48 – The number of games the Florida Panthers will play in a lockout shortened campaign.
99 – The length, in days, of the 2013 National Hockey League season.
Those two numbers combined leaves little to no room for error, especially when the Panthers are on a mission to prove that last year’s SouthEast Division Championship win, the first in team history, was not a fluke. Every game from opening night on will be important, and every single point will matter. Florida must find ways to win, more importantly, they must do so consistently if they want another shot at the playoffs.
Before breaking down the forward, defensive, and goaltending positions of the Panthers roster let’s look back at who departed and arrived during a lockout lengthened off-season.
Krystofer Barch – RW
Jason Garrison – D
Bracken Kearns – C
Jonathan Matsumoto – C
Mikael Samuelsson – RW
Sean Sullivan – D
Bill Thomas – RW
Wojtek Wolski – LW
Two names stick out on this list, Jason Garrison and Mikael Samuelsson. There is no doubt that these two will be missed, especially on the powerplay. It will be up to the new comers, such as Filip Kuba, to fill the holes left by Garrison and Samuelsson.
Andre Deveaux – C
Jean-Francois Jacques – LW
Alex Kovalev – RW
Filip Kuba – D
Peter Mueller – C
George Parros – RW
Casey Wellman – C
The Panthers had two major issues last season, one of them being toughness. Erik Gudbranson tried to defend his teammates when needed but GM Dale Tallon and head coach Kevin Dineen probably did not like seeing their top defensive prospect put himself in danger on a nightly bases. The addition of George Parros will take the pressure off of Gudbranson and the other players not known as “tough guys” this year. Parros will also be a great protector for the rookies that earn roster spots, such as Johnathan Huberdeau.
Two other names on the arrivals list that deserve attention are Alex Kovalev and Peter Mueller. Both forwards, along with Johnathan Huberdeau, will make up Florida’s second line. Putting these three skilled players together could pay off big time for the Panthers and should take some of the offensive pressure off of their top line of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss, and Kris Versteeg. Also, Kovalev should be a good mentor for Huberdeau, even if it is only for the 2013 campaign.
Florida Panthers 2013 Opening Night Roster
* Indicates players on IR.
#9 Stephen Weiss “A” – C
#11 Johnathan Huberdeau – C/LW
#12 Jack Skille – RW
#13 Mike Santorelli – C
#14 Tomas Fleischmann – LW
#18 Shawn Matthias – C
#19 Scottie Upshall- LW
#20 Sean Bergenheim – LW *
#22 George Parros – RW
#25 Jerred Smithson – RW
#27 Alex Kovalev – RW
#32 Kris Versteeg – RW
#57 Marcel Goc – C *
#82 Tomas Kopecky – RW
#88 Peter Mueller – C
The weakest link from last season was clearly the offensive production from Florida’s forwards. In the span of an 82 game season the Cats lost 18 games in overtime and had a -24 goal differential. If the Panthers would have been able to score one extra goal during some of those 18 OT/SO losses they would have had more wins, a better differential, and they probably would have ran away with the SouthEast Division weeks before having to beat Carolina on the last night of the regular season to clinch. Thankfully Florida was able to do so, which means none of that really matters now, but that may not be the same case this season. The Panthers will need more offensive production from their forwards, especially the new comers and those who did not meet expectations last year. Isn’t that right Scottie Upshall and Mike Santorelli? Florida also needs to hope that their top line of Fleischmann, Weiss, and Versteeg produces as well as they did last season.
#4 Keaton Ellerby – D
#7 Dmitry Kulikov – D
#17 Filip Kuba – D
#23 Tyson Strachan – D
#43 Mike Weaver – D
#44 Erik Gudbranson – D *
#51 Brian Campbell “A” – D
#55 Ed Jovanovski “C” – D
Defense on most nights during the 2011-2012 season was not an issue for the Florida Panthers. Head coach Kevin Dineen put a system in place that worked well almost every game, making Florida’s defensive play their biggest strength last year. Florida also enjoyed some offensive production from their D group as they registered 151 points from the blue line in 2011-2012. The good news is that almost all of those point producing defensemen have returned. The bad news? Their biggest powerplay threat, Jason Garrison, left for Vancouver during the off-season. It will be up to the returning blueliners, as well as Filip Kuba, to fill the void left by Garrison on the PP. This would be a perfect time for youngster Dmitry Kulikov to finally have a big breakout year and establish himself as a true top 4 defenseman.
