Should He Stay or Should He Go?

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Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Sabres. Don’t Run Back Inside

FLORIDA PANTHERS: 19-23-7 (45 PTS.) vs. BUFFALO SABRES: 13-27-7 (33 PTS.)

TSN GAMEDAY

GAME DAY SONG: Thunder Road, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The Florida Panthers complete their quick three game road trip tonight with the second of back to back games against the Buffalo Sabres.  The Panthers are coming off an emotional victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, ending the Penguins 13 game home winning streak by simply out playing the Pens in every facet of the game.

The Panthers came out flying in the first 10 minutes giving goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury a taste of what was to come the entire night.  The forecheck was aggressive, the shots were more accurate, and guess what?  The net presence and pysicality was noticeable.  While the Panthers continued their power play futility, their first goal was scored on a short handed opportunity late in the first period by Drew Shore who buried a shot past Fleury as the Panthers were on an odd man rush, catching the Penguins by surprise.  Shore would later score his second goal of the game at 13:34 of the middle period giving the Panthers a two goal cushion.

The victory was one of the most complete games that the Panthers have played all season, and the scoring finally came from players who haven’t contributed in quite some time, namely Shawn Matthias who scored his 5th goal of the year to make it 5-1 late in the third.  Jonathan Huberdeau also got off the schnied scoring a controversial goal in the third which was under review for what seemed to be 10 minutes.  Huberdeau was in a scrum in the crease, ended up in the net himself, as did the puck.  Finally a goal that was reviewed went the Panthers way.

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Florida Panthers 2013-14 Mid-Season Awards

With 42 games now in the books, it’s safe to say that though they certainly have had their share of ups and downs, the Florida Panthers’ 2013-14 season has already been ripe with both excitement and surprises. After a horrid start that included both a nine-game losing streak as well as the firing of head coach Kevin Dineen, the Panthers have fought their way back into relevance around the league and currently sit in 7th place in the Atlantic Division with an admirable 16-20-6 record.

With newcomers like Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen – who arrived in a trade that sent Kris Versteeg to Chicago – the Panthers have managed to get even younger as their talented group of young prospects continue to blossom as they make their way to the NHL level.

Though the Panthers still face quite an uphill climb towards the playoffs as the season drags on into spring, there is now doubt that under interim head coach Peter Horachek that the team will not lay down for any opponent and continue to develop a new culture of optimism and excellence in South Florida both this season and beyond.

However, before we get too deep into the second half of the season, let us take a look back at the moments and players that stood out through the first 42 games of the 2013-2014 season.

Note: All stats accurate as of the Panthers’ 42nd game of the 2013-14 season. 

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Video: Scott Clemmensen’s Kick Save Denies Martin St. Louis

On a night in which the Florida Panthers allowed six goals to their cross-state rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning, remarkably it was a stunning save by backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen that highlighted the Panthers’ otherwise woeful evening.

Already down 2-1 midway through the 2nd period of Monday night’s game, the Panthers’ evening was about to get worse as Lightning captain Martin St. Louis blew past defenseman Tom Gilbert and found himself with a clean breakaway to the wary Panther goaltender.

Opting to commit to an early poke check, Clemmensen found himself out of position and left the majority of his net exposed – or so he thought.

With an open net ripe for the taking, St. Louis was stunned as Clemmensen was able to sprawl out and make a last second kick save on what would have given the Bolts a two goal lead.

Although the wheels soon fell off for the Panthers who would eventually go on to lose by a final score of 6-1, Clemmensen’s beautiful save briefly gave the over 15,000 in attendance something to stand up cheer about.

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Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Senators. I Can Take You Higher.

