Luongo to miss third straight as Panthers cling to playoff hopes


Florida starter Roberto Luongo will sit again on Thursday when the Panthers take on the Jets in Sunrise, head coach Gerard Gallant confirmed today.

Luongo (23-16-11, 2.37 GAA, .921 save percentage), who suffered a shoulder injury during a wild game against Toronto last week — the same game in which second-stringer Al Montoya hurt his groin — will watch as journeyman Dan Ellis makes his third consecutive start for the Panthers, with ECHL recall Sam Brittain backing up.

It’s a tough blow for the Panthers.

Following a 4-3 shootout win over the Isles on Saturday, the Panthers were just two points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. But since then, Florida hasn’t played — Boston has, however, scoring big wins against Detroit and Ottawa to boost its lead to six points (the Bruins and Panthers are also now even in games played, with 66 each.)

If there is a silver lining for the Panthers, it’s that they still have three more cracks at the Bruins this season, the first of which comes in two weeks time at the BB&T Center (on Saturday, Mar. 21).

From there, the two will face each other two more times: in Boston on Mar. 31, and then back in Florida on Apr. 9.

Goalie Nods: Hutchinson gets a sixth straight start


Michael Hutchinson gets the nod in Nashville

Michael Hutchinson will look to right the ship tonight in Nashville. The Jets’ goaltender allowed three goals on 17 shots in a loss to the Senators on Wednesday. Hutchinson has lost three of his last five games while posting a 2.57 GAA and .906 save percentage. The Jets have not won in Nashville this season and will look to avoid a third straight loss to the Preds.

Pekka Rinne, who has lost four in a row, gets the nod for Nashville.


Blues at Leafs: Brian Elliott vs. Jonathan Bernier

Stars at Lightning: Jhonas Enroth vs. Andrei Vasilevskiy

Islanders at Panthers: Michal Neuvirth vs. Dan Ellis

Sabres at Capitals: Anders Lindback (unconfirmed) vs. Braden Holtby

Avalanche at Blue Jackets: Semyon Varlamov vs. Curtis McElhinney

Canadiens at Coyotes: Carey Price vs. Mike Smith

Penguins at Kings: Marc-Andre Fleury (unconfirmed) vs. Jonathan Quick (unconfirmed).

Canucks at Sharks: Eddie Lack vs. Antti Niemi

Panthers assign Ellis, Luongo ready to go


Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo appears recovered from his upper body injury as Florida assigned goaltender Dan Ellis to its’ American Hockey League affiliate in San Antonio on Sunday.

Luongo was injured midway through the Panthers 1-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night.

The 35-year-old appeared to injure his left shoulder as he stretched out to rob Hurricanes forward Viktor Rask of a sure goal.

In 17 games this season Luongo is 7-5-5 with a 2.33 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Ellis was recalled to backup Al Montoya in Friday’s win over the Ottawa Senators.

In 12 AHL games this season Ellis is 8-4-0 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average.

Florida visits Columbus and Detroit on Monday and Tuesday. Luongo is expected to be ready to start one of those two games.

‘I don’t feel secure’: Kopecky nervous about spot on Florida roster

With over 500 games of experience, one Stanley Cup and a four-year deal worth $12 million, Tomas Kopecky is a pretty well-established NHLer.

Which makes it weird to think that he’s worried about job security. From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:

Fast forward to Wednesday’s practice with Kopecky skating on the fourth line with Derek MacKenzie and Shawn Thornton. Suddenly the 32-year-old left wing isn’t taking anything for granted, including health and job security.

“No, I don’t feel secure. I have to earn it, not only for a job but you’re fighting for ice time,” Kopecky said after practice at the Ice Den. “You have a new coaching staff and you try to earn their trust. It’s simple things, pay attention to details. I don’t think anybody should be secure with a spot here.

“I know [GM Dale Tallon] isn’t afraid to mix up things and he’s showed it. I don’t take for granted I’m going to be on this team.”

Kopecky, 32, scored 25 goals over his first two years in Florida and enjoyed a banner lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, averaging a career-high .52 points per game. But a serious concussion suffered while playing for Slovakia at the Olympics derailed him last season and, with Florida brass showing they’re comfortable burying veteran money in the minors (Dan Ellis and his $1 million salary was recently shipped off to AHL San Antonio), Kopecky is nervous about his future.

As mentioned above, Kopecky’s in the last of his four-year deal, with an average annual cap hit of $3 million. While it’s unlikely the Panthers would want to eat that kind of money, the club does have a plethora of young talent looking to break through up front. The team currently has 31 players on its training camp roster, which includes 18 forwards.

Panthers place veterans Dan Ellis, Zanon, Crabb on waivers

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The Florida Panthers reduced their training camp roster by 18 on Sunday and a few veteran players were caught in the flurry. Forward Joey Crabb, defenseman Greg Zanon, and goaltender Dan Ellis have all been placed on waivers, per the Sun Sentinel.

Among the cuts, Ellis is arguably the least surprising. The Panthers received Ellis in the Tim Thomas trade, but he posted a 4.81 GAA and .836 save percentage in Florida. That prompted the Panthers to sign Al Montoya to a two-year, $2.1 million contract over the summer and push Ellis out of the picture. Ellis has 204 NHL games under his belt, but teams are likely to pass on the 34-year-old rather than take on his $1 million salary and $900,000 cap hit for the 2014-15 campaign.

Zanon has played in 493 games, but the 34-year-old’s time in the NHL might over. He spent the 2013-14 campaign in the minors and appears to be in for a similar fate this season.

Crabb is the youngest of the trio at 31 and has the least NHL experience with 179 contests under his belt. He played primarily with the AHL San Antonio Rampage in 2013-14, but also logged nine games with the Florida Panthers. Like Ellis, Crabb is signed to a one-way contract and is consequently owed $600,000 for 2014-15 regardless of where he plays.