#30 Scott Clemmensen – G
#60 Jose Theodore – G
What is there to say that has not already been said about Florida’s goaltending last season? Jose Theodore exceeded expectations and proved to everyone that he still possesses the skills to be a starter in the National Hockey League while Scott Clemmensen did an admirable job as backup. These two goaltenders can clearly keep pucks out of the net until Jacob Markstrom is ready to take his rightful place between the pipes, which should be in the very near future.
Player to Watch: Johnathan Huberdeau
Does it really surprise anyone that Huberdeau is our player to watch this year? Florida’s top offensive prospect will finally make his debut in South Florida this season. The rookie will have to prove that he is ready for NHL hockey right from the start since he will lose a year off of his contract if he is not returned to his junior team after just six games instead of the usual ten. Thank the lockout shortened season for that rule. Hopefully being on a line with three-time National Hockey League all-star Alex Kovalev and highly skilled forward Peter Mueller will jump start Huberdeau’s offensive production as soon as possible.
This shortened season is a tough one to predict for any team, including the Florida Panthers. Personally I think a 48 game schedule will help the Cats, especially considering the fact that during the second half of last season they looked burned out and struggled to produce offense on a nightly bases. With that said, I see Florida having another successful year but I do not see them winning the SouthEast Division in 2013. The Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals have all made significant improvements, and the Winnipeg Jets will be just as competitive as before. Who do I think will win the SE? That will be revealed in a different article later today. Even though I do not think the Panthers will win their division I do believe they will make the playoffs again, but it will take a complete team effort, just like last season.
We hope that everyone enjoyed our 2013 Florida Panthers preview. Thankfully, the time for talk, and all of the guessing games, ends tonight when Florida plays host to the visiting Carolina Hurricanes. Good luck to all 30 National Hockey League teams, and most importantly, let’s go Panthers.
Who is ready for us to finish our countdown of the top 10 moments from the Panthers 2011-2012 season? If all goes according to plan we should be able to reveal the #1 moment on Monday, but that depends if we can get everything together for our big surprise in time. It is looking like that will be the case but only time will tell for sure. Before getting to the top moment though we still have to reveal #2 on our list.
This next moment is going to go down as one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history, especially considering the circumstances. As everyone knows by now before this season the Panthers failed to make the playoffs for over 12 years, so it is understandable that the majority of “outsider” fans would write off the Cats in their first round series against the New Jersey Devils. After splitting the first two games in Sunrise it was up to Florida to make a statement on the road in game 3. They did just that in one of the greatest games in franchise history.
#2 – Deja vu, Florida completes another comeback against the Devils (April 17th, 2012)
Moment #2 on our countdown is very similar to #7, with the only difference being the setting. Florida quickly fell behind 3-0 in the first period, just like they did in November’s game against the Devils. Then, as the game progressed, the Cats found their groove and made an amazing comeback, just like they did in November’s game against the Devils. The difference this time around is that the Panthers managed to pull off the difficult task in game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs in New Jersey. With help from Sean Bergenheim, Jason Garrison, Mike Weaver, Brian Campbell, and most importantly Scott Clemmensen, the comeback Cats were able to claw their way back for the win, sending everyone in attendance at the Prudential Center home in shock.
Of course we all know what happened after game 3. The Devils currently trail the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 in the Stanley Cup final while the Panthers anxiously await the start of next season, knowing that they gave the Eastern Conference champions a harder time than any other conference opponent. If this season was a preview of things to come then Panthers fans have every right to be excited about the future of their team. We speak for all Cats fans when we say bring on the 2012-2013 season.
For the full experience of moment #2 be sure to click through all of the links below. Check back with Sunshine State Hockey on Monday when we (hopefully) reveal the #1 moment on our countdown.
