Ladies and gentleman, welcome back to our Cats Recap as we kick off the start of the season with a win for the Panthers as they take down the New York Islanders by a score of 2-0. The rebuilt squad, under new head coach Kevin Dineen, looked sharp in their season opener, controlling most of the play in the game and giving us a hint of what's to come. After a shaky preseason, the Panthers laced the skates up a bit tighter, played a very solid defensive game and provided starting netminder Jose Theodore with a mediocre goal total, but some solid offensive output overall.
It's very clear after this game: This is not the Panthers we're used to. The roster was overhauled, the coaching staff was changed, and as a result you see a far different product on the ice. Speaking personally, I was very excited to see this team in action in a regular season game, and for the first time in a long time, I felt comfortable with a two-goal lead going into the third period. When's the last time any of us could say that?
Things started off relatively slow, with both teams sort of gauging each other's lineups and play styles. The Panthers outshot the Isles 10-5, but the Isles outhit the Panthers 11-10. Panthers assistant captain Stephen Weiss tapped in the first tally after new addition Brian Campbell made a solid play and got a shot off that trickled through Islanders goalie Al Montoya. The first three powerplays went to the Panthers, with the second morphing into a 5-on-3 thanks to a Travis Hamonic instigator penalty. Jason Garrison managed to convert for the Cats on the 5-on-3 with less than a minute to go in the period, giving the Panthers a two-goal lead. The powerplay looked very strong and much improved from last season; you can tell coach Dineen is preaching a puck possession system, as the Panthers had the puck in the Isles zone most of the time during the man advantage. One other thing to note from the period: new Panther forward Scotty Upshall fought Hamonic after Hamonic gave Tomas Kopecky a shot to the back of the head as he lay in the Islanders crease. Props to Upshall for sticking up for his teammates; we, the fans, salute you sir.
Panthers started the second on the man advantage, but could not convert. After that, they turned it on, and poured the offensive pressure on the Isles. There's no question this team can put up some numbers, especially with the defensive players as active as they are in the offensive zone and on the rush. Montoya played quite well, turning away an offensive flurry from the Cats in the first five minutes. The Isles had trouble generating much pressure, and the Nassau Coliseum crowd started the boos at about midway through the period. The Isles got their first two powerplays, first on a Sean Bergenheim interference call and second on a Ryan Carter trip, but the Panthers were able to kill them off thanks to some stout goaltending by Theodore. Both teams tallied a dozen shots apiece in the second.
Cats started the period still on the PK from the Carter penalty and promptly killed it off, but came back on the PK about four minutes later as Bergenheim gets yanked for hooking. The Isles had a lot of trouble getting a rhythm on the powerplay, and every time they got it going, Theodore was there to make a big save and keep the Islanders off the board. Kopecky and Mike Weaver were great on both kills; expect to see those two in that role all year long. The Panthers then got a powerplay chance and nearly converted several times but were unable to put it away, as both Weiss and Dmitry Kulikov had golden opportunities. The puck movement on the powerplay was again fantastic, and assistant coach Craig Ramsay has to be happy with what he saw. With just under five minutes to go, the Isles took another tripping call, sending Florida back on the powerplay but to no avail. The Isles made a last ditch attempt, pulling Montoya, but were unable to put one in as the Cats closed out their first win of this young season.
- The Panthers top line of Kris Versteeg, Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann is no joke. They are fast, creative and put pressure on the Islanders nearly every shift.
- Campbell is money (as is his contract, duh). An assist on each of the first two goals, and countless other times where his passing and skating abilities generated offensive chances.
- Theodore didn't see a ton of pressure until the Islanders started getting on the man advantage, but he looked solid and focused throughout and make some big saves for the Cats. Not much to worry about going forward; he looks ready to shoulder the load.
- David Booth was everywhere on the ice; he looks driven and should have a great season if he can stay healthy.
- The defensive pairing of Garrison and Weaver might have been broken up, but it was reunited on the penalty kill and still looked sublime.
- I may or may not go to bed tonight and dream that I can stickhandle like Fleischmann.
- The Panthers fourth line (Shawn Matthias, Carter, Matt Bradley) didn't get a lot of chances, but one thing is for sure: those boys can hit. Matthias looked great in this game and made a lot of little smart plays, using his size all night long.
- Erik Gudbranson looked calm and cool in his NHL debut, and registered a couple of shots, all of the booming variety. He didn't see much time in the third period, likely due to the fact that the game was relatively close.
- Jack Skille was on a bit of a hot seat for a roster spot, or so thought many fans. He looked fantastic during the game, and often used his speed and size to generate chances.
- Upshall received a game misconduct and was not seen after his fight with Hamonic. Apparently, his fight strap wasn't fastened properly, and the misconduct was issued because of this. Fun fact: This is known as the Rob Ray Rule. Learn something new every game folks.
- At certain angles, Kevin Dineen looks likes Tom Hanks. Shame Clay Wilson didn't get re-signed; listening to Dineen yelling "WILSON!" throughout the game could've garnered some giggles out of me every time.
- Montoya looks good for the Isles, and I think he'll handle most of the workload for the team this season.
- Oh yea, one last thing: Michael Grabner didn't score. There is absolutely no reason at all that I would mention this.