Cats’ 3-2 SO Win Shows Signs of the Future

By Bill Whitehead

SUNRISE — Every Florida Panthers game, even the bad ones like three of the four that resulted in losses on the recent West Coast road trip, gives fans a slight peek at the future. Tuesday at the BB&T Center was not one of those bad showings. In fact, the 3-2 shootout win over the Ottawa Senators gave everyone a few vivid snapshots of what should be a much more promising 2014-15 campaign, such as…

Roberto Luongo – The two goals in 23 seconds was exciting, as were the shootout exploits by two of the club’s young talents, but if Lou doesn’t stand tall in net, especially in a bizarre first period that saw Ottawa fire 20 shots on goal that led to absolutely nothing, then this game goes down as something like a 5-2 loss or worse.

I’ve covered a lot of spring training baseball the last month, and I’ve not seen any ballplayer flash the leather like Luongo did Tuesday. Not speedy center fielder Matt den Dekker of the New York Mets, a Ft. Lauderdale native – just check out this catch in the 2010 College World Series: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSZf6o7rM58  – or third baseman Ryan Zimmerman or outfielder Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals. Nothing I’ve seen was as good as Luongo was. Repeatedly the Senators tried to beat Luongo high on his glove side, and they failed almost all the time. Fittingly, the game ended with him shutting down Milan Michalek on a backhander that found Luongo’s webbing.

“That’s good for me. That’s where I like to make a lot of saves,” said Luongo, who had 37 of them.

Without Lou’s first-star efforts, Florida (27-38-8) doesn’t beat the desperate Senators. It’s that simple.

Vincent Trocheck and Brandon Pirri – Trocheck’s third career marker on a pass from Scottie Upshall capped a two-goal, 23-second comeback and really got the crowd buzzing. Trocheck has scored on an empty-netter, a wrap-around and now a hard charge to the net on a 2-on-1 break that started with him keeping his feet moving, feeding the puck around behind Luongo and getting on a rush with Uppy. Pirri was solid throughout and appears to have a scorer’s mentality, which is truly needed on this pass-first team that appears rather hesitant to shoot at times like in the 4-on-3 power play in overtime.

The two paired up in the shootout to produce two slick goals and provide the offense that lifted the Cats to the win. Many fans denounce the shootout and call it gimmicky. That’s fine. Regardless, the Panthers are suddenly becoming very good at it and stand at 8-6 in the 1-on-1 skill session. What they’re also doing is creating incredible depth in the shootout. Next year the team’s 1-5 shootout specialists could be Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, all-time NHL leader Brad Boyes, Trocheck and Pirri – and perhaps an additional winger or two most expect the Panthers to go after in free agency on July 1. That group will get you the extra point more often than not, and we all know that’s often the difference in making the playoffs.

“I was shocked to see that I’d go first (in the shootout). When he said I was going first, I was a little nervous, but luckily it worked out. That’s my go-to move. Luckily there’s no video of me doing it in the NHL,” said Trocheck of his first shootout attempt in his 11th game.

Following the contest, Florida interim head coach Peter Horachek had some very complimentary words of praise for Trocheck. The two started the season together in San Antonio, and Horachek said he was impressed by the Pittsburgh native from the start and loved his compete level.

Horachek may or may not be the head of Florida when this season concludes. GM Dale Tallon relieved assistant GM Mike Santos of his duties earlier in the day, and Santos, who joined the organization in 2010 after being directory of hockey operations in Nashville, was instrumental in bringing along Horachek. Who will be behind Florida’s bench next season is an unknown, and probably becomes even more of a dicey decision if Peter Laviolette, Guy Boucher, Claude Noel and other coaches are available and the organization is truly committed to spending money to ice a winning team.

I don’t know if Horachek will be back, but I do know I want no part of any transaction that would ship out Trocheck and/or Pirri anywhere to bring back anything deemed more valuable. Trocheck has too much upside and should have nights like Tuesday for years to come in a Cats’ sweater. As for Pirri, Tallon’s likely already won that deal with Chicago – and that’s not even mentioning the two other former Blackhawks he dealt for in Olsen and Hayes. That deal looks more than favorable as well.

Again, these are small snapshots in a game in front of just 13,435 fans, but all things considered, the pictures from Tuesday night came out just fine.

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#FlaPanthers #Devils pre-game notes

By Bill Whitehead

SUNRISE – Some pre-game observations and notes before the Florida Panthers host the New Jersey Devils tonight at 7:30 here at BB&T Center. Some quick hits below:

DEVILISH TIME: Florida’s game tonight marks the 82nd time the clubs have met. The Cats hold a 26-41-7-7 record against New Jersey and are 15-17-4-4 at home against them. The two teams meet for the final time in New Jersey on Mar. 31.

