Game Day Preview: Lightning vs. Panthers. There’s No Where We Can Hide

GAME DAY SONG: DEMONS by Imagine Dragons

This is not so much of a preview as it is more of a brief analysis of the Florida Panthers after their frustrating 3-1 loss to Buffalo Friday night.  With a record of 3-7-1, the Panthers could easily be 7-3-1 if not for a few bad bounces, a few missed scoring opportunities, and of course a full 60 minute effort.  Let’s not forget running into a hot goaltender here and there as well.  Friday night’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres has to be one of the most aggravating losses this franchise has seen in recent memory.  The Panthers controlled the entire first period by outshooting and outplaying the lowly Sabres, and took a 1-0 lead into intermission.  But we’ve seen this scrmipt before, and the ending is usually the same. The next 40 minutes the Panthers did what I mentioned in my game day preview that they shouldn’t do……they gave the Sabres an ounce of hope, and Buffalo used it to score three unanswered goals (one an empty netter) and leave with only their second win of the season.

The Panthers recorded 45 shots on goal against backup Jhonas Enroth who looked like a Vezina Trophy winner last night.  However, there were numerous scoring chances that the Panthers weren’t able to take advantage of.  Tomas Fleischmann, Shawn Matthias and Kris Versteeg all had glorious chances to score, but didn’t finish.  In all the Panthers took aim at Enroth a total of 79 times, but only 45 were counted as saves, as 17 were blocked, and 17 missed the mark.  The inability to capitalize on scoring chances, and the inability to find accuracy in their shots has plauged Florida like a bad fungus which won’t go away. Consistently being inconsistent isn’t a virtue to be proud of, and this Panthers’ team has been guilty of it far too long.  Coach Kevin Dineen is looking for answers:

“It’s a hard loss for us,” a sullen coach Kevin Dineen said. “At the end of it, we weren’t trading chance-for-chance. It was three or four then one against. It’s just the quality of that one chance against. .-.-.

“We’re still looking for that complete effort on both sides of the puck. We couldn’t crack that nut out there and that’s the frustrating part of the game.”

In addition, the Panthers who lack overall physicality have had trouble with their emotions at times.  Steve Ott, Buffalo’s co-captain, and known agitator, did his job Friday night by getting under the tatoo’s of Panther defenceman Erik Gudbranson.  The two dropped the gloves and danced a bit at the close of the first period, however the officials became involved immediately by doing their best to separate the two.  Both received five for fighting, and it was Gudbranson who received another five minute fighting major in the second period when he fought Cody McCormick just after Rasmus Ristolainen scored his first NHL goal, tying the game at one.  While I certainly don’t mind Gudbranson getting his hands dirty, the Panthers can ill afford to have one of their defencemen miss 10 minutes of ice time in less than 20 minutes of hockey.

The Panthers who were coming off a very solid performance against the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday, seem to be looking not only for an identity, but answers as to why they are struggling so much.  Kevin Dineen has tried so many line combinations already, he makes Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville look tame in doing so.  However, Dineen is attempting to send a message with the shuffling, but also he’s benched Scottie Upshall, and will bench Brad Boyes (the teams leading goal scorer) tonight for performance.  Dineen is most upset with the defence of Boyes, and is apparently willing to sacrifice his offence to teach the veteran a lesson.

One of the biggest flaws in their game right now is the lack of net presence both at even strength and on the power play.  Very little traffic has been generated in front of opposition goaltenders, and the opportunities for shots off of rebounds have been almost non existent.  Garbage goals as they are often called can make the difference in tighly battled contests.  Unless you’re in position to get them, they’ll never happen.

With four games under their belt on this current six game homestand the Panthers have a measly 3 points to show for it, despite the effort, which overall has been above average.  Yet it seems that there are times that the team is still learning when to step on the oppponent’s throat and close games out.  The balance of young and veteran players is fairly even, and it would appear that there is enough experience in the room, and on the bench to know what needs to be done.  There are times however, like Friday night that you wonder.  When the Panthers play a fancy game, it always catches up to them, and the mentality of pass first needs to go out the window.

Tampa comes to town after playing Buffalo Saturday night, and while you hope they might be suffering a bit from fatigue, Florida needs to worry about their own persona, and focus on getting the job.  Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis will give Florida enough to keep their hands full, and because of those two, defensively the Panthers best be on their toes.

The Panthers held a closed practice on Saturday at the BB & T Center, and had a closed door, players only meeting afterwards.  Both are signs of knowing that there’s a problem or set of problems that need to be fixed.  A victory tonight will go a long way in fixing whatever ails this team, yet you want to see it more consistently of course.  As winning one game won’t cure everything.  A loss, and depending on how the loss happens will only add to the frustration, and could potentially force something to happen.  What that something is the Panther brass will need to figure out.

