Menu

New-look Panthers visit Isles

In an effort to snap a record playoff drought, the Florida Panthers brought in a number of new faces this summer.

The New York Islanders have been working on their core group for a few seasons.

The two playoff-starved clubs open their respective campaigns with high hopes this evening at Nassau Coliseum.

The Panthers own the longest playoff drought in league history, having not made the postseason since 2000. So, it has been back to the drawing board for second-year general manager Dave Tallon, who added a number of new players this year, including forwards Kris Versteeg and Scottie Upshall, center Tomas Fleischmann, defensemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski and netminder Jose Theodore.

Tasked with blending this new group together, one that also includes holdovers David Booth and Stephen Weiss, is new head coach Kevin Dineen, the Panthers' eighth bench boss over their playoff drought.

"You see the potential that's there," Dineen told Florida's website. "The youth, the veterans, the skill that was added this summer, you have a lot of reason for optimism. It makes for a very exciting time. There's 14 other teams in our conference that are doing the exact same thing, talking about their young players and saying, 'OK, we've got good things coming.' Different story line everywhere. The story line here is the potential."

The Panthers did lose goaltender Tomas Vokoun to free agency, leaving Theodore and Scott Clemmensen to handle the duties in net. Theodore will start the season as the No. 1 netminder with Clemmensen on injured reserve due to knee surgery.

Theodore was 15-11-3 with a 2.71 goals-against average in 32 games with Minnesota last year, while Clemmensen was 8-11-7 with a 2.62 GAA in 31 games with Florida.

Promising center Mike Santorelli is also sidelined due to a shoulder injury.

The Panthers will visit the Penguins on Tuesday before back-to-back games against the Lightning, a tough run that will be made a little easier if they can best the Islanders tonight.

New York has missed the playoffs in five of the six seasons since the lockout and is hoping its collection of impressive youngsters can take another step forward. That group includes John Tavares, who signed a six-year, $33 million extension in September, Kyle Okposo, Calder Trophy nominee Michael Grabner and Nino Niederreiter, who begins the year on IR due to a groin injury.

Thankfully, No. 1 defenseman Mark Streit is healthy after missing all of last year due to a shoulder ailment.

New York also added some veterans to the mix, trading for forward Brian Rolston and signing center Marty Reasoner before adding defenseman Steve Staios and forward Jay Pandolfo on one-year deals late in the preseason.

"I think we've got a good mix," coach Jack Capuano said. "I don't want to talk about last year too much, but when we did lose [Mark Eaton] and [Mike Mottau and a lot of guys that we lost, Dougie [Weight], to injury, it gave other guys a chance to step up leadership wise.

"I love the mix that we have right now with our youth and our veteran guys."

Capuano has to wonder how much he'll get out of Rick DiPietro, who enters the sixth season of a 15-year contract. The goaltender has been held to just 39 contests over the last three seasons due to injury, including 26 appearances in 2010-11. He went 8-14-4 with a 3.44 GAA in that span.

New York is 24-10-4 in 38 previous home openers, while Florida owns a record of 7-7-3 on opening night.

The Panthers have won six of nine and 12 of their last 17 meetings overall in this series.