FLORIDA PANTHERS: 13-17-5 (31 PTS.) vs. OTTAWA SENATORS: 14-16-6 (34 PTS)

TSN GAMEDAY

Game Day Song I’m On Fire. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

The Florida Panthers are “on fire” continuing their charge through Canada taking on the Ottawa Senators tonight in hopes of winning their fifth straight game.  Should Florida be victorious, they’ll have climbed within three games of .500 on the season.  A task that just a few short weeks ago seemed insermountable.  Tuesday night’s victory over the “mediocre” Toronto Maple Leafs was just another example of a complete team effort from all 18 skaters, as well as goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who may be the real star behind this streak.

The victory over the Leafs on Tuesday was referred to in many Toronto and Canadian media outlets as embarrassing.  Typical reaction to a team that apparently no one has paid attention to that has finally started to put things together, and play as a unit.  Both Maple Leafs players and coaches refused to give credit to an opponent that thoroughly outplayed them, finding it easier to place blame on defeat elswhere.  Like playing back to back games, which if Ottawa loses tonight, will use as their main reason for taking one on the chin.  The Senators played the New Jersey Devils last night, and will of course be tired when this tilt gets under way this evening.  Right?

The Panthers who have looked refreshed, and committed for the past couple of weeks are now 6-4-0 in their past 10 games, and appear to have removed the “stink” from their game, and have left their early season struggles behind.  We hate to continue to point to the firing of Kevin Dineen as one of the reasons for the turnaround, but it cannot be helped to see how much better the Panthers are playing since.  Also, the trade of Kris Versteeg back to Chicago for forward Jimmy Hayes and defenceman Dylan Olsen has also made a tremendous difference.  In 11 games Olsen has 8 points, is a plus 3, and has looked exceptional being paired off with Erik Gudbranson.  Big G has also looked like a new man since the trade, and is playing with a more assertive mindset, and is looking like the player the Panthers felt they were drafting in 2010.  Overall the defence of the team has dramtically improved, and whatever coach Peter Horachek is preaching, the players are buying.

Yet, we cannot ignore the play of veteran backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen.  The 36 year old has won his last three starts which included as we all know an outstanding performance in the shootout against the Washington Capitals this past Friday.  Whether the team and Clemmensen have continued to feed off that performance isn’t known for sure, but what is known is that Scottie looks very comfortable.  A player that has taken a lot of grief whereever he’s played, Clemmensen knows his role, doesn’t complain, and has been ready to answer the bell whenever called on.  His role isn’t an easy one, and it is easy to throw darts at him when he’s struggled, but no one has been more professional throughout their career than he has.  If he can maintain this pace, it may no longer be necessary for Tim Thomas to start 15 consecutive games when he returns from his lower body injury.

The Senators on the other hand are struggling compared to what their pre season expectations were.  The addition of Bobby Ryan following the loss of Daniel Alfredssson hasn’t been enough to compensate for the loss of their long time leader.  Even with the career year Clarke MacArthur is having, the Senators are still inconsistent.  Their problems seem to be on defence as they’ve allowed the second most goals in the Eastern conference, as both Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner have struggled at times.

Ottawa has won both games these two have played this season, yet those were before the Panthess got their act together.  While Florida typically struggles in the Canadian capital, they could find the Senators ripe for picking, and if they play like they have in their past two road games, a fifth consecutive victory isn’t out of the question.  A fast start, a quick goal, and continued pressure are the ingredients to success for Florida.  In the 3 games that Clemmensen has won during the streak, Florida has limited opponents to under 30 shots against.  Tim Thomas was the benefactor of the same in his two victories over the Red Wings, indicating what the Panthers need to do on defence.

Hot Stuff:

The line of Aleksander Barkov, Sean Bergenheim and Brad Boyes combined for 5 points on Tuesday night against the Maple Leafs.  That line looks as though they have some serious chemistry, and could be a dangerous trio with a ton of skill.  During the game I dubbed them the “Whizz Bang Gang”.  Whether that sticks or not, we’ll see, yet I’m trying to be more creative than just Killer B’s.

ON FIRE:

* Dylan Olsen 7 points in 7 games

* Aleksander Barkov 4 points in 4 games

* Bobby Ryan 6 points in 6 games

* Kyle Turris 4 points in 4 games

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.