Don’t forgot tonight’s game starts at 5:00 P.M.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

Follow the Panther Parkway crew on Twitter: Frank Rekas @FrankRekas, David Lasseter @davidlasseter , Paige Lewis @PaigeLewisFL, Jameson Cooper @JamesonCoop, and Amanda Land @HockeyGirl2530.  Also, please join our FaceBook Fan Page and hit the like button, send us photos, and tell us what’s on your mind.

Sean Bergenheim Earns Point in Return to Panthers After 18 Month Absence

Nearly 18 months since his last game with the Florida Panthers, forward Sean Bergenheim made his return to the lineup on Friday night against the struggling Buffalo Sabres.

Last seen in an NHL game during Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils, Bergenheim missed all of the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season and the first 10 games of this season while recovering from multiple lower-body injuries.

“It’s been a while, but I don’t feel that it’s been that long,” Bergenheim told Alain Poupart after the Panthers’ morning skate. “When I look at how many months it’s been since I played, I don’t feel that on the ice. I don’t feel it’s been that long. I’m really happy to be back. For sure, I missed this.”

Having earned a career-best 17 goals during the 2011-2012 season, and three goals and three assists in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Bergenheim’s scoring abilities should be a welcome addition to a Panthers team that currently sits near the bottom of team scoring in the NHL.

Luckily for the Panthers, Bergenheim didn’t take long to dust off the cobwebs and get back on the score sheet as a crisp pass to Jesse Winchester gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 13:58 in the first period.

“It wasn’t pretty, but it was great to see Bergy (Bergenheim) get in on it, especially so early on in the game,” Winchester said. “Hopefully he can build on that for the next one.”

Still adjusting back to the rigors of competitive hockey, Bergenheim played 6:33 through the first two periods of play while being eased back into the lineup by Panthers’ Head Coach Kevin Dineen. However, after looking impressive throughout the first two periods, Bergenheim briefly made his way off of the 4th line and earned a personal game-high 5:26 TOI during the 3rd period as the Panthers tried desperately to get puck past Sabres’ goaltender Jhonas Enroth who stopped a staggering 44 of 45 shots.

“I thought Bergy had a solid game”, said Dineen. “He made good solid plays and was in there creating offense. A lot of try and a lot of push, but unfortunately like the rest of us he couldn’t find the back of the net.”

Unfortunately for the Panthers, Bergenheim’s return to the lineup was not enough to spark the team to a much-needed victory as the Panthers fell to the Sabres 3-1 behind an astounding performance by goaltender Jhonas Enroth.

While it may be hard to continue to find silver linings for the Panthers as the losses continue to pile up, the addition of Bergenheim’s scoring ability and energy should help bolster the team’s struggling offense.

Bergenheim will look to build on his early success as the Panthers welcome their cross-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

Thanks for reading and we welcome your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Game Day Preview: Wild vs. Panthers. Including Thoughts On A Slow Start



Game Day Song: Adam Raised A Cain, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

With frustration building, and losses mounting, the intensity of today’s game day song expresses what many may feel. Not necessarily the words, but the tone.  After what could be called a valiant effort Thursday night against the Boston Bruins, the Florida Panthers came up short……again.  At some point you’d have to think that this Panthers’ team would be rewarded for their effort, yet there are too many problems that continually cause the end result.  You can pick anything from slow starts, to not burying chances, to sloppy defence, to playing a style that was meant more for the 90′s than now.  The bottom line is, the Florida Panthers continued inconsistency has to give at some point.  Add to that, it appears that each game that is lost, a new way of doing it evolves, and Thursday’s last minute goal by Boston’s Reilly Smith proved it.

Eight games into the young season, the Panthers are looking for answers that hopefully will be found on this current six game homestand, but if things don’t turn quickly, the season will begin to slip away.  Not that anyone has aspirations of making the playoffs, but if that isn’t at least your base objective, then what is?  The Panthers currently sit 13th in the Eastern conference, and 7th in the Atlantic division.  They’ve given up a conference worst 31 goals, and have scored only 18 themselves.  Players like Shawn Matthias, Brian Campbell, Scottie Upshall, and surprisingly Tomas Kopecky are all looking for their first goal of the season.  Campbell is already averaging 25 minutes of TOI, and looks as thought he’s trying to do too much.

