CORAL SPRINGS — It has not even been a full week yet, but the preseason has already reached the point of monotony for some Florida Panthers.
Some, not all.
For the veteran players, the regular season could start this week.
It will not, but if they had their way, it would.
For some of Florida’s younger players, they would not mind if they continued to get their chance to play in preseason games.
After all, the more they play, the better chance they have of showing they deserve to be with the team when the final roster is set.
Alas, that is not happening, either.
For a good number of Florida players, this afternoon’s exhibition game against the Ottawa Senators in Sydney, Nova Scotia, will be their last chance to stick around and try and make the opening night roster.
Coach Paul Maurice said cuts are going to be made following today’s game — 4 p.m. on NHL Network — with one group of around 28 players practicing come Monday.
After making a handful of cuts on Sunday, the Panthers are currently at 48.
Because so many players are vying for a handful of roster spots, Maurice said it would not have been fair to them to bring too many veteran players to the Maritimes on Sunday.
Due to NHL regulations, a number of veteran players need to be on the roster and the Panthers will comply with the likes of Nick Cousins, Ryan Lomberg, Kevin Stenlund and Spencer Knight.
But the vast majority of Sunday’s lineup will be comprised of players chasing their NHL dreams with the Panthers.
“This is the last push for some of these guys because we’re going to one group on Monday,” Maurice said Saturday afternoon before heading to the airport. “It will be a big group, but it’ll be one group. So for some of these guys to get into that 28-ish group, this is a big night.”
Said Cousins: “We have some really good players in the pipeline and this is a chance to show what they got, make some tough decisions for the coaching staff and our management. There have been a few guys who have caught my eye this camp and that is great for the organization.’’
Sunday’s game, which is part of the NHL’s Hockeyville series, will be played at the 5,000-seat Centre 200 in Sydney which is home of the junior hockey Cape Breton Eagles.
Although the game is being played at 5 p.m. local time (Nova Scotia is an hour ahead), the Panthers and Senators will both partake in an early morning skate — preceded by a red carpet entrance — which is open to the public.
With the excitement of having NHL hockey in a town of about 30,000 (which would make it the 23rd largest city in Broward County just below Cooper City), this should be a more festive environment than your typical preseason game.
That, at least, brings some excitement for both the veteran and younger player.
“It is going to be a cool experience,” Cousins said. “It is going to be nice to play in front of the fans there in Canada, they are so passionate about the game. It should be a good atmosphere for us and everyone in our room is excited for it.’’
In 2009, the Panthers went to Helsinki to play a doubleheader against the Chicago Blackhawks to open that season.
Before those games, however, the Panthers traveled by bus to Tampere and played Tappara in an exhibition game.
Sasha Barkov, then a 14-year-old who played for the Tappara junior team, was part of the sold out crowd that night and it was the first NHL game he ever saw.
Who knows who will be in attendance today?
“I love this,” Maurice said. “There are great hockey fans all over the world but in Canada, the small towns, this is such a big deal for them, right? The vast majority of us in the NHL grew up in a fairly small town. The National Hockey League was something on TV and something you dreamt about. It was not something you experienced.
“I was well into my teens before I saw my first NHL game in person. So this is a big deal. This is the closest they will get to an NHL game.”
Maurice added “I would love to bring every one of my veterans up there to play, but I can’t take a game away from a kid who is trying to fulfill his dream of playing in the NHL.”
TRAINING CAMP NOTES
The Panthers made some cuts to their roster ahead of Sunday’s game with six being assigned to Charlotte.
Forwards Skyler Brind’Amour, Kai Schwindt, Wilmer Skoog and Patrick Giles were sent to AHL training camp along with goalies Evan Cormier and Mack Guzda.
Brind’Amour, Skoog and Cormier are signed to AHL deals with the Checkers this season.
— Grigori Denisenko missed Friday’s preseason game against Carolina with what Maurice characterized as back spasms.
That led to Maurice calling Skoog at his hotel and telling him to get to the arena, pronto.
“It tightened up and he couldn’t go,” Maurice said of Denisenko. “It is not going to release in one day. It could take a little while for him to get going — a three or four day thing.”
— Sam Bennett was back on the ice for Saturday’s practice after missing the previous few days after sustaining a minor injury during the preseason opener against the Predators.
— Maurice said he expects to have Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk back when the team gets to one group on Monday.
“There is nothing long term,” Maurice said. “It is groins and hip flexors and everything that comes from being overuse and being overloaded. We had a bunch happen in the game (Friday) but the big name guys, I expect them to all be full-go on Monday. They tested great, came in, worked their asses off. I am not worried about them. We’re going to get them healthy and be there Monday.”
— Although today’s game will be broadcast in the United States on NHL Network, it will not be shown on broadcast television in Canada according to Saltwire.com.
The Senators are staying in Nova Scotia to play the Pittsburgh Penguins in Sidney Crosby’s hometown of Halifax on Monday and that game will be televised by TSN.
UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS (3-1)
PRESEASON VS. OTTAWA SENATORS (3-1)
- When: Sunday, 4 p.m.
- Where: Centre 200, Sydney, Nova Scotia
- TV/Radio: NHL Network/560 WQAM
- Previous Exhibition Games: Florida 5, Nashville 0 (Sept. 25); Florida 5, Nashville 2 (Sept. 25); Carolina 4, Florida 1 (Sept. 27); Florida 4, Carolina 2 (Sept. 29)