Florida Panthers’ Defensive Player For October: Mike Weaver

After 12 games this season for the Florida Panthers, things haven’t gone all that well on defence, but the lone bright spot on the blue line this year for the Panthers has been a player who plays bigger than he really is, Mike Weaver.  The 35-year-old  who’s in his fourth season as a Panther, has emerged as their best defender so far.  Being paired mostly with Dmitry Kuilkov, Weaver’s play has been nothing short (pardon the pun) of outstanding.  Averaging just over 19 minutes of ice time, Weaver has been as reliable as can be, and is doing all the right things on a consistent basis.  Something that hopefully rubs off on the rest of the defence.

When Weaver was signed as a free agent back in 2010 by the Panthers he came with a reputation of being a penalty killing specialist, and a player that could fill a role as your 6th defenceman.  Weaver has literally grown his game here in Florida, and has been given more responsibility, and could even be considered one of the leaders on this team.

The most impressive thing about Weaver this year is his ability to use his body at just the right time.  Something he isn’t afraid to do as the video above shows with his hit on Pittsburgh Penguin forward Pascal Dupuis.  Weaver has 33 hits already this season after the first dozen games, and is well on his way to surpass the 49 he had last year in 27 games.  Weaver is also known to be a proficient shot blocker, and has never been afraid to sacrifice his body to do so. He is currently tied for 11th in the league with 31 blocked shots.

For someone who came to this team with little fanfare, Weaver has provided more than was expected of him, and is one of a few players that you can count on.

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’ Offensive Player For October: Aleksander Barkov

The first month of the season comes to a close tonight and after 12 games it’s quite easy to pick the offensive player of the month for the Florida Panthers.  Rookie center and the teams’ number one draft pick this past summer, Aleksander Barkov is showing why the Panthers chose him over defenceman Seth Jones.  Granted it’s only been 12 games, and we all know that’s a small sample, but there’s no reason to doubt that Barkov is exactly what Dale Tallon and the rest of the Panther’s front office thought he would be. Tallon and his scouting team addressed a need for offence, and a need to have what hopes to be a true number one center in the near future.  If Barkov is able to continue to develop his game, and maintain consistency, that’s exactly what they’ll have.

Barkov has 7 points on 3 goals and 4 assists, and his first goal, as shown above came in his very first NHL game. That game against the Dallas Stars on opening night was the most complete game that the Panthers have played all season.  Barkov looked more like a veteran than a rookie.  The goal he scored came from an area that the Panthers need to have more presence in, the goal mouth.  And that type of play is what Barkov was known for during his time in Finland, where he played with adults, rather than in juniors where most top picks come from, playing with their own age group. You’ll see in the video replay that after winning the face-off, Barkov rather discretely skated towards the net, stood his ground, found the puck, and stuffed it past Stars net-minder Kari Lehtonen.  It’s been those kind of plays that Panther fans hope to see more of from the 18 year old rookie.

Barkov has also been effective in the face-off circle, and has been responsible defensively as he’s proved his willingness to back-check.  He’s also seen time on the power play where he’s scored two of his three goals. His shooting percentage is one of the highest on the team at 16.67 percent. With 7 points (3g-4a-7p), Barkov currently sits 5th in rookie scoring tied with 1st overall pick, Nathan MacKinnon. For such a young player you have to be impressed with Sasha’s hockey sense, his vision, and his ability to completely change a game as all 3 of his goals are either game-tying goals or game winning goals.

There’s still a lot of time for Barkov to grow and get better, but so far, he’s been the most complete offensive player for the Florida Panthers this month, and he’s looking as though his future will be a bright one here in Sunrise.

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’ Prospects: 3 Stars of the Month (October Edition)

Although the Florida Panthers may be off to a cold start this season, their group of talented young prospects are hotter than ever in their respective junior leagues. Dale Tallon and the Panthers have been accumulating top prospects over the past several seasons and each year we get to sit back and marvel at the growth and development of the future stars in the making.