Panthers Victory In Toronto Pushes Win Streak To Four

While the temperatures in South Florida remain high for December, the Florida Panthers have been skating through a winter wonderland in the Great White North so far this week. The Cats won their second game in Canada this week, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 on Tuesday night. The Panthers have now one four straight and six out of seven, the lone loss in that stretch coming against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.

For the second straight game, the Panthers caught a team on the second half of a back-to-back and once again, they took advantage. Aleksander Barkov’s pass sent Tomas Fleischmann in alone on Leafs goalie James Reimber, who converted with a snipe from the top of the left face off circle for a 1-0 lead just 3:29 into the game.

All was quiet on the scoreboard until early in the second period. Sean Bergenheim collected the rebound of a Barkov shot and backhanded it past Reimer to make it 2-0 and bring out the boo birds.

The boos got even louder late in the period as Brad Boyes picked Dion Phaneuf’s pocket and raced in alone on Reimer. Although the initial shot was save, his rebound attempt found the net to give the Cats a 3-0 lead.

Mason Raymond’s deflection of a Peter Holland shot to make it 3-1 to open the third made things a little bit more interesting than Panther fans were hoping but Scott Clemmensen made it stick. Clemmensen stopped 28 of 29 (including a final two minute flurry from Toronto with their net empty) for his third win in a row. During that span, he’s only given up four goals, with only one coming 5 on 5.

Clemmensen’s performance is just one of many that have been key during this successful stretch. Just about everyone has raised their level of play, knowing that is pretty much the only way they’ll be successful. Brain-dead turnovers have been cut way down. Defensive assignments aren’t being bungled. Pinching defensemen are being covered by the forwards, eliminating odd-man rushes (for the most part, anyway). It’s certainly unrealistic to expect the Panthers to keep playing at this pace but, at least, it shows that they’re capable of staying with anyone in the league. Right now, they’re getting the bounces their way after an opening 20+ games where it seemed everything went against them. If they can keep playing like this, they’ll find that the bounces will go their way more than not.

Follow All Panther Parkway writers on Twitter: Me @davidlasseter, Frank Rekas @FrankRekas,Paige Lewis @PaigeLewisFL, Jameson Cooper @JamesonCoop, Amanda Land @HockeyGirl2530 and Mike Lewis. Visit our Facebook fan page here and give us a like and share anything you wish with us.

Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Maple Leafs. From The Muscle To The Bone

FLORIDA PANTHERS: 12-17-5 (29 PTS.) vs. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (17-14-3) 37 PTS

TSN GAMEDAY

GAME DAY SONG: We Take Care Of Our Own. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band

Don’t look now, but the Florida Panthers have a three game winning streak, and have won five of their last six games, including two victories against the Detroit Red Wings.  On Saturday the Cats beat the Montreal Canadiens in one of their most complete performances of the season so far, even though it looked as if for the final 90 seconds Florida was looking for a life preserver.  Scott Clemmenson made 17 saves, which isn’t many, but a few of them were spectacular, and the Panthers will likely call on him tonight, with Tim Thomas still sidelined by a recurring groin injury.

In addition to the solid play from Clemmensen in goal, the Panthers were making desperate plays on the penalty kill as players were using their bodies and sticks to dive and deflect passes in order to help their embattled netminder.  It was a total effort by the Panthers, something that they hope will continue.  Sunday’s victory now gives new head coach Peter Horachek a 9-8-1 record since taking over for the fired Kevin Dineen.  You may say that record isn’t much to brag about, yet when considering where Florida was prior to the coaching change, you’d find yourself to be quite pleased with what Horachek’s been able to accomplish so far.  In addition to their enthused play, the team as a whole has minimized it’s mistakes, and has focused more on defence in all three zones, while still finding ways to generate offence.

Tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, won’t be too much different than the game against Montreal Sunday.  The Leafs play a similar style, using their quickess and tenacity on the puck.  Toronto has five players with 10 or more goals, led by Phil Kessel who has 17 and James van Riemsdyk who has 14,  The Leafs who played last night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, are coming off a 7-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, which was preceeded by a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues.  Just as it appears, the Leafs are struggling with a bit of consistency as well.  Prior to last night’s game against Pittsburgh, the Leafs were 3-5-2 in their past 10 games, as they look to hang on to a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

As Kessel and van Riemsdyk lead Toronto offensively, they still seem to be waiting for free agent David Clarkson to find his groove.  Clarkson who has been suspended two times this season, has scored only twice in 23 games, and has a total of five points.  Not even close to the output that Toronto was looking for when they signed him to a long term contract this summer.

Captain Dion Phaneuf headlines the defence, and Phaneuf recently returned to the lineup himself after serving a two game suspension of his own for a hit from behind of Boston Bruin Kevan Millar.  Hopefully the time off was used wisely by Phaneuf, and  gave him time to shine some of his many shoes (if you didn’t watch NHL 24/7 you won’t get that).

In goal, James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier are sharing the duties with Bernier getting the bulk of the starts with 23.  Their numbers are somewhat identical, as coach Randy Carlyle tries to stick with the hot hand.

The Panthers would be wise to stay out of the penalty box tonight as the Leafs have the third best power play in the league going into Monday’s action.  Florida’s penalty killing still sits at the bottom of the league as the Panthers have only killed 74 percent of the chances against.

The Leafs are playing back to back games, and the Panthers are rested as they didn’t play Monday.  A solid first period, and a simple game is what they’ll need to have tonight.  Based on the way they’ve played lately, it’s not out of the question to expect a victory, especially if the Leafs can’t find their legs.  Florida will have to play as hard as they did against Montreal though.

HOT STUFF

* Phil Kessel has 11 points in 11 games.

* Dylan Olsen has 6 points in 6 games.

No games are gimmies, and no games are ever won before they start.  If the Panthers feel that they have any chance to get themselves in position for a post season run, they’ll have to take care of their own business first before relying on favors elsewhere.  And that starts with beating teams in their division, which lately they seem to be doing.

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.

Poll: Who Has Been the Hottest Panther During the Panthers Hot Streak?

Don’t look now folks, but the Florida Panthers are on their hottest steak since their miracle playoff year in the 2011-2012 season. Riding on a 3 game win streak, and winning their last 5 of 6 games, the Panthers have won 12 games on the season, and are amazingly just 3 points out of 9th place in the Eastern Conference. Heading into Toronto Tuesday night, the team looks to gain ground on their division rivals and the 8th place seed, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

With the recent success to the team the past two weeks, comes successful players and personnel making it all possible. With Bjugstad’s couple of goals, Barkov’s shootout heroics, Peter Horachek’s system, Bergenheim’s energy, Dylan Olsen’s surprise offensive talent, and the goalie duo of Thomas and Clemmensen, the Panthers are proving that they can win these games and beat talented teams without a proven veteran superstar.

Vote below: Who has been the hottest Panther during the Panthers’ hot streak?

We welcome and encourage comments and feedback!

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.

Game Day Preview: Panthers vs. Canadiens. The Hungry & The Hunted….

FLORIDA PANTHERS: 11-17-5 (27 PTS.) vs. MONTREAL CANADIENS: 20-11-3 (43 PTS).

TSN GAMEDAY

GAME DAY SONG: Jungleland. Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band

The Florida Panthers embark on a four game Candian road trip tonight that I honestly wish I was joining them on.  With tonight’s tilt starting in Montreal, the Cats will travel to Toronto, Ottawa, and close things out in Winnipeg on Friday before coming back to sunny South Florida.  It’s an opportunity for team bonding, getting to know each other, and make up some ground in the Atlantic Division where the Panthers are 12 points behind both Tampa Bay and Detroit.

