GAME DAY SONG: DEMONS by Imagine Dragons
This is not so much of a preview as it is more of a brief analysis of the Florida Panthers after their frustrating 3-1 loss to Buffalo Friday night. With a record of 3-7-1, the Panthers could easily be 7-3-1 if not for a few bad bounces, a few missed scoring opportunities, and of course a full 60 minute effort. Let’s not forget running into a hot goaltender here and there as well. Friday night’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres has to be one of the most aggravating losses this franchise has seen in recent memory. The Panthers controlled the entire first period by outshooting and outplaying the lowly Sabres, and took a 1-0 lead into intermission. But we’ve seen this scrmipt before, and the ending is usually the same. The next 40 minutes the Panthers did what I mentioned in my game day preview that they shouldn’t do……they gave the Sabres an ounce of hope, and Buffalo used it to score three unanswered goals (one an empty netter) and leave with only their second win of the season.
The Panthers recorded 45 shots on goal against backup Jhonas Enroth who looked like a Vezina Trophy winner last night. However, there were numerous scoring chances that the Panthers weren’t able to take advantage of. Tomas Fleischmann, Shawn Matthias and Kris Versteeg all had glorious chances to score, but didn’t finish. In all the Panthers took aim at Enroth a total of 79 times, but only 45 were counted as saves, as 17 were blocked, and 17 missed the mark. The inability to capitalize on scoring chances, and the inability to find accuracy in their shots has plauged Florida like a bad fungus which won’t go away. Consistently being inconsistent isn’t a virtue to be proud of, and this Panthers’ team has been guilty of it far too long. Coach Kevin Dineen is looking for answers:
“It’s a hard loss for us,” a sullen coach Kevin Dineen said. “At the end of it, we weren’t trading chance-for-chance. It was three or four then one against. It’s just the quality of that one chance against. .-.-.
“We’re still looking for that complete effort on both sides of the puck. We couldn’t crack that nut out there and that’s the frustrating part of the game.”
In addition, the Panthers who lack overall physicality have had trouble with their emotions at times. Steve Ott, Buffalo’s co-captain, and known agitator, did his job Friday night by getting under the tatoo’s of Panther defenceman Erik Gudbranson. The two dropped the gloves and danced a bit at the close of the first period, however the officials became involved immediately by doing their best to separate the two. Both received five for fighting, and it was Gudbranson who received another five minute fighting major in the second period when he fought Cody McCormick just after Rasmus Ristolainen scored his first NHL goal, tying the game at one. While I certainly don’t mind Gudbranson getting his hands dirty, the Panthers can ill afford to have one of their defencemen miss 10 minutes of ice time in less than 20 minutes of hockey.
The Panthers who were coming off a very solid performance against the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday, seem to be looking not only for an identity, but answers as to why they are struggling so much. Kevin Dineen has tried so many line combinations already, he makes Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville look tame in doing so. However, Dineen is attempting to send a message with the shuffling, but also he’s benched Scottie Upshall, and will bench Brad Boyes (the teams leading goal scorer) tonight for performance. Dineen is most upset with the defence of Boyes, and is apparently willing to sacrifice his offence to teach the veteran a lesson.
One of the biggest flaws in their game right now is the lack of net presence both at even strength and on the power play. Very little traffic has been generated in front of opposition goaltenders, and the opportunities for shots off of rebounds have been almost non existent. Garbage goals as they are often called can make the difference in tighly battled contests. Unless you’re in position to get them, they’ll never happen.
With four games under their belt on this current six game homestand the Panthers have a measly 3 points to show for it, despite the effort, which overall has been above average. Yet it seems that there are times that the team is still learning when to step on the oppponent’s throat and close games out. The balance of young and veteran players is fairly even, and it would appear that there is enough experience in the room, and on the bench to know what needs to be done. There are times however, like Friday night that you wonder. When the Panthers play a fancy game, it always catches up to them, and the mentality of pass first needs to go out the window.
Tampa comes to town after playing Buffalo Saturday night, and while you hope they might be suffering a bit from fatigue, Florida needs to worry about their own persona, and focus on getting the job. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis will give Florida enough to keep their hands full, and because of those two, defensively the Panthers best be on their toes.
The Panthers held a closed practice on Saturday at the BB & T Center, and had a closed door, players only meeting afterwards. Both are signs of knowing that there’s a problem or set of problems that need to be fixed. A victory tonight will go a long way in fixing whatever ails this team, yet you want to see it more consistently of course. As winning one game won’t cure everything. A loss, and depending on how the loss happens will only add to the frustration, and could potentially force something to happen. What that something is the Panther brass will need to figure out.
Don’t forgot tonight’s game starts at 5:00 P.M.
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