Below, I list my top 3 Panthers’ Prospects for the month of October:

1. Christopher Clapperton

Drafted in the 5th round by the Florida Panthers this season, the Quebec native Christopher Clapperton has been a man on a mission during the month of October as he currently sits 13th in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in points, scoring a whopping 23 points (7g-16a-23p) in just 13 games played. In fact, Clapperton is the only player in the top 20  who hasn’t played 15 or more games. Clapperton finished 2nd in scoring with the Blainville-Boisbriand of the QMJHL last season, and has shown no signs of slowing down as he leads his team in both points and assists. While Clapperton may not have the foot-speed and size of other young Panthers’ prospects, he has the determination and willingness to create plays and find the back of the net, and often, which he has shown thus far. Clapperton has also proved that he’s not just a player that shows up on the score sheet, but can also play a physical, and gritty style game which he brings with him night after night. So far this season alone, he’s racked up just enough PIMs (20) to put him with the 3rd most on his team, and 14th amongst the top 40 scorers in the QMJHL.

2. Vincent Trocheck

Over the past few weeks, Panthers’ fans have been screaming out for Panther’s prospect Vincent Trocheck to make his NHL debut to help give the Panthers the scoring spark they so desperately need. While I don’t necessarily agree that Trocheck is the answer at the moment, I certainly understand the desperation from fans. The 20-year-old Pittsburgh native who won both the scoring title (109 pts) and league MVP with the Plymouth Whalers last season, recently made the jump to the American Hockey League, currently residing in Texas with the San Antonio Rampage. There are always uncertainties with players who make the jump from a junior league to a pro league, but so far Trocheck has shown no signs of slowing his game down. The speedy centerman currently leads his team with 9 points in 8 games, and sits tied for 2nd in rookie points, just behind Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, Nikita Kucherov.

3. Kyle Rau

With the Minnesota Gophers 2013-2014 season already 6 games in, Kyle Rau has wasted no time adjusting to life without line-mate and current Panther centerman, Nick Bjugstad. With a handful of highly touted college prospects in the Florida Panthers system such as Mike Matheson, Ian McCoshen, and Rocco Grimaldi, it’s Kyle Rau who comes out on top for the month of October with 8 points in 6 games, and a 1.33 points-per-game average. With a little help from their Captain who is 4th in the NCAA assists category with 7 helpers, the Gophers currently sit at the top of the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Division 1 standings with a strong 5-0-1 record.


Honorable Mentions:

  • Mackenzie Weegar- QMJHL- (3g-12a-15p in 17 gms)
  • Rocco Grimaldi-NCAA- (2g-3a-5p in 5 gms)
  • Alexander Delnov- WHL- (7g-8a-15p in 15 gms)
  • Ian McCoshen- NCAA- (2g-1a-3p in 5 gms)

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.

The Florida Panthers Are Looking For Answers.

With the young season only 12 games old, the Florida Panthers have come out of the gate in the same fashion that they’ve started most of their games……flat.  With one game remaining on their current six game homestand, the Panthers currently sit 7th out of 8 teams in the Atlantic Division, and 13th overall in the Eastern Conference.  Their record of 3-7-2, which to me reads 3-9, is a record that could easily be anywhere from 7-4-1 to 5-5-2.  Though many didn’t pick the Panthers to be in the post season at year end, the slow start raises many questions as the team looks for answers to their losing record and inconsistent play.

As one tries to find out why the team is so inconsistent, the situation becomes more puzzling since the Panthers are doing so with a healthy roster.  Sans Ed Jovanovski who is still not ready to comeback from injury, and the recent groin injury to goaltender Tim Thomas, the Panthers are a very healthy bunch.  They were told to show up to training camp in shape, as opposed to out of it, which many were in last year’s lockout shortened season.  Last season’s team was battered with injuries from start to finish, and as many as eight (or was it nine) different players made their NHL debut so that the team could play with a full roster. On many nights it was blatantly obvious as to why the team was struggling much as it did.

