The Florida Panthers' World Tour: Coming to a Town Near You

Robert YoungContributor IOctober 9, 2009

HELSINKI, FINLAND - OCTOBER 03:  Fans watch the players warm up during The Compuware/NHL Premiere Helsinki series match between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Florida Panthers at the Hartwall Areena on October 3, 2009 in Helsinki, Finland.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Yes, the Panthers have been around. Christopher Columbus would have been proud and impressed.

Winger David Booth recently designed a T-shirt that has been circling the locker room; to commemorate a flying preseason for the Cats.

It features a rock ’n’ roll style Panther on the front. And on the back side can be read: “Florida Panthers – World Tour 2009”.

Thereafter follows a list of dates and “gigs” that many an aspiring rock band might drool jealously upon:

9-12 Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia
9-15 Halifax, Nova Scotia
9-16 Ottawa, Ontario
9-17 Montreal, Quebec
9-18 Edmonton, Alberta
9-20 Calgary Alberta
9-22 Dallas, Texas
9-23 Sunrise, Florida
9-30 Tampere, Finland
9-30 Helsinki, Finland
10-2 Helsinki, Finland
10-3 Helsinki, Finland

Since then, three more gigs have been added to the schedule due to popular demand:

10-9 Raleigh, North Carolina
10-10 Sunrise, Florida
10-12 Tampa, Florida

Suiting enough, this mini-tour ends on Columbus Day: Here’s to the memory of you Christopher and your stunning feat of mal-navigation!


Vokoun the Workhorse

With the Finnish excursion now firmly put to the books, the Panthers need to find their feet quickly. They have three games in four days to look forward to.

Goalie Tomas Vokoun in particular will have his stamina and resiliency tested as he looks to be playing one consecutive game after another.

With recently acquired backup goalie Scott Clemmensen on leave, due to family matters, youngster Alexander Salak will be with on this tour as well. When Scott will return is still unknown and head coach Peter DeBoer has already said that Vokoun will be playing in these games whether Clemmensen returns or not.

Tomas Vokoun is, of course, no stranger to playing hefty minutes. He has always done so in the past and there is no use in confusing him now. Last campaign he also played in the opening five games of the season.

Vokoun strikes me as the kind of goalie that produces his best when he gets a lot of action. He doesn’t like standing or sitting around idly. The more the merrier for Tomas it seems, and he’s getting his Christmas wishes early this year.


Some Early Question Marks

Otherwise the lineup looks relatively intact from Helsinki.

Center Steven Reinprecht got a shot off the skate in practice the other day, but X-rays showed no sign of any fracture. He will thus play tonight.

Whether or not another centerman, new signing Dominic Moore, will feature in any of these games is still unknown. The reason behind his delay in linking up with the team is VISA issues. As soon as they are resolved he’ll join and likely be thrown straight in to the fray by Coach DeBoer.

If Moore does arrive before tonight’s game or any of the other two, it will likely mean that defenseman Ville Koistinen won’t be utilized as a makeshift forward on the fourth line. If he’ll return to the blueline or be made to sit out the game(s) is not yet clear.

It would likely be either Koistinen or rookie Dmitry Kulikov that would be made redundant for the time being when Dominic joins the lineup. But knowing DeBoer he’ll likely be shuffling things around as soon as results aren’t forthcoming; so it may be a very brief spell on the sidelines in that case.

It is also worth noting that the Panthers have announced the signing of 23 year old right winger Victor Oreskovich on a two-way deal.

Oreskovich is a player that Peter DeBoer knows well from the juniors and he’ll be assigned to the Rochester Americans of the AHL. Victor was originally a third round draft pick by the Colorado Avalanche. This offseason he attended Florida’s training camp and also featured in four preseason games.


Boxed In at Carolina

Looking closer at that game in Carolina versus the Hurricanes it would seem that the Panthers are in for a tough matchup. The Cats may have won their last game in Raleigh 5-0, but that was in all honesty before the Canes got together as a team and started to click last campaign.

It is likely to be a much tighter affair this time around.

During the week the Panthers have been working hard on special teams and coverage assignments in the defensive zone. Both of which were Achilles' heels in the opening head-to-head with Chicago. With a spanking new defensive corps these issues are predictable to occur in the early going.

The best way to minimize the threat of opposing man-advantages, however, is, as it always has been: to stay out of the box.

