With the preliminary round winding down and the quarter finals set to begin this Thursday, the action is just starting to heat up at the 2013 IIHF World Championship. With each team already having competed in at least 6 games, Team Canada and Team Russia have risen to the top of their respective groups. Although no Panthers’ skater has grabbed any headlines throughout the tournament, there have still been some exceptional performances worthy of noting.
Below, I have listed the current statistics for each Panther player represented at the World Championship as well as adding a brief comment on their play.
Brian Campbell (Canada)
Note: As he was for the majority of the season in Florida, defenseman Brian Campbell has been a workhouse for Team Canada so far this tournament. Through 7 games played, Campbell is 2nd on the team in total TOI with 140:23 minutes played. Also, Campbell’s +7 rating is good enough for the best +/- rating on the entire Canadian roster.
With the disappointing 2012-2013 season on its’ way to being understandably forgotten by both fans and players alike, we must take one final moment to begrudgingly relive the events of this year as I hand out my end of the season player grades. Although the Panthers were only able to muster a pedestrian 15-27-6 record – good enough for last in the entire NHL – there were still a few players that can look back on this season with pride.
While many players will be receiving grades that would merit summer school, there are a few skaters with bodies of work good enough to be hung up on the refrigerator. Considering the amount of call-ups and short lived NHL appearances by skaters due to frequent Panther injuries this season, I have decided to grade only players who competed in at least 20 games this season.
For this report card I will be taking a look at the Panthers’ ill-fated defensive unit. After seeing some improvement last season, the Panthers’ defense took a big step backward as they finished the season last in NHL in goals allowed per game (3.54). Frequent mental lapses and an inability to clear dangerous pucks were just two of the numerous problems that defined the team’s defensive struggles this season. Considering just how bad the Panthers’ defense looked almost every game, you will be hard pressed to find too many good grades below.
Like most Panthers’ first round draft picks from the early part of this decade, former 7th overall selection Rostislav Olesz is still trying to find his place in the NHL. A native of the Czech Republic, Olesz came into the NHL with an impressive skillet and even greater expectations. Sadly, after just over 5 seasons with the Panthers, Olesz never quite reached the lofty expectations that were put on him – reaching a pinnacle of 30 points during the 2006-2007 season.
Years later, as the team was starting to rebuild under the guidance of new General Manager Dale Tallon, Olesz was finally shipped out of Florida in exchange for Blackhawks’ defenseman Brian Campbell. Although it was mostly designed as a salary dump for the cap-wary Blackhawks, the team still hoped that maybe they could squeeze something out of this former first round pick.
What could have easily been a considered a minor trade for the Florida Panthers turned into a big deal on Saturday night as newly acquired defenseman T.J.Brennan didn’t take long to make his mark on the lineup.
Paired with veteran Brian Campbell to start the game, Brennan quickly acclimated himself to the Panthers’ game plan and became an important player almost immediately. Through two periods, Brennan was responsible defensively and even had a few nice slap shots on the power play – an offensive tool that has been missing since the departure of Jason Garrison.
When asked about his seamless transition into the Panthers’ lineup, Brennan had this to say:
“They kept emphasizing a simple game … I wasn’t gunna come in here and try and do too much … They told me to shoot when I can if I have any opportunities and I tried to do that tonight and it was good to get reunited back with Kevin (Dineen).”
Shortly after Scott Clemmensen surrendered the second goal of the first period against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday night, the boos began to rain down from the stands. A chant of “We want Markstrom” formed shortly after. It appeared that the Panthers crowd finally lost all patience with the veteran backstop, and for good reason: Clemmensen’s stats this year are simply subpar to say the least, and four crappy periods against the division rival Hurricanes would sink his numbers even further.
At intermission, the venom spewed in Clemmensen’s direction was reaching an all-time high: fans on Twitter demanded that Clemmensen be subbed out in favor of the young Jacob Markstrom, who was totally not in a position to play after not practicing for days and just getting his pads at around the time the puck dropped. At least a couple fans even maintained that they would refuse to renew their season tickets if Dineen didn’t pull Clemmensen. And maybe the Panthers coach might’ve consideredswitching the struggling netminder out in favor of the potentialed Swede, if he thought it would make any difference.
On a night in which the Florida Panthers played possibly one of their best all-around games of the season, the unlucky Cats still could not pull off a victory over the Buffalo Sabres, inevitably losing 4-3 in a shootout.
The action at the BB&T Center kicked off early on on Thursday night as George Parros and John Scott squared off for a heavyweight bout only 2:37 into the game. Although Parros was able to get in a few good punches, Scott eventually dropped Parros’ to his knees – giving him his second victory against the veteran figther this season. Parros last chance to beat Scott this year will come when the Panthers face the Sabres for the final time during the regular season on March 28th.
After the dust had settled from the brawl, the real action got underway as the Panthers and Sabres combined for an astounding 5 goals during the first period of play alone. Although he was impressive in his shutout relief appearance of Jose Theodore on Tuesday night, backup Scott Clemmensen just didn’t seem to have his head on straight Thursday against the Sabres. Clemmensen allowed 3 goals on just 10 shots before being pulled in favor of Jose Theodore. Much like Theodore’s performance on Tuesday night, Clemmensen fell victim to allowing soft and costly goals – a trend that hopefully won’t continue for either netminder.