Speaking of Campbell, the defence looks out of sorts most of the time, and even though head coach Kevin Dineen has tried numerous line changes with the forwards, he’s basically stuck with the same defensive pairings with the exception of sitting Ryan Whitney for Matt Gilroy.  It could be time for Dineen to take a look at some different combinations on the blueline. As for goaltending, Tim Thomas just returned from injury on Thursday and looked good overall after missing four games, but Jacob Markstrom hasn’t.  Early goals which plagued the youngster last season are still an issue, and big juicy rebounds which aren’t entirely his fault need to be reduced.  Not to be a “Debbie downer” this early into the campaign, Florida needs to find a formula for consistency that will give them success.  Even if it’s in little spurts, but the cliche’s have already become tiresome.

The Minnesota Wild come to town tonight riding a two game losing streak, but are 9-3-1 overall against the Panthers.  A team known for having a stingy defence, and usual solid goaltending, the NorthStars Wild are streaky at best this season themselves.  There must be a problem when Matt Cooke is tied for the team lead in scoring with six points, and Dany Heatley has yet to score a goal.  However Heatley, a former 50 goal scorer seems to be a mere shadow of himself lately, and his lack of scoring could indicate that he’s at the downside of his career.  At only 32 years old, one would hope that’s not the case, but Heatley needs to freewheel in order to be effective, and he may not have that opportunity in Minnesota.

Zach Parise leads in goals with 4, and for the money he’s earning he better.  Ryan Suter is Ryan Suter, but he’s averaging 29:00 minutes of ice time already.  Should that pace continue, he’ll likely collapse by Christmas, and become worthless the balance of the season.  These two players will determine the fate of this Wild team, and while Minnesota doesn’t scare or overpower you, their style of play is meant to be low scoring, and with very good goaltending from Josh Harding, they make you earn your wins.

Florida needs to find some sort of identity that will allow them to make some progress.  Taking things one game at a time is fine, but if there isn’t some improvement soon, we’ll be staring a top 3 draft pick in the face again.  The dump and chase style of play doesn’t work, or at least not for all four lines.  Brian Campbell is a puck moving defenceman, and he really should be moving the puck either himself more, or making more north-south passes.  The team has speed.  Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said so, yet it’s frustrating not seeing it.  The defence needs to be more aware, focusing on clearing players and pucks from the crease, and not allow as many second chances.  Less shots that are 55 feet away from the goaltender in honor of David Booth would be a welcomed sight as well.

At some point the players need to decide that playing a full 60 minutes is the only way they’re going to win.  Until they do, it’s going to continue to be a frustrating season.  Slow starts and cute plays both have contributed to the overall inconsistency, and until that is corrected, the frustration will continue.  It’s a long season, and even though the roster made some late training camp additions, the core of this team has played for a couple seasons.  The chemistry should be better.  Why it’s not is concerning.  This Minnesota team is beatable, but like any other game, the Panthers must work hard, stop the fancy shmancy, and play as a team.  They can’t continue trying to be something they’re not.

Final note, this will be the first game against his hometown team for Panther forward Nick Bjugstad.  Hopefully he’ll be able to make a lasting impression.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

Follow the Panther Parkway crew on Twitter: Frank Rekas @FrankRekas, David Lasseter @davidlasseter , Paige Lewis @PaigeLewisFL, Jameson Cooper @JamesonCoop, and Amanda Land @HockeyGirl2530.  Also, please join our FaceBook Fan Page and hit the like button, send us photos, and tell us what’s on your mind.

Late Goal Spoils Tim Thomas’ Big Night (Quotes)

Sunrise, Fla. — Over a year of controversy and anticipation came down to just the final 59 seconds of Thursday night’s game as a bouncing puck made its’ way past Panthers’ goaltender Tim Thomas to give his former team, the Boston Bruins, a heartbreaking 3-2 victory in front of a divided crowd at the BB&T Center.

Thomas, a longtime staple of the professional sports culture in Boston, suited up for the first time against the Bruins since his controversial decision to take a leave of absence following the 2011-2012 season. While with the Bruins, Thomas earned a  921 SV% / 2.48 GAA with a career record of 196-121-45 in 378 games played.

Based on his history with Boston - both positive and negative - it suffices to say that this wasn’t just a normal regular season matchup by any means for either party involved.

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Panthers Begin Crucial Six-Game Home Stand

Sunrise, Fla. — After losing five of their first seven games, the Florida Panthers will look to get back on the right track against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night as they begin a crucial six-game home stand at the BB&T Center. Amazingly, even with their early struggles this season, the Panthers don’t find themselves too deep in the cellar of the Eastern Conference standings just yet.

Coming off a 4-3 road loss to the Nashville Predators, the Panthers currently sit in 7th place in the newly formed Atlantic Division, but have yet to lose too much ground in the Eastern Conference standings as the Western Conference continues to dominate their eastern opponents in the early stages of this season’s inter-conference match-ups.

