After losing the season opener on the road in New Jersey, 4-0 to the Devils the prior night, Florida returned to Florida to open Miami Arena for the season. They hosted the 0-0-1 Calgary Flames, a team against whom Florida owned a 1-1-0 all-time record.
Recap courtesy of the Sunday Gazette:
Scott Mellanby scored two goals as the Florida Panthers uncharacteristically capitalized on the power play in beating Calgary to give new coach Doug MacLean his first NHL victory.
Stu Barnes also had two assists and scored the winning goal for the Panthers - their first win in a home opener for the third-year franchise.
Calgary's Theoren Fleury had a goal and two assists for the Flames, who made a run at the Panthers in the final minutes.
Florida, 24th in power play percentage (13.1) in the NHL last season, scored two goals - both by Mellanby - with the advantage against the Flames in the first period.
With Florida trailing 1-0 on a goal by Calgary's Michael Nylander, Mellanby was fed the puck by Barnes and slapped it by Flames goaltender Rick Tabaracci just short of the point at 5:54 of the first.
Jody Hull also scored for the Panthers, while David Nemirovsky, Magnus Svensson, and Jason Woolley added assists. John Vanbiesbrouck stopped 19-of-22 shots for the victory. Florida would stay at home for five more contests, the first a match with the Montreal Canadiens on October 11. Calgary would be playing the third game of a seven game, season opening road trip against the Dallas Stars on the 10th.
The 2-0-0 defending Eastern Conference Champion Panthers played their home opener against the 0-1-1 New York Rangers on October 8th. They had defeated the Rangers two nights prior in Madison Square Garden, 5-2. The Panthers could boast a 6-7-2 all-time record against New York.
The Daily Sentinel Recap:
At Miami, Adam Graves scored with 32 seconds left in regulation as New York salvaged a tie in Florida's home opener. Graves' backhanded score came after a controversial icing call on the Panthers that forced a faceoff in the Florida zone with 45 seconds left. The Panthers argued that icing should not have been called because the Rangers could have stopped the puck at center ice.
New York played without captain Mark Messier, suspended for two games for hitting Florida's Mike Hough from behind in Saturday's loss to the Panthers. Glenn Healy made 31 saves for the Rangers.
Brian Skrudland assisted on Tom Fitzgerald's marker for the lone Panther goal. John Vanbiesbrouck stopped 27-of-28 shots in the near-win. The Panthers would not play again until four days later, at home against the Hartford Whalers. The 0-1-2 Rangers would return home to face the Dallas Stars on October 10.
Florida would take the ice for the seasons' third game with a 2-0 record behind two Roberto Luongo shutouts. They had defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning the prior night, 2-0 in Sunrise before the two teams traveled to St. Pete Times Forum to conclude their home-and-home series. Florida were pretty successful against the 1-1 Bolts, with a 28-18-10 all-time record against the squad.
The recap, courtesy of NHL.COM:
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - John Grahame had 28 saves and Fredrik Modin ended Florida goalie Roberto Luongo's season-opening shutout streak Saturday night in the Tampa Bay Lightning's 2-1 victory over the Panthers.
Luongo allowed his first goal of the season on Modin's breakaway 55 seconds into the second period that gave Tampa Bay a 1-0 lead. Modin had just completed serving a minor penalty when he picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and skated in on Luongo alone.
Luongo, who hadn't allowed a goal in 148 minutes, 21 seconds dating back to the 2003-04 season, posted 2-0 shutouts over Atlanta and the Lightning in his two previous games this year.
Grahame made a pair of strong saves on low slot shots by Gary Roberts in the second. He also stopped Chris Gratton during a two-on-one early in the third.
Martin St. Louis put the Lightning ahead 2-0 during a five-on-three power play with 8:09 left in the third.
Florida got a power-play goal from Joe Nieuwendyk with 51.8 seconds to play.
Tampa Bay dominated the first - outshooting Florida 12-4 - but Luongo kept it scoreless. He made several big saves, including an in-close chance by Tim Taylor. The Lightning were on the power play for 8 minutes, 8 seconds during the first, but finished the period 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
Notes: Tampa Bay captain Dave Andreychuk became the seventh player to play in 1,600 NHL games. He joins Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, Ron Francis, Scott Stevens, Larry Murphy and Ray Bourque. ... Florida D Eric Cairns missed his third consecutive game with an ankle injury. ... Luongo stopped all 73 shots he faced this season before Modin's goal.
For a while there, I'm sure there were some of us out there who thought maybe Bobby Lou would never allow a goal again. Unfortunately, we were wrong about that one, but it was still pretty impressive at the time. The Lightning would remain at home and host the Boston Bruins two nights later, while Florida would visit the New York Islanders in Nassau Colesium.
Florida would open the 2011-12 season on the road against the New York Islanders. Florida owned a franchise second best 36-23-15 record against the Isles in the opener for both teams.
Recap courtesy of our very own Ryan Meier:
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.
Panthers @ Islanders 10/8/11 (via NHLVideo)
Weiss spoke to the media afterward about his goal:
"It wasn't an easy one," Weiss said, "because I had one in an exhibition game and I hit the post. But whether it was me or somebody else, it was important to get the first goal."
...and about playing with new teammate Brian Campbell:
"To have a guy like that, it's like night and day, how much more puck possession you have and how much easier it is for the forwards, knowing he's going to make the right play and let you gain ice and gain speed and he's going to hit you in full flight," Weiss said. "It's a pleasure playing with him, because I'm sick of playing against him."
Florida would visit the Pittsburgh Penguins three days later, while the Islanders would host the Minnesota Wild on October 10th.
October 8 - not a bad day. Florida has gone 2-1-1 all-time on today's date throughout their existence. Thanks for reading today, and check back tomorrow for more Florida Panthers history.