This year the only thing that’s been constant is the teams’ ability to be perfectly inconsistent. 

The poor starts, which have occurred in 3 of 5 games on this home stand are the main reason that Florida owns the record they have.  Playing a full 60 minutes has been a problem for this team that dates back to the days of Jacques Martin, then to Peter DeBoer, and now unfortunately to Kevin Dineen.  The difference is that with the prior two coaches the games ended poorly, rather than started poorly.  Then the Panthers were giving up goals late, now they’re giving up goals early.  As I said earlier, the first two weeks aren’t a real gauge for the performance of a team.  Four weeks in, we now are seeing things becoming habit forming, and playing from behind every night is a sure fire way to miss the post season.


It’s not just the poor starts that are concerning, because once they get their “legs”, they do play a relatively competitive game. But when you’re only recording 2.166 goals per game, and missing the net more times than not, those poor starts will come back to haunt you. Buffalo’s Jhonas Enroth made 44 saves Friday night but 17 additional shots were blocked, and 17 more weren’t even close.  Add to that there have been many point blank chances that haven’t been converted, and many opportunities that were foiled because of a pass first mentality.  There’s also the cuteness factor that creeps in at the most inopportune time.  Fancy plays and backdoor passes have caused more than a handful of odd man rushes against.

Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky are still looking for their first marker, and Shawn Matthias finally found the back of the net for the first time of the season Sunday.


The team defence seems to be very porous most of the time, and is giving up an average of 3.5 goals per game, while offensively they are only scoring 2.166 per game.  In two of their 12 games the Panthers gave up seven goals, and during Friday night’s loss to Buffalo, a team they clearly outplayed, they surrendered a 1-0 lead in the 1st period and lost 3-1, while taking 45 shots. Another issue with the defence is that they have only scored twice.  Matt Gilroy and Dmitry Kulikov have one goal a piece, while Brian Campbell, Tom Gilbert, Erik Gudbranson and Mike Weaver (who isn’t expected to score) are all scoreless.


The team seems to be lacking an identity.  Most nights it’s a dump and chase game, but if you aren’t winning the battles to the puck, it’s more like dump and go for a line change.  Coach Kevin Dineen has been doing his best to find the right formula for his lines.  It’s been a difficult task as he looks for the right mix.  12 games in, one would have thought that there would be at least one trio that had some chemistry. In fact, Fleischmann, Barkov, and Boyes were the 4th highest scoring line in hockey up until Brad Boyes was sent to the 3rd/4th line for a few games. Even though Brad Boyes has emerged as the top goal scorer with five, his defensive lapses (we knew this would happen) almost landed him in the press box Sunday.  Boyes was spared that embarrassment as Tomas Fleischmann sat out with the flu, and Boyes scored his team leading 5th goal, and the lone shootout goal in the loss to Tampa.

Special Teams

Both special teams units are in the bottom third of the league with the power play sitting 29th and the penalty kill at 21st.  The lack of net presence on the power play has been a long time problem for this team that just won’t go away.  No one has been able to take the place of Gary Roberts, (and that was five years ago) and stand in front of the net and act as a screen to the goaltender, or be available for a deflection or scoop up a rebound.  As for the Penalty Kill, Mike Weaver and Jesse Winchester have been bright spots on the PK, but unfortunately that’s the only positive thing you can really say.

The problems are small in nature, but when you add them all up, the Panthers are digging a hole the size of the Grand Canyon.  While the team seems to play better in front of Tim Thomas, Jacob Markstrom has been inconsistent in the games he has played, and at some point he needs to steal a game… or three. To this point, and realizing that he’s played less than 100 NHL games, he hasn’t lived up to the hype.  Yet is he a victim of poor defence, or do his mechanics still need refining?  The fat rebounds that he gives up suggest yes to both, however when he comes out to challenge shooters, you find yourself saying, “that’s more like it”. It’s very concerning.

