to turn the game on its head. The Habs looked all but set to claim a playoff berth, but with injuries to key defenders Andrei Markov and Mathieu Schneider, their powerplay has fallen like a house of cards (having previously scored 50% of the teams goals in its recent resurgence). Considering this, despite having a three point advantage on both Rangers and Panthers, the Canadiens have every right to be worried and looking over their collective shoulders.

Another piece of good Floridian news, was that Buffalo also lost at home. Perhaps more of an expected defeat as they hosted the Detroit Red Wings; who have won 16 out of the last 18 games versus the Sabres. No change to that woeful statistic as the Wings came away with a 4-1 win on the night. Detroit seemed to be in a constant powerplay as they utilized an unusual tactic by placing a player in front of goalie Ryan Miller at all times when attacking – whether 5on5 or on the powerplay. Odd, but effective it seemed as the Sabres scrambled for an answer to the unwanted offensive presence of Detroit’s power-forwards on the edge of the crease.

So, with Buffalo effectively out of the race, it’s now a three horse sprint. Florida competes with the NY Rangers and the limping, yet leading, Montreal Canadiens. It should be a thrilling rush of emotion and hockey desperation down this stretch!

And in the playoff chasing, last week of regular season, possibly no night will be of more importance than tonight.

Montreal travel to New York for a crucial head-to-head battle with the Rangers. Panthers’ fans will be hoping that this contest will finish a two point game and not a three point affair. But, whoever comes out on-top of that fight; Florida still need to take care of their own business – first and foremost. A point will be of absolute necessity, and most likely – unless Rangers lose – nothing but a victory will suffice in such a tight race. Not an easy task, but it should be enough motivation for the Cats to bring their A-game to the rink.

Shame only that the game isn’t aired on local television… but for those that have NHL Center Ice – at least you’ll have an exciting game to look forward to….

 

Lastly, a little note about the Florida Panthers being in the limelight as of late.

Our plight and search for some post-season action has not gone unnoticed around the hockey world. I’ve seen several articles – ranging from Canada to Sweden – that focus on the Panthers and our hunt for a playoff spot. Most articles focus on our nine years on the outside looking in, the inconsistency of the teams’ play this year and coach DeBoer’s optimistic statements that the club will make the playoffs. Meanwhile, Keith Ballard’s hipmongous-check of Evgeni Malkin is catching headlines and burning up at YouTube (see it below in previous post!)

The Panthers have become a bit of the “forgotten team” outside of South Florida, heck, even in South Florida; and suddenly people are realizing we have a hockey team here – that actually has a chance of achieving something. And more than one eyebrow is being raised, both on this and the opposite side of the North Atlantic, let me tell you!

Nonetheless, the undertone is still a bit condescending and it seems few really believe we have what it takes. With our record, one can’t help but being a bit skeptic too. We the fans, know better than any outsiders ever will, the constant crushed hopes and disillusionment that goes with the package of being a Panthers fan; and probably none is more skeptic of our chances than we, right?

Anyway, at the end of the day, all we can do is hope for a miracle – that somehow we’ll make the post-season. And tonight I’ll be holding my thumbs for a victory in Philly. Oh how sweet that would be….

Hit of the Season: Ballard sends Malkin in to Cosmic Revolution and gives “Sid the Kid” a Noseburn

April 6th, 2009 2 comments

Keith Ballard single-handedly won the game for the Florida Panthers yesterday with two key-moments at the end of the first period. With the game locked at one and the Penguins circling Florida’s wagon-like-defense, getting shots off in bunches at Vokoun, Keith stepped up at the blue-line and sent Evgeni Malkin spinning in to a seemingly never-ending cosmic revolution – off a monstrous hip-check that Malkin won’t ever forget.