The fans in South Florida have been waiting a very long time for their hockey club to make another trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The last time the Florida Panthers were involved in the post-season Bill Clinton was President of the United States, Sony released their highly anticipated PlayStation 2, and yours truly was 12 year’s old. Thanks to General Manager Dale Tallon, rookie Head Coach Kevin Dineen, the entire Panthers staff, and the 2011-2012 roster no one has to wait any longer to see the Cats play some extra hockey.
While the Panthers fan base has every right to be excited they should also be worried about their teams’ first round opponents. The New Jersey Devils are one of the most balanced teams in the National Hockey League. They have a quick striking offense, a shutdown defense that can trap any club in the neutral zone, and one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game, Martin Brodeur. Florida will definitely have their hands full in this series and it will take a complete team effort to even have a legitimate shot at making it past the well structured Devils.
The Florida Panthers were led offensively by the top line of Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, and Tomas Fleischmann until their opponents began to figure out how to shut the trio down. After that, around the halfway point of the season, it was up to everyone else on the roster to provide balanced scoring. That is exactly what happened as Florida got offensive help down the stretch from players such as Mikael Samuelsson, Sean Bergenheim, and Marcel Goc. Shockingly Fleischmann was the only one from the former #1 line to stay consistent throughout the entire 2011-2012 season, registering 27 goals and 61 points, while Versteeg and Weiss did very little in the final two months. The Panthers will need their top three forwards to produce at the level they did before and the rest of the club will have to keep up the balanced scoring if they want to keep up with the powerful New Jersey offense.
The Devils enter the first round match-up against Florida with three 30 goal scorers on their roster. Ilya Kovalchuk (37 goals), Zach Parise (31 goals), and surprisingly David Clarkson (30 goals) all had a great 2011-2012 regular season offensively and look to carry that success over into the post-season. New Jersey, much like the Panthers, also had balanced scoring outside of their big three led by the resurgence of Patrick Elias who picked up 78 points in one of his best seasons in the last three year’s. Put Elias together with Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus and the Devils have six forwards that are going to keep the Florida defense very busy.
Advantage: New Jersey
When the Panthers entered the 2011 off-season they already had a fairly impressive defensive core that included veteran Mike Weaver and youngster Dmitry Kulikov. Add them together with All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell, former Panther Ed Jovanovski, and rookie Erik Gudbranson and Florida has one of their best D-core’s in franchise history. Of course when discussing the Cats defense it is important to mention the biggest surprise on the 2011-2012 Panthers roster, Jason Garrison. #52 had a major breakout season, finishing third in goals amongst all defensemen in the National Hockey League with 16. Florida’s D-men will have to jump in offensively all series long if they hope to continue the success they had in the regular season.
The New Jersey defense was anything but offensive this year, and that is going to be a problem for the Florida Panthers. The Devils have one of the best shutdown groups in the Eastern Conference, playing opponents into the classic NJ trap that the team has been famous for. This stingy style of play certainly helps an aging Martin Brodeur since he doesn’t have to face many shots on a nightly bases. Let’s also not forget that a solid defensive group plays an important role on the PK, and New Jersey has one of the best in the league. It will be interesting to see how the Devils react to Florida’s offensive minded defense and how the Cats handle going up against NJ’s shutdown crew.
When the Panthers began the season everyone thought that their weak point would be in net. Thankfully all of those people were dead wrong. Florida got strong goaltending all year long from surprise starter Jose Theodore, veteran backup Scott Clemmensen, and even rookie Jacob Markstrom when Theo went down with an injury. Truthfully if Florida did not have the good goaltending they would have lost a lot more games. The netminders, especially Theodore, absolutely need to stay solid between the pipes in this series.
It’s strange to think that the Devils have a question mark in net going into the post-season but age will do that to a person, even if it is Martin Brodeur. The legendary keeper hasn’t played his best post-season hockey in recent year’s and that’ll definitely be an issue for the Devils if that trend continues. Marty will have to stay strong in net and rely on his defense to keep the Panthers from getting to him.
The members of Sunshine State Hockey predicted that this series will be a long one with Florida coming out on top. Will the Cats be able to hold off the powerful Devils offense? Will Broduer live up to his legendary status? Will Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg, and Tomas Fleischmann return to early season form? All of these questions and more will be answered when the Panthers host New Jersey at the BankAtlantic Center tonight for game one of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Puck drop is 7:00 PM EST.