ON THE SCORESHEET: Florida defenseman Alex Petrovic tallied his first NHL point in Tampa Thursday when he assisted on Brandon Pirri’s goal late in the Panthers’ 5-4 loss.

SCORING LEADERS: Jaromir Jagr leads New Jersey with 57 points (21-36), while Patrik Elias (42 pts., 14-28) and Adam Henrique (38 pts., 23-15) follow. Florida is paced by Scottie Upshall (32 pts., 12-20), Nick Bjugstad (31 pts., 14-17) and Brad Boyes (30 pts., 17-13).

FORMER BUDS: Cory Schneider gets the starter in goal for New Jersey and is ranked third in the NHL with a 2.07 GAA. He faced former teammate Roberto Luongo on Nov. 24 earlier this season when Luongo’s Canucks beat the Devils 3-2 in a shootout.

ONE-TIMERS: Bjugstad has nine points in his last nine games and is riding a career-best four-game point streak…New Jersey’s Henrique, who beat Florida two years ago with the game-winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, has 11 points in his last seven games…The Devils currently hold the 10th position in the Eastern Conference while Florida is 15th, leading only Buffalo…Pirri has goals in back-to-back games and has three points in his first five games with the Cats…Jimmy Hayes’s two goals against Boston last Sunday in Florida’s 5-2 loss marked the first multi-goal game and third multi-point game of his NHL career; his seven goals are also a career high…Brian Campbell grids second in the league with 27:20 TOI/per game. He has also registered 28-plus minutes in 13 of his last 28 games played.

Cats’ GM Tallon Looks to Blackhawks in First Trade

By Bill Whitehead

The last 24 hours have not been the status quo for the Florida Panthers and their fans. The blockbuster transaction that came over on Tuesday, of course, was the club re-acquiring former star goalie Roberto Luongo and minor leaguer Steve Anthony from the Vancouver Canucks for Shawn Matthias and Jacob Markstrom.

Briefly on the latter two.

First, Matthias, while hot the last few games, has been a disappointment for most of this season after re-signing with the Panthers. Matty is an effort-over-skill guy, and he’s at his best playing a high-energy type game. That has been lacking this season. As for Markstrom, the Swede had more than his fair set of chances to earn playing time, and he simply hasn’t developed. He routinely seems out of position, and his mechanics appear to have slipped. I’ll recall fondly his 40-save effort in his second career win in early 2011 in a 2-1 win at Montreal, but that’s about it. Time just expired on Marky—at least his time in Sunrise.

Monday’s first trade involving Florida, though, brought over offensively skilled center Brandon Pirri from Chicago for a couple of future picks and is an intriguing deal put together by current Florida and former Chicago GM Dale Tallon. Pirri is a former AHL scoring champ and gifted shooter, and he’ll get the chance to contribute right away.

Skating on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Jimmy Hayes, Pirri made his Florida debut just under five minutes into Tuesday’s game against Boston. He made an immediate impact by drawing a penalty on just his second shift of the game against Boston. Pirri, 22, looked like he belonged and mixed it up.

Pirri chose to wear No. 73 for Florida, saying he just switched around his former No. 37. Here are some of the highlights from 1973, the number that corresponds to Pirri’s new number:

  • Aerosmith released their debut album, while Pink Floyd dropped Dark Side of the Moon
  • The Dolphins defeated the Redskins 14-7 in Super Bowl VII to complete the only undefeated season
  • George Foreman pounded Joe Frazier in Jamaica to win the heavyweight title. Remember Howard Cosell’s “Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!” call?
  • The World Trade Center officially opened. The Sears Tower was finished, too.
  • The Knicks defeated the Lakers in five games to claim the NBA title.
  • Yankee Stadium closed for a two-year, $160 million renovation, with the club playing at Shea Stadium the following two seasons.
  • The A’s beat the Mets in the World Series in seven games
  • OJ Simpson became the first running back to rush for over 2,000 yards
  • I turned eight and watched all those sporting events (OK, that’s really a personal achievement)

Those are just some of the highlights from the year closely related to that odd hockey number. No. 79 would have been a decent choice because the Cats could fire up “1979” by the Smashing Pumpkins, but hey, we’ll go with 73. And Pirri should score or be in the middle of goals or offensive highlights somehow, regardless of the number he’s wearing or goal call by the announcer at BB&T Center.

That’s the plan, right?