[Video] The Russian star not only experienced weightlessness for a moment, but was also sent spinning right through the center of our Universe; through its supermassive black hole of pending darkness – before crashing out the other side – plummeting head-first onto the unforgiving ice in Sunrise, Florida. No wonder Malkin looked dazed and confused mere moments later as he checked his vital signs to see if indeed he was still on planet Earth or had left for pastures unknown….[/Video]

See this outrageous hip-check below and marvel in Evgeni’s somersault! Also see Ballard noseburning Crosby after the latter’s juvenile retaliation reaction!!

 


 

Penguins captain Sid “the Kid” reacted babyishly by squaring up to Ballard and instigating a fight. It’s ridiculous that a clean hit should command a fight every time, but that’s how the NHL works these days and until someone puts a stop to that childish like-for-like mentality, we’ll just have to live with it. Keith is no stranger to immature responses, having recently received one from Philadelphia’s own coward in residence Scott Hartnell – the previous week on a similar good hip-check on the toddler in question.

Ballard stood up as he always does; defended himself and gave Crosby a sore noseburn for his efforts.

The hit sparked the 18000+ crowd no end and put some zest back in to the Panthers’ zeal. They came out a changed team in the second and dominated the rest of the game; winning 4-2 in the end. And Crosby and Malkin? They disappeared into a corner somewhere and licked their ego’s – as in the remaining contest they were virtually invisible.

 

A Positive Line

April 3rd, 2009 1 comment

Three straight and rather unexpected victories – after the preceding poor spell – have brought the Panthers back into playoff contention. It’s back to scoreboard watching! And as claimed in my previous post it is the Rangers, and not the Canadiens, we should be eyeing. The New Yorkers have the tougher schedule of the two and the shoddier form at the moment. This breakdown was confirmed yesterday as both teams were in action.

The Montreal Canadiens secured two points by beating bottom dwellers NY Islanders comprehensively 5-1. The Habs now jump into seventh, much thanks to their greatly improved powerplay – which yesterday resulted in 3 goals. Since Mathieu Schneider re-joined Montreal and Saku Koivu returned to good health; the Habs powerplay has suddenly become lethal and free-scoring. Just at the right time too!

This while the Islanders may not shed any tears for their loss against the Canadiens – after all – what’s losing a game if it hurts your worst rivals’ chances of success? Together with a third period collapse by the Rangers themselves in Raleigh, it means the New Yorkers are down to eighth – only two points ahead of the Panthers, who have a game in hand.

Florida could finally count on some help and surprisingly it came from our Southeastern rivals Carolina. The Hurricanes caught the Rangers napping in the final period and scored two unanswered goals to win the contest 4-2. The win means Carolina have won seven in a row – overall – and the last ten home games; a new franchise record.

Winning at home is what the Panthers will be seeking to do tonight. With the NY Rangers in striking distance; the game against the Atlanta Thrashers becomes all the more important.

But, here’s a warning; don’t underestimate the Georgians! They have acted as spoilers in the latter part of the season and have done it very well; scoring goals in bunches and upsetting may-a-team down the stretch. Last it was the Sabres that lost in a shootout that effectively ended their realistic claims for a playoff spot. Atlanta would love to do the same to the Cats…

So, while the Florida Panthers have been handed a lifeline by the NY Rangers’ loss, it will mean nothing if we lose tonight. It’s all hands on deck, keep shuffling those boards and pumping shots at goal!

The Cats now the secret to their own success and it is all about team-play and hard work. Step away from that proven line of success and the Thrashers will burn us, make no doubt. This is all a mental game at this stage of the competition and the Panthers need to show some poise and gusto – to pick up the spoils from this contest.

Trickier games are around the corner; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington, so the Atlanta games are indeed must-win contests….

A New Way To Score Goals

March 26th, 2009 Comments off

Just push in the goalie, after he’s made the save. That’s the way to do it! Or at least it’s what the refs thought in Toronto, when the Leafs faced the Caps last. And here’s proof below:

And Gerber has now been suspended for 3 games for bumping the ref who allowed this outrageous goal. But can you blame him for being upset?

