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Top Five Moments Of The 14/15 Season – #1

Capitals Panthers HockeyToday Florida takes to the ice to play their final game of the 2014-2015 season. In honor of their much improved year we have been counting down the top five moments from this campaign. From a night honoring a 43 year old legend to the first NHL goal of a 19 year old’s career, this season has been full of memorable moments. While all the events on the top five list were impressive none of them come close to the historical 20 round shootout that took place against the Washington Capitals on December 16th, 2014.

#1 – A Shootout For The Ages

The Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers entered the game on December 16th thinking it was going to be just another typical contest against former SouthEast Division foes, boy were they wrong. After regulation ended tied 1-1, with goals from forwards Troy Brouwer and Darek MacKenzie, the teams would head to overtime and eventually the shootout. Florida sent out their SO regulars, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, and Brad Boyes, while Washington used Eric Fehr, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The first three shooters for each team could not get the job done, so the shootout went to sudden death, for a record breaking 20 rounds.

BJUGSOPanthers forward Nick Bjugstad would get his second chance in the SO after both teams used all of their players. With the game on his stick Bjugstad came in and fired the puck past Washington goaltender Braden Holtby, giving Florida a win in the longest shootout in National Hockey League history. Don’t take our word for it though, just click the video below and enjoy the full length SO, courtesy of the NHL YouTube channel.

We cannot wait to see what memorable moments the Panthers create during the 2015-2016 season. How about a 30 round shootout? Florida is game if Washington is.

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2013 NHL Predictions

Crosby Cup

It is that time of year again. The time when hockey fans make predictions that probably will not be correct, but we do it anyway because it’s fun. For the 2013 campaign I decided to bring in two hardcore hockey fans from different websites. One covers video games and entertainment while the other follows the greatest sport in the world. Please give a warm welcome to the predictions of Rudy Colon from Kona’s Korner and Rob McMahon, formally a writer for Sunshine State Hockey, who is now with Penalty Box Radio.

SSHPredictions

Two out of the three of us seem to agree on each category, and surprisingly we all share the same views on three divisions: the Northeast, Southeast, and Pacific. Since we cover the Florida Panthers here at Sunshine State Hockey it is important to focus on the Southeast division for a moment. The reason all three of us are in agreement on our prediction is because the Hurricanes just looks so good on paper. Carolina went out and acquired Jordan Staal to add scoring depth at the center position, not to mention the fact that he should have some decent chemistry with his brother Eric. Add them with the likes of Alex Semin, who is still a legit scoring threat, a maturing Jeff Skinner, an emerging number one defenseman in Justin Faulk, and Stanley Cup/Conn Smythe winning goaltender Cam Ward and it is clear why all three of us chose Carolina to win the Southeast.

Will our predictions hold true or are they doomed to fail? Only time will tell. Until then, let’s just enjoy the fact that we finally have NHL hockey back.

Defending The SouthEast – A 2013 Florida Panthers Preview

Panthers 13

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.

Departures

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.

Arrivals

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.

Forwards

#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.

Defense

#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.

Goaltenders

#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.

Prediction

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.

Busy Day In Pantherland

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With their opening night showdown against the Carolina Hurricanes just one day away the Florida Panthers spent Friday making final preparations for a shortened 2013 season. This is what we know so far leading up to tomorrow night’s game.

– During the final day of training camp this morning at the BB&T Center head coach Kevin Dineen picked veteran defenseman Ed Jovanovski as Florida’s newest captain. Dineen also named Stephen Weiss and Brian Campbell assistant captains.

– Florida has re-signed defenseman Dmitry Kulikov to a two year contract worth $2 million this season and $3 million in 2013-2014. There is a chance that he will play tomorrow night against Carolina in the home opener, but that depends on the results of his physical and if he can get some ice time in before Saturday evening.

– The Panthers announced that they have signed skilled forward Alex Kovalev to a one year deal. Kovalev made the roster after participating in Florida’s training camp on a tryout basis. Marek Svatos, another NHLer who was at camp as a tryout, was not signed.

– It was confirmed this morning that rookie forward Jonathan Huberdeau will start the season with Florida. He will fill the second line LW position and play along side Peter Mueller and Alex Kovalev.

– Multiple sources, including George Richards of the Miami Herald, have reported that Kris Versteeg left Friday’s practice with an undisclosed injury and is currently questionable for the home opener on Saturday. he joins a growing list of injured Panthers that includes Erik Gudbranson, Mike Weaver, Sean Bergenheim, and Marcel Goc.

– The Cats placed Mike Santorelli and James Wright on waivers Thursday afternoon. Santorelli cleared while Wright was claimed by the Winnipeg Jets.

Here is some information regarding opening night against the Carolina Hurricanes:

– Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, along with the Florida Panthers, are reporting that there are less than 1,000 tickets remaining for tomorrow night’s game at the BB&T Center. Tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster, StubHub, NHL ticket exchange, or at the arena’s box office.

– Parking gates open at 5:00 PM, doors open at 6:00 PM.

– Miniature SouthEast Division Championship banners will be handed out to all fans in attendance on Saturday.

– The Panthers sent out an e-mail this morning that asks fans to be in their seats by 7:15 PM because the on-ice festivities, including the raising of Florida’s SouthEast Division Championship banner, will begin at 7:20 PM.

– Players will be signing autographs after the game on the JetBlue Tarmac (outside the front doors). This was announced with the tagline “Players Subject to Availability.”

If anyone plans on arriving at the arena early feel free to stop by parking lot section A-52. A bunch of loyal Panthers fans, including yours truly, will be out their tailgating before and after the game.

Florida Panthers 2013 Schedule Released

PanthersSchedule

The lockout is finally, officially, over, which means we finally get to see the Panthers shortened 2013 schedule. Florida will kick off the season against Carolina at the BB&T Center on Saturday, January 19th at 7:30 PM EST. The Cats will also raise their 2011-2012 SouthEast Division championship banner to the rafters before they do battle with the Hurricanes on opening night.

Other highlights on the 48 game schedule include:

– Florida will participate in five back-to-back game scenarios.
– The Panthers have one, five game road trip and two, four game road trips.
– The Cats will play SE Division foes 18 times in the 48 game schedule. Carolina – x4, Tampa – x5, Washington – x4, Winnipeg – x5.
– Florida will play host to Montreal, and their fans, twice in less than a month at the BB&T Center. February 14th (Happy Valentines Day!) and March 10th.

Florida’s full schedule can be seen by clicking here.
The entire National Hockey League schedule is here.