If the Panthers hope to amend the current course of their season, they will begin with the daunting task of besting last season’s Eastern Conference champions, the Boston Bruins.

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Game Day Preview: Penguins vs. Panthers. Always The Same




 After a week on the road, the Florida Panthers will finally come home to the friendly confines of south Florida and the BB & T Center to host the Pittsburgh Penguins for their home opener.  The only good thing about the four game road swing was game one, which the Panthers played a very complete game to beat Dallas 4-2.  Since then it’s been a downward sprial with losses to St. Louis, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.  It’s not only that the Panthers have lost three in a row, it’s the way they’ve lost, which has to leave a bad taste in their mouths.

The shellacking in St. Louis, and the beating received in Tampa surrounded a valiant effort In Philadelphia.  However, there is no column for effort, and things need to turn quickly.  The Panthers who have been outscored 16-3 in the three losses must tighten up their defence for one, and must forecheck and backcheck better as well.  Both were problems last season with an injury riddled team.  A reversal of fortune was expected with the addition of veterans Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney on defence.   The turnaround has yet to materialize.

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7th Round Pick Mackenzie Weegar Could Prove to be Draft Day Steal For Panthers

Usually a wasteland reserved for long-term projects, underachievers and question marks, you normally would be hard pressed to find any value in the 7th round of the NHL draft. For every Henrik Zetterberg or Joe Pavelski, there are countless players selected in the 7th round that never come close to suiting up in an NHL game. However, while the odds may be stacked against them, the Florida Panthers may have found their very own 7th round gem in 19-year-old defenseman Mackenzie Weegar.

Already a success story in his own right, Weegar’s path to the Panthers was hardly paved with gold as the young defenseman has seemingly had a cloud of adversity hanging over his head much like so many rain clouds that hover over the Sunshine State.

After two consecutive years of going unnoticed and un-drafted by the OHL, a disappointed Weegar made his way to waivers. With his hockey future in doubt, Weegar’s career found new life when the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies selected him first overall in the OHL waiver draft. Soon thereafter, Halifax Mooseheads’ General Manager, Cam Russell, completed a trade for Weegar, sending a 2012, 9th round pick to the Huskies. Even though he had finally made it to the QMJHL, Weegar made the decision to return to Ontario to play Junior A in the CCHL for the Nepean Raiders. After tasting success with the Raiders, Weegar made a mid-season decision to commit to Halifax for the 2012-13 season.

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Erik Gudbranson is Ready to Instill Fear in Panthers’ Opponents This Season

Erik Gudbranson (Wikipedia)

Erik Gudbranson (Wikipedia)

For the majority of last season, opposing teams around the NHL had few reasons to fear the Florida Panthers. A young team riddled with both injuries and inexperience that finished the year last in the NHL in both goals scored and goals allowed per game. Luckily for the Panthers, they will start the upcoming season with a clean slate and the opportunity to redefine themselves however they’d like.

Defenseman Erik Gudbranson is hoping to use that opportunity to bring some fear back into minds of the Panthers’ opponents.

The 3rd overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, Gudbranson is entering his third year with the team and the final year of his entry-level contract. While the pressure of a contract year can weigh on any player, Gudbranson enters this season fueled by the pain of last year and not the dollars and cents of his next big deal.

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Scott Gomez: Ready to Bring Leadership and Experience to Florida

In what could best be defined as an overall quiet offseason for the Florida Panthers, one name stood out from the rest in the team’s large pool of depth signings and veteran spot fillers, former All-Star forward Scott Gomez. Once a name that carried great weight around NHL circles, Gomez has fallen off in recent seasons and for a time became a long running punchline among NHL fans when the veteran forward suffered through a goalless streak that lasted over a year. However, even after being cast out of rabid hockey markets like Montreal and New York, Gomez will look to enter the next phase of his career, this time in sunny South Florida.

Coming off a season in which he seemingly redefined what kind of player he is at this stage of his career, the once 86 point scorer recreated himself as a quality bottom-six forward in San Jose last season - scoring 15 points (2G-13A-15P) in 39 games with the Sharks. While this transition from star to role-player may be negligible to some, Gomez’s evolution piqued the interest of the Panthers and Head Coach Kevin Dineen.

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Jonathan Huberdeau Named 2013 Calder Trophy Winner

As they approach their 20th season in the NHL, the Florida Panthers were treated to a franchise-first achievement on Saturday night as rookie sensation Jonathan Huberdeau was announced as this season’s Calder Trophy winner - the first time a Florida Panther has received this honor. Although their 2012-2013 season was marred by injuries and uninspired play, the Panthers found solace in the exceptional and exciting exploits of Huberdeau.

[Read more...]


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