It’s nice to see the NHL sticks to some of their rules, the suspension is an automatic one, but shouldn’t this be reviewed further as well by the NHL? Is this the message they want to send out to players? Push the goalie in and you’ve got yourself a goal.

I really, really, hope not.

Tuukka Rask Meltdown

March 26th, 2009 Comments off

And so it has been the story with the refs as of late. Some skinny calls on the ice, and you can always count on those goalies to react!!

Rask, the future of Bruins goal tending, has a meltdown on the ice.

Now, the question is, should this incident go to video review to have a closer look? I mean, I could swear that one of those goals was a rebound … which is shameful for a ref to allow. In my opinion, it shouldn’t matter what level it is – NHL, AHL – rules are rules. What do you think?

Eastern Misfortunes

March 10th, 2009 1 comment

David Booth came alive on Saturday and scored his second hattrick of the season; helping Florida to a much needed 5-3 home success over the St. Louis Blues. Due to the teams around us in the playoff race continually winning their respective games, the match against the Blues suddenly had become a must-win contest. And what do you know; despite that victory we again face a similar situation and will need to leave Pittsburgh with at least a point – if we are not to drop out of the top eight of the Eastern Conference!

The Panthers will face a Pittsburgh side that is finally starting to look like the team that won the Eastern Playoff last year and gave Detroit a run for their money in the Stanley Cup Final. The despondent, emotionally uninvolved Penguins have gone and with new Coach Dan Bylsma it is a reinvigorated side that looks playoff bound. And as they return from a record winning trip, six consecutive victories, the Pens will be a formidable foe for the Cats tonight.

 

Many battles for the puck in round #3 of the Penguins vs. Cats match-up, will be expected tonight.

Many battles for the puck in round #3 of the Penguins vs. Cats match-up, will be expected tonight.

 

Life doesn’t get any easier at this time of year, in that hectic playoff race, either. The teams around us not only strengthened their squads at the trade deadline (except Montreal, but most noticeably in New York with the Rangers), but have also have found their own winning concepts and are hitting a confident stride.

Meanwhile in Montreal, the centennial celebrations took a sour turn as Head Coach Guy Carbonneaux got the sack. General Manager Bob Gainey thinks he can do a better job and has taken over the reins. This may come as a shock to most of us, but you have to admire Bob’s arrogant sense of self-belief, don’t you…

The Panthers on the other hand are coming off a very difficult February schedule and need to get out of the .500 mire quickly and start hitting higher notes if they want to stay in the thick of things. Winning one and then losing one is not good enough (yet, that doesn’t mean I think Pete DeBoer should get the sack, so Jacques, just because they do that in Montreal – doesn’t mean you can do the same… ok?)

Having had a long road trip in the February-March divide, Florida returned to Sunrise for two games; the first one a 1-4 defeat to the Penguins and the other a 5-3 win against St. Louis. Now follows a short road trip where we face two rivals in the form of Pittsburgh tonight (again) and then Buffalo on Thursday. These two games could decide the Panthers season. With race being so tight, it is these match-ups between playoff rivals that become crucial.

On the one hand you could say that winning against Atlanta or Pittsburgh equally will only give you two points for the effort, but on the other hand – when defeating a playoff rival you are not only gaining two points – but also taking two points away from the opposition. Hence, these games essentially become four point contests.

So, if Florida wins both these games we’ll only get four points for the effort, but we’ll also be taking away vital points from Pittsburgh and Buffalo. And at the end of the season this may very well be the decider. Furthermore, if we win these games we’ll finally be breaking out of that .500 jog and getting the necessary sprint in the Panthers legs; to make the post-season.

However, if we lose these two games we’ll be in a very tough spot indeed; we’ll quickly find ourselves on the outside looking in. It won’t be impossible, but certainly very difficult to squeeze back in. Then again, we win one and lose one – and we’ll be back in current limbo at the end of the week too.

 

The Floridian Injury Bug

This task ahead of the Cats is a momentous one and it doesn’t get any easier when two key players go down with injury in the Blues game and can’t accompany the team on this crucial trip.

