The NHL is heating up in South Florida these days.
It's been quite some time since we had something to be excited about in Sunrise. Don't look now, but the Panthers are bringing some heat (NBA lockout pun intended).
Two games is a small sample size by which to judge a season, but we can take a quick peek inside the Panthers and realize we may be seeing the beginning of something special.
Left Wing: First Line
Fleischmann played 17 minutes against the Islanders and logged an assist on the Cats' first goal of the year by linemate Stephen Weiss. Fleischmann was sharp all night.
He then logged 18 minutes against the Penguins and was much sloppier. Fleischmann got nabbed on a hooking penalty and made a very bad pass, resulting in a Keystone Kops goal by the Pens before salvaging the night with a goal in the third.
Center: First Line
Weiss played 19 minutes against each team, scoring the Panthers' first goal of the year in the first period of the Islanders game. He whiffed on a gimme in the first period of the Pittsburgh game.
He has been quick on the draw, winning 19 of his 35 faceoffs.
Weiss is unused to being surrounded by talent on his level, and it may take time for them to gel, although early reviews are promising.
Right Wing: First Line
Besides being a great singer, Versteeg is a pretty good hockey player too.
He assisted on Garrison's goal in the Islanders match, playing 18 minutes. In the Pen's game, he assisted on Fleischmann's goal, playing for 20 minutes. He showed tenacity and hustle in both matches.
As I've said before, the jury is still out on the first line, but preliminary results are encouraging.
Left Wing: Second Line
For a skill player, Booth has showed a lot of grit, totalling five hits over his first two games and almost throwing down with Mike Mottau of the Islanders, drawing three penalties before committing one of his own.
Even though he didn't figure into the scoring in either game, he's been everywhere on the ice and looks poised for a breakout season.
Center: Second Line
Kopecky was sharp against the Islanders, winning six of his 10 faceoffs in 17 minutes and blocking a shot in the crease with less than a minute left in the first period. He also looked pretty good teamed with Mike Weaver killing a pair of penalties in the third.
In 18 minutes against the Penguins, Kopecky was less effective, winning three of 11 faceoffs and posting a minus-two on the night.
Right Wing: Second Line
Upshall only played six minutes against the Islanders before being served a game misconduct for failing to buckle his fight strap. Kudos, however, for sticking up for Kopecky, who was tagged in the back of the head by an Islander while lying in the opposing team's crease.
Against the Penguins, Upshall played for 15 minutes. Like a lot of the team, however, he was somewhat outmatched against the Penguins.
Grade: Incomplete (limited ice time)
Left Wing: Third Line
Against the Islanders, Bergenheim played 16 minutes and dished out four hits while twice being called for hooking.
Against Pittsburgh, he somehow managed to come out of the contest with a plus-one. He gave out two more hits in 15 minutes.
Bergenheim has looked out of place and somewhat unsure of himself at times. He currently leads the team with 10 shots on goal, but has yet to connect.
Center: Third Line
Goc had a quiet night against the Islanders, winning six of his 13 faceoffs in 17 minutes of ice time.
He scored his first goal on the season against the Penguins, midway through the second period on his only shot of the year, (let's see how long he can keep his 100 percent shooting rate). He went six for 14 on faceoffs in 14 minutes on the ice.
Right Wing: Third Line
Skille played 14 minutes in New York and was skating like his life depended on it. Although he didn't score, he looked sharp, fast and aggressive all night.
In 11 minutes of ice time in Pittsburgh, Skille dished out four hits and assisted on Goc's second-period goal.
Skille doesn't look anything like the guy we were introduced to late last season. If he could share some of whatever got into him with the rest of the team, I think we'd be in serious business.
Left Wing: Checking Line
Bradley didn't log much time on the ice, playing for a combined 17 minutes over the two games. He did manage to dish out a lot of punishment per minute with six hits. He also drew a goalie interference penalty in the third period in New York.
Center: Checking Line
Matthias won five of his eight faceoffs in a combined 23 minutes of ice time. He also handed out three hits and drew a holding penalty against Pittsburgh.
Right Wing: Checking Line
Carter won only three of his 14 faceoffs over the two contests, handing out two hits in 21 minutes of ice time. He was also guilty of a tripping penalty against the Isles and a hooking penalty against the Pens.
The aggregate score for the checking line, however, is kind of high. Between himself, Bradley and Matthias, the three looked ferocious on the ice. Look for Dineen to continue using all four lines.
Campbell was outstanding against the Islanders, assisting on both goals, blocking three shots and accruing an incredible 30 minutes of ice time.
He came down to earth a bit against Pittsburgh. He still managed to block two shots in 28 minutes, but looked a little slow against the Pens' deadly transition game and posted a minus-three on the night.
Defenseman: First Line (New York), Third Line (Pittsburgh)
Kulikov logged 20 minutes of ice time in New York, getting two hits in the process. He also whiffed on a great goal scoring opportunity in the third.
Against Pittsburgh, Kulikov blocked two shots in 21 minutes, and was also called for tripping Jordan Staal with a minute gone in the third. Kulikov was good and bad against the Pens, making several great passes and also turning the puck over at the worst possible times.
Jovanovski's second debut with the Cats was quiet, as he logged one hit in 17 minutes against New York.
In 16 minutes against the Penguins, he blocked two shots. He was, on more than one occasion, caught out of position on the power play and proved too slow to recover against the Pens' ridiculous transition game.
Still, Jovo's got history, and I look for him to warm up as the season progresses.
Gudbranson looked pretty good in his NHL debut, logging 11 minutes, one hit and one shot on goal against the Isles.
In 14 minutes against the Pens, he logged two hits and three shots but, along with veteran Jovanovski, was caught out of place on the penalty kill.
Grade: B+ keeping in mind he has only played two NHL games.
Defenseman: First Line (Pittsburgh), Third Line (New York)
Against the Islanders, Garrison had an all-around great game, scoring a power-play goal in the first, logging three blocked shots and five hits in 25 minutes worth of ice time.
He again played for 25 minutes against the Penguins, blocking three more shots and collecting two more hits. He was also called for boarding in the second on Joe Vitale.
Weaver looked good against the Isles, blocking three shots and getting one hit in 17 minutes. He also looked very good on the PK all night.
Against the Penguins, Weaver again played 17 minutes, collecting an assist on Goc's second-period goal and dishing out two hits while blocking three shots.
Theodore looked spectacular against New York, stopping all 27 shots by the Islanders and collecting the 31st shutout of his career. It's been said that he's no Vokoun, but if he's got something left in the tank after that game, he might be good enough to get us to the playoffs.
More mortal against the Penguins, Theodore allowed four goals on 29 shots. In his defense (no pun intended), two of the four goals were preventable with better judgement on the part of his defensemen.
Grade: A+ against New York, C against Pittsburgh.
Overall grade: B+