Finally, does the lack of motivation and or intensity at the beginning of games fall to the coaching staff or to the players?  A quick start and the ability to play with a lead changes your mentality and your energy level.  It can set the pace for a game, and allow a team to play to their strengths instead of having their weaknesses exposed.  Veteran goaltender Tim Thomas said it perfectly a couple weeks ago before the game against Pittsburgh.  “I’m tired of losing”.  The team responded with a win, but it hasn’t carried forward.  Losing creates frustration, bad habits, and an atmosphere that doesn’t bode well for young players.  The Panthers were off Monday, spent Tuesday as a “team building day”, and are back at practice today.  With their next game Friday night against the St. Louis Blues, they have time to regroup and find some answers to these concerns.

It’s all well and fine to appreciate the resiliency and late comebacks, but the points you lose now are too hard to make up later.  In order for the Panthers to get themselves back on track, they’ll need to “get back to basics”.  A cliche that is just one of about 50 that we’re all growing weary of hearing.

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.

Panther Parkway Radio: Team Struggles, Goalie Situation, Bright Spots, Blues Preview, & More

Tune in to tonight’s show while we discuss the recent struggles of the Florida Panthers, goalie situation, the bright spots of the team, and more!

Host: Paige Lewis

Guests: Frank Rekas, Dave Lasseter, and Jameson Cooper


  • Panthers Struggles
  • Do the Panthers miss Tim Thomas?
  • Jesse Winchester has been a bright spot
  • How important is Brad Boyes?
  • Tomas Kopecky
  • Should the Panthers call-up Vincent Trocheck?
  • Preview of the St. Louis Blues game

Click the link below for today’s podcast!


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.

Familiar Start Ends With Familiar Result For Panthers

At some point, the Florida Panthers will realize that digging a two-goal deficit is not the way to win hockey games. Seven times in twelve games this season, the Panthers have found themselves in a 2-0 hole (or worse) and have compiled a record of 0-5-2 in those games. The latest came Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Panthers dropped a 4-3 shootout decision.

Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos put the Cats down less than five minutes into the game, leaving yet another mountain to climb.
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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.

Video: Frans Nielsen’s Backhand Shot is Better Than Yours

Having already made his “Danish Backhand of Judgement” famous through years of excellence in shootouts, New York Islanders’ forward Frans Nielsen showed fans on Saturday night that his backhand abilities are not reserved solely for shootouts.

With the Islanders down 3-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers midway through the 2nd period, Nielsen turned what could have been a crippling Flyers’ powerplay into a scoring chance for the trailing Isles. Utilizing a two on one break, Isles’ winger Peter Regin used a nifty pass to set up Nielsen’s lethal backhand. In a moment of pure beauty, Nielsen’s backhand soared past the blocker of Flyers’ goaltender Steve Mason and brought the Isles’ back within one goal.

Although the Isles would go on to lose by a final score of 5-2, Nielsen had yet another stellar game as he continues to build on the best season of his career. Amazingly, Nielsen is currently 4th overall in the league in scoring with 15 total points (7G-8A-15) - trailing leader Sidney Crosby by 3 points.

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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!

Follow Jameson on Twitter @JamesonCoop

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Game Day Preview: Sabres vs. Panthers. Come on, Look In My Direction.



GAME DAY SONG: Expressway To Your Heart Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Heading into tonight’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Florida Panthers finally have some positives to build on during this six game home stand.  The effort over the last 8 periods of hockey that’s been played here in Sunrise has been much more consistent, and the team actually is beginning to look competitive.  Aside from the first period against the Boston Bruins on Thursday October 17th, the Panthers have played with more determination, and a little bit of desperation.  Granted, it hasn’t looked pretty, or always exciting, but if the last 8 periods are any indication of how they can play when the entire team puts their mind to it, then things could be looking up.  The effort against Chicago on Tuesday was valiant, especially coming from behind and scoring two goals in the third period, taking the game to overtime, and finally losing in a shootout.  The game plan was to be simple, and the Panthers kept it that way.  As talented as the Blackhawks are, Florida did its best to minimize scoring chances, not give up too much space, and do their best to frustrate Chicago’s talent laden roster.