Bryan McCabe was hit by a puck in the face and fractured his orbital bone and underwent surgery on Monday. Despite this injury McCabe played some 20+ minutes in the game after the accident, which goes a long way in showing the immense character of the man. He’s the leader on the team and the crucial veteran presence we’d love to have for these two upcoming match-ups.

There is no news as of yet how long the injury will keep Bryan out of the line-up, except that he’ll miss the next two games.

 

Bryan McCabe is an inspirational veteran in defense and quarterback in the power-play. He'll be out with injury for the crucial two game road trip.

Bryan McCabe is an inspirational veteran in defense and quarterback in the power-play. He'll be out with injury for the crucial two game road trip.

 

The good news is that we have a very good defender that’s ready to jump in on McCabe’s spot; Nick Boynton. After his disciplinary problems, he’s been a healthy scratch of late, but before that Nick’s been a very solid defenseman on the Panthers team. McCabe will of course be missed on the power-play that he usually quarterbacks, but it will probably give new signing Steve Eminger a bit more of a chance to show what he can do in those situations.

Nathan Horton, who after a slow start in his new position as a centerman has really worked hard as of late, will now also be out through injury.

Apparently Nathan suffered a severed tendon on his left ring finger in the St. Louis game and had an operation to repair the injury. Reports say he’ll be out between 2 to 4 weeks; which could pretty much be the rest of the pre-playoff stretch, in a worst case scenario. But as coach Peter DeBoer said: “I’d think at this time of year it’s closer to two weeks, but it depends on complications.”

 

Nathan Horton will miss 2 to 4 weeks after surgery and his points will be sorely missed by the Panthers down the stretch.

Nathan Horton will miss 2 to 4 weeks after surgery and his points (38 so far) will be sorely missed by the Panthers down the stretch.

 

Horton will be sorely missed. He is third on the team with 38 points and has been centering the first line for most of the season. He also scored against St. Louis and looked like he was in good form. Anthony Stewart will be the player entering the line-up in his place, after having been a healthy scratch in the previous match, but it will be Brett McLean that’ll be moving up to center the line with Booth and Zednik on the wings. If McLean doesn’t work out in that position, coach Pete DeBoer could always try Kamil Kreps or Gregory Campbell in that spot, but it is expected that Brett will be given the chance first anyway.

 

Penguins vs. Cats, Round #3

The first two games between Pittsburgh and Florida have both been rather lopsided match-ups; although the first one was arguably more of a beating than the second one…

Back on January the 3rd, the Panthers travelled to the steel city on the heels of a disappointing loss to the NY Islanders. They left Pittsburgh with an inspiring 5-0 win and started the impressive January run that put the Cats in a favorable position now in midst of the March madness of playoff-race hockey.

Pittsburgh at that time looked like a punch-drunk fighter reeling on the ropes. It may very well have started the countdown on former Head Coach Michael Therrien’s job. He made some badly masked comments upon Sidney Crosby’s leadership ability prior to the game and things just got worse from that moment on for the Penguins. However, they managed to somehow stay in contention and with a new face behind the bench – they are now one of the hottest teams in the NHL once again.

With the appointment of Dan Bylsma as Head Coach, Pittsburgh travelled to South Florida the day after the trade deadline, and with new wingers Chris Kunitz and veteran Bill Guerin on either side of Crosby, they ran riot in the third period in Sunrise. It was 1-1 going in to that third, but then the Floridian wall fell in and the Penguins merrily tip-toed around on the ice and won the game, 4-1 (see below post for details).

Now the third round in this contest is set to follow tonight – with another game in Pittsburgh.

Hopefully the visitors-advantage will continue in to this game, but unfortunately the Cats probably can’t hope for any more gifts from the Penguins this year. It will be a tough game for sure and we’ll probably need some luck to get away with a couple of points; but with hard work and determination it is definitely possible.

Either way, this will essentially be playoff hockey – already – and a game to look forward to with equal measures of hope and anxiety for Panther fans.