The Florida Panthers Are In Search Of An Identity
After three consecutive losses leaving the Florida Panthers at 1-3-0 one week into the season, you can’t help but feel a touch anxious about the slow start, not to mention the three game losing streak. The offensive spanking that the Cats gave to the Carolina Hurricanes on opening night, has been replaced with lethargic, mistake filled, and confused play. This is not what was expected from last year’s Southeast Division champions especially after adding free agents Peter Mueller, Alex Kovalev, and rookie Jonathan Huberdeau. All three of those players were instrumental on opening night, but have been stymied in the three games that followed. Speaking of stymied, an APB (all points bulletin) has been put out for the top line which has only produced one goal which came Thursday night in the loss to Ottawa. Adding to that frustration, those three top forwards (Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss and Tomas Fleischmann) could all miss tonight’s game against the Flyers due to injuries.
Regardless of the bumps and bruises it appears that something is missing from the Panthers team. With that said, I asked the fan base what they thought it was, and what they thought could be done about it. Here’s a sampling of the responses:
@TheRatTrick call up howden, trade a player or 2 for someone who can really be a game changer. Need to shake it up. The offense is too quiet
@TheRatTrick a person who can score. Another defensive defenseman, and a few more 2 way players.
@TheRatTrick Hockey IQ, passion, conditioning and an on ice leader
@TheRatTrick Team Identity? Speed? Skill? Defense? Leader? Not hitting? This team is not hard to play against. Flash pounded no response.
A trade, play better defence, score more, play with passion, and bring up some youth to inject a spark. All typical responses for a team that’s in a slump, which is exactly where the Panthers are right now. However the most glaring items that were mentioned were physical play, being hard to play against, and conditioning.
What’s being alluded to is that the team lacks an identity. Are they a puck possession team? Do they forecheck with abandon? Do they play a shut down defensive style that limits the shots on goal? Do they use team speed to create scoring chances and have the other team chasing after them all night? So far none of these seem to resemble the Panthers in any way, and while injuries to key players have caused the game plan to change, there has to be a style that they can adapt to.
Personally I like a team that’s either physical and forechecks like maniacs, or a team that is quick, skilled and uses their overall team speed to their advantage. If we look at the physical side, the Panthers have been out hit by their opponents 101 to 74. They’ve also needed their goalies to make 148 saves in four games. That’s an average of 37 per night, reminding us of the days of Jacques Martin and the collapsing defence (it never really worked). Too much rubber headed your way nightly isn’t a good thing. Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen will be exhausted by March if this continues.
To make a contrast to this, the Chicago Blackhawks have started out 4-0-0 and have outscored their opponents 17-10 while being out hit 123 to 70. However the Hawks style of play is to use their speed to create scoring chances, and hold on to the puck as long as possible with crisp and accurate passing. It’s working, it’s exciting, and they are obviously dangerous and tough to play against even though they aren’t overly physical.
The Panthers who are missing Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim and Kris Versteeg are hurting at forward. Stephen Weiss has a lower body injury, and Tomas Fleischmann has a cut on his foot, and both are questionable for tonight’s game. Quinton Howden has been recalled from San Antonio and could make his NHL debut this evening…..against the Philadelphia Flyers. Not the way the Panthers wanted things to go, but sometimes you have to step into the fire.
Being tough to play against can come in a number of forms and doesn’t have to have anything to do with being “physical”. The Panthers need to get back to what worked for them last season, using team speed, playing more north and south, and cut down on the cute plays, turnovers, and shots against. They need to go to the net and create traffic in front of the opposition’s goaltender, and be more aggressive. They have the talent, and they have the skill. They just need to settle down and get back to the basics.
Thank you for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions. Maybe we’ll see you at the game tonight!
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