The Panthers who now have three points in the last two games, will be looking for two more against the last place Sabres, a team whom they’ve had some recent success against.  In the last six games against Buffalo, Florida is 4-0-2, and is 2-0-1 in the past three tilts at home.  While none of those statistics are meant to have this contest taken for granted, Florida needs to go into this game with confidence, and play to their strenghts.  It may be hard to do with Tim Thomas back on the shelf with a wonky groin, an injury that re-surfaced in the final minutes of regulation Tuesday against the Blackhawks.  Thomas missed four games earlier this season due to the same injury, and thus is the chance you take when you have a 39 year old net minder who missed an entire season.  That however doesn’t mean he can’t have a quick recovery, however, if he comes back too soon, this is the type of injury that could be bothersome for all year long.  Coach Kevin Dineen doesn’t expect this injury to be long term, and is hopeful that Thomas returns quickly:

“We’re confident that he’s not going to be long term. (Thomas is) a quick healer,” coach Kevin Dineen told the team’s official website. “He played very well. He played well against Boston. He played fabulous against Minnesota, and we had a really good game going against Chicago so it’s unfortunate.”

With Thomas on the shelf, the reigns fall back to Jacob Markstrom who has struggled mightily this season.  Appearing in seven games so far, Markstrom is 1-3-1 with a 3.51 GAA and a gargantuan .884 save percentage.  Numbers that must improve immediately if not sooner during the absence of Thomas, who kept the Panthers games close.  Backing up Markstrom will be veteran Scott Clemmenson who was recalled from San Antonio (weird to type that), as he begins the first leg of the San Antonio to Sunrise shuffle.

Another bright spot is the return of winger Sean Bergenheim.  Bergenheim missed all of last season with a lower body injury, and his place in the lineup tonight was decided this morning- Sean Bergenheim will play. Eventually, he will likely be reunited with Tomas Kopecky and Marcel Goc.  This trio formed in 2011-2012, played as though they were teammates for the past five seasons, and if they are connected again, the energy that they all bring will be a welcomed sight.  It could also be just what Tomas Kopecky needs to get himself going, and Kopecky is still looking for his first goal of the season. But for tonight, Bergenheim will play on the 4th line with Scott Gomez and Jesse Winchester to get into his groove again

Buffalo comes in struggling, and with a little less toughness.  Ok, maybe a lot, as Patrick Kaleta is serving a 10 game suspension for his hit on Columbus Blue Jacket defenceman Jack Johnson.  And yesterday John Scott was suspended indefinitely for his blatant elbow to the head of Boston’s Loui Eriksson on Wednesday.  Buffalo still has the impulsive Steve Ott on the roster, and it would be a good idea for the Panthers to keep their heads on a swivel, as Ott is a known enforcer.

The Sabres are off to their worst start in their history, and have given up 33 goals, while only scoring 15 in their first 11 games.  Cody Hodgson and Tomas Vanek, a perennial Panther killer, lead the Sabres in scoring with three goals apiece.

Ryan Miller who has been the suspect of trade rumors over the past two seasons, still carries the load in goal for Buffalo, yet his frustration could be reaching epic levels.  He has a 1-7-0 record in eight games with a 3.01 GAA, and a respectable .918 save percentage.  yet with no goal support, something Panther fans are all too familiar with, his patience is obviously being tested.

The Panthers have to continue playing the way they have the past two plus games.  They need to focus on keeping their game simple, and not let a team like Buffalo, who is on a three game losing streak, feel any ounce of hope.

Like today’s game day song from Bruce, go out and have some fun, and stop holding the sticks so tight.  When you do, you’re a much better team, and your results show it.

UPDATED:  Jhonas Enroth will be playing in net tonight vs. the Panthers. Enroth has appeared in 3 games this season, with a 0-2-1 record.

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.


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