FLORIDA PANTHERS: 3-5-0 (6 PTS.) vs. WINNIPEG JETS: 3-4-1 (7 PTS.)
Game Day Song: Roulette, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
The Florida Panthers are in Winnipeg tonight for game two of a four game road trip that has started off with grit, character, and a much needed come from behind win. After being down for the count 3-1 against the Buffalo Sabres Sunday afternoon, the Panthers literally shut down the line of Tomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson after the trio put the Sabres on top 3-1, on their way to a 4-3 victory. What was most impressive about the win was that the Panthers held the Sabres to only 10 shots on goal in the final 40 minutes making the job of Jose Theodore that much easier. The lunch bucket style victory was a perfect example of what a road win should be as the Panthers simplified their game by woerking hard,minimizing their mistakes, and actually played some puck possession hockey. All elements that lead to their success last season.
Tonight the Panthers will go for their third win in a row against a Winnipeg Jets team that has lost three in a row. We all know these games can go one way or the other, but the Panthers would be doing themselves a huge favor if they can jump out to an early lead and quite the usually raucous crown of the MTS Center. The effort that we’ve seen over the past two games has been a complete turnaround from the style of play previous to that for Florida. Instead of standing around, missing passes, and making glaring mistakes, the Cats have regrouped, gone back to their old ways, and are beginning to play more as a team than a group of individuals. Brian Campbell who tied for second on the team in scoring summed it up best:
“We’re starting to come as a team a bit more now and have faith in coming back,” said Campbell, who had the go-ahead goal in the third Sunday. “Earlier in the season, we didn’t have a whole lot of faith and confidence. But now we’re starting to see our team develop.”
If you were still skeptical of the Florida Panthers turning their season around following Thursday’s win over the Winnipeg Jets then, Sunday’s comeback win over the Buffalo Sabres should remove the rest of the doubt. A (relatively) rested Panther squad took advantage the weary Sabres, to rally from a 3-1 deficit for a 4-3 win in Buffalo.
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I don’t know about you, but Saturday can’t come fast enough. Just knowing hockey is right around the corner gives me that extra boost in my day. Maybe that’s just me, but either way I’m sure there are others out there who feel the same as I do.
As most of you know, the Florida Panthers have been trying to add a little more offense to this squad. After finishing 27th in the league last year in scoring, the Panthers have kept most of their core together, but have added a little more depth to the mix. One thing is for sure, last year’s defense provided some offense. Brian Campbell finished tied for 2nd in the league with points by a defenseman. Jason Garrison who is now in Vancouver was 3rd among defenseman in goals scored. Although those two were the main offensive contributors throughout the season, a young Russian has the potential to be among the league leaders this season.
Dmitry Kulikov, who came into this season as a Restricted Free Agent has been reported to have signed a 2 year contract with the Florida Panthers about 24 hours ago. Details on the financial side have still not been released due to the fact that Kulikov has not passed a physical examination by the team doctors. Kulikov spent most of the lockout period in Russia playing for his original junior team Lokomotiv. The former 1st round pick although a little sloppy at times on the defensive side of the puck has all the tools to be top defenseman in the league.
As we look back at last season we saw the Florida Panthers add some much needed skill, veteran leadership, and a touch of youthful snarl to their defensive core with Brian Campbell coming over in the Rostislav Olesz trade from Chicago, the signing of former Panther Ed Jovanovski, and the rookie season of Erik Gudbranson. The trio helped form one of the more solid defensive units that the Panthers have had in quite some time as they meshed with holdovers Mike Weaver, Jason Garrison, and Dmitry Kulikov. The Panthers on the blueline were significantly more reliable than they had been in recent seasons, and for once it no longer took eight passes to get out of the defensive zone, only to ice the puck and start the process over again.
The addition of Brian Campbell alone was refreshing, and exciting at the same time. A key component in the Panthers surge to the Southeast division crown, Soupy was the blue line quarterback who not only led the team in ice time (26:05), and assists (49), but managed to create an effective power play unit with his sharp eye for the open man. Campbell was often found feeding partner Jason Garrison who blasted home nine power play goals, giving the Panthers one of their more effective power play units in years. For as much criticism as Campbell may have taken in his last season in Chicago, I could not find one Panther fan who complained about his salary, or his style of play. Not known for his defensive skills as much as his offensive talent, Campbell truly made a difference in Florida, and we can count on the same for this coming season. Campbell made his presence known early on during and interview when he said “it’s unacceptable to not make the playoffs”. One of the best things about Campbell is his vision of the ice. He’s very smart at finding the seams, locating a player who has a scoring chance, and best of all, when he’s coming out of the zone, if he doesn’t see a play, he’ll circle around to buy some time to find an open area.
Speaking of Jason Garrison, the undrafted defenceman had himself a career year for Florida, with much of the thanks going to Campbell who was his set up man. The booming shot that Garrison seemed to acquire out of nowhere made the Panthers dangerous on the power play. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Garrison who was in the final season of a two year deal accepted an offer from his hometown team the Vancouver Canucks in the offseason. While Garrison was an important part of last seasons team, general manager Dale Tallon didn’t feel that the money Garrison was looking for wasn’t in the price range he wanted to pay. Garrison might be missed, but I am not so sure he’ll find the same success in Vancouver without Campbell feeding him the puck.