By the time tonight’s game has been completed the Florida Panthers will have finished the first quarter of the season, and will have played one of four important home games on the schedule this week. With eight points on the line, it’s vital for the Panthers to grab as many of them as possible. Being greedy and getting at least six of eight would be the ideal situation. However just because these four games are at home doesn’t mean that they’ll be eight easy points to grab. Two of the four games are within the division (Washington and Tampa), while the other two are against Canadian foes (Montreal and Toronto). All four teams have their sites on the post season.
That said tonight’s game against the WashingtonCapitals is crucial. The Panthers are 0-6-0 against Washington in their last six meetings, and must reverse that trend. The 5-0 shellacking on Saturday was an awful finish to what otherwise could be deemed as a successful road trip. Hard to be upset with 5 of 8 points on the road, but the poor effort Saturday night clearly overshadowed the 2-1-1 record. With the home ice advantage the Panthers will need to start each game quickly, and with energy. I’d like to see them start out by laying the first hit or two to set somewhat of a physical tone, and play with energy. At times it appears that these elements of their game are lacking. Couple that with the first goal, and you have the crowd behind you, and your confidence grows stronger.
Throughout this homestand and especially tonight, the goaltending and defence will need to be better. Washington and Tampa Bay have explosive scoring capabilities, while Montreal and Toronto use their team speed to create scoring chances. There may be a game during this homestand that our goaltenders will have to “steal”. With Ed Jovanovski still about a week away from game action, Tyson Strachan remains in the lineup, and Erik Gudbranson will finally play in front of the home crowd for the first time this season. The goal differential however has a spread of 15. Meaning that the Panthers have given up 15 more goals than they’ve scored. At times they’ve looked good, but at others, not so much. Too much traffic in front of the net that’s not being cleared out, and too many odd man rushes with players getting good looks at the goaltender, and being able to finish their play. The Panthers can ill afford this trend to continue, and need to have things cleaned up starting tonight.