Carolina have a good enough team to punish Florida if the Cats again can’t play fair; as the Blackhawks did in game two.

And knowing your defensive assignments, well, that’s just basic hockey ABC. Give it a few games and some practice and that should not need to be a continued issue.

The Hurricanes meanwhile have also started the new season in a wobbly fashion: Losing 0-2 and 2-7 to the Flyers and Bruins respectively. They then rallied to trump the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 2-1 shootout victory on Tuesday.

Both teams should be rested and well prepared for this game, having not played in the last three and six days respectively. That does however also make the game a highly unpredictable one. It’s hard to see which team will show up with the greater hunger and will to win.

I think this will be a tense game that will go down to the buzzer.

With both teams likely to have stressed defense in practice, due to both having a hard time to keep opposing forwards out of their zone, I’m sure that emphasis will shine through in the game as well.

However, with Carolina having a record of 15-2-0 at home against Florida since Feb. 16, 2004; they must be seen as the favorites to clinch the points in the end analysis.


Selling Out

The next day the Panthers go home to play their first home game. Outside of Finland that is...

The New Jersey Devils continue their three game road trip and make a visit. Tickets have been selling fast and the Bank Atlantic Center is expected to be a complete sellout.

After having lost their initial two home games of the season, the Devils travelled to Tampa and made an astonishing last second push in regulation to tie the game and eventually win the contest. Again the Lightning lost in a shootout.

It would seem the shootout curse has now switched over to Florida’s west coast. Good riddance!

The New Jersey Devils is as always a tricky customer. With Martin Brodeur between the pipes you can never be assured to score. The Panthers players are also likely to arrive with tired legs in this contest; after having played in North Carolina the previous evening.

Nonetheless, with the B.A.C. packed with hopeful fans there can be no excuses.

The Cats need to display some sharp claws and dig deep for a memorable performance. With the fragile fanbase that exists here; every big crowd turnout is a new chance to redeem the club and gain some new followers in the process.

The importance of this game for Florida can hence not be stressed enough.


“Tampa Bay Lightning is a Box of Chocolates; you never know what you’ll get”

I don’t think it was Columbus that uttered those words, but it is to him we now return.

For the Panthers he’ll make an appearance in Tampa Bay this coming Monday, on Columbus Day. It will be a symbolic way to end the long preseason tour and early campaign as the Panthers thereafter get some rest (until next Friday’s game versus the Flyers) and then return to the regular season grind.

With five regular games under the belt we should be in a much better position to judge what this year’s reincarnation of the Cats hold in store.

Before we come to that point however we have the Floridian derby against the Lightning, a game that will be contested by fierce cross state rivals. Although prior to the game against the Panthers, the Bolts have a chance to redeem their early season woes against Carolina on Saturday.

So far, after three games, it is fair to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning have not gotten off to the start they were hoping for.

Much was expected of Tampa Bay for this season in terms of overall on-ice improvement. This has yet to come to fruition and they remain winless to this point.

To me it seems that the Bolts last season put all their efforts into their forward compartment; with the end result of the team becoming unbalanced. This summer therefore, the management focused solely of the upgrade of the defensive corps.

However, the rising evidence seems to suggest this has only led to a new imbalance, with nine defenders battling for ice time.

It is hard to understand this logic. But we all know the Tampa Bay Lightning organization work in strange ways. Who am I to question their reasoning?

I’m probably too conservative. I like the idea of balancing the team, whilst at the same time I detest the idea of letting players sit on the bench rolling their thumbs without playing any competitive games. But hey, I’m sure they know what they are doing...right?

Anyway, the Panthers often find the Bolts to be a tricky opponent to unlock. And it being a derby game; one never knows how things will unfold.

This could go either way.

Nonetheless, I do dare wager that the Lightning will struggle this season if they do not address the glaring issue of imbalance. A couple of trades are likely necessary to rectify the problem: The sooner the better for the team and its fans in western Florida.

As for the Panthers, we will not get anything for free this season. Yet, the team is being slowly molded into Coach Peter DeBoer’s own image. And if the players can display his level of competitiveness, never-say-die attitude and directness, we should be fine.

It is a long road to travel however, and while the Florida Panthers players may feel like they’ve already circumvented the Earth a couple of times; truth is that the real journey starts today…


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