The Panthers have admittedly had an up and down season so far that’s been loaded with inconsistency, yet they appear to be jelling under new coach Peter Horachek.  Not sure what he’s doing either in the dressing room or on the ice, but it appears that the Panthers are starting to put things together slightly.  They’ve won four of their last five games that included an epic shootout victory over the Washington Capitals on Friday night,in a game that was very fast paced and entertaining.  As much as this writer feels that the shootout should be abolished, I have to say that I was very pleased for Panther netminder Scott Clemmensen who normally gets eaten alive in those skill competitions.  Friday night, Clemmer stood tall to the task en route to the win.

Part of what Horachek has done is settled things down with his lines.  Prior to his arrival, Kevin Dineen was mixing things up not only each game, but at times each line change looking for consistency.  Horachek meanwhile has stuck with his lines for the most part, only making subtle changes on occasion, which gives the units a better chance to develop that ever eluding chemistry.  Not to continue to gloat about this defensive paring, but the Dylan Olsen and Erik Gudbranson pairing is making Horachek look like a genuis.  Olsen has six points in his last five games and Gudbranson has 3 in his last five, and was virtually invisible offensively until Olsen arrived in Florida in the Kris Versteeg trade.

Special teams could play a significant role in this contest as the Panthers are 0 for thier last 14 power play chances, and Montreal has killed 25 of the last 26 chances against them.  Both teams are fast and when they use their speed, can produce offensive chances, but the Panthers will need to be careful to stay out of the penalty box.

Montreal has gone 7-2-1 in their past 10 games, and is coming off an overtime victory last night against the New York Islanders when Max Pacioretty scored the game winner (the only goal of the contest).  The Canadiens also recently went a stretch of 10 games where they allowed only 19 goals.  They’ve given up 73 on the season which puts them at 5th best in the NHL, as Carey Price has a solid 2.00 GAA on the year.

Pacioretty leads Montreal in goals with 12, followed by Tomas Plekanec with 11.  Defenceman P.K. Subban leads the team in points with 34, as he makes his push for Team Canada.

Montreal is is 14-6-1 against the Panthers since December of 2007, which includes a 6-2-1 record at home.  The Panthers hopefully can catch the Habs on tired legs, and score an early goal to take the crowd out of it.  According to George Richards of the Miami Herald, Scott Clemmenson was the first off the ice at totday’s morning skate, a good indication that he’ll be in goal tonight for the Panthers.  Panther forward Jonathan Huberdeau took a shot off his foot yesterday, is a gametime decision.  If Johnny is out, Jesse Winchester will be back in the lineup with Scott Gomez and Mike Mottau the scratches for the Panthers.

Remember, kickoff faceoff is 6:00 P.M. Eastern time.  Watch today’s game day video.  One of the greatest saxophone solo’s you’ll ever see.

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.

Florida Panthers Loan Jacob Markstrom to San Antonio

Florida Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon announced today that the club has loaned goaltender Jacob Markstrom to the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL.

After heading into the season with expectations that he may take a great leap forward in his development, Markstrom has struggled immensely between the pipes for the Panthers thus far, earning a 1-5-3 record with a 3.36 GAA / .877 SV%. While some of the blame for his current struggles can be put on the shoulders of the team’s mediocre defense, Markstrom’s two-way contract made him the odd man out of the team’s goaltending battalion now that both veterans Tim Thomas and Scott Clemmensen are healthy. 

Now in the minors, Markstrom will have a chance to regain some his wounded confidence while sharing time with Panthers’ prospect Michael Houser who currently boasts a surprising 4-1-0 record with a 2.17 GAA / .917 SV%. 

As the Panthers continue their tumultuous season it may be best that Markstrom once again become the team’s goalie in waiting while the club tries to sort out their roster problems at the NHL level. However, given both the age and recent injury problems of Thomas and Clemmensen, it is very likely that Markstrom will find his way back to the Panthers’ lineup at some point this season.

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