Game Day Preview: Penguins vs. Panthers. Always The Same




 After a week on the road, the Florida Panthers will finally come home to the friendly confines of south Florida and the BB & T Center to host the Pittsburgh Penguins for their home opener.  The only good thing about the four game road swing was game one, which the Panthers played a very complete game to beat Dallas 4-2.  Since then it’s been a downward sprial with losses to St. Louis, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.  It’s not only that the Panthers have lost three in a row, it’s the way they’ve lost, which has to leave a bad taste in their mouths.

The shellacking in St. Louis, and the beating received in Tampa surrounded a valiant effort In Philadelphia.  However, there is no column for effort, and things need to turn quickly.  The Panthers who have been outscored 16-3 in the three losses must tighten up their defence for one, and must forecheck and backcheck better as well.  Both were problems last season with an injury riddled team.  A reversal of fortune was expected with the addition of veterans Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney on defence.   The turnaround has yet to materialize.

Head coach Kevin Dineen was dissappointed in the response of last night’s game, having this to say afterwards:

“We didn’t respond well to pressure,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “When they pressured our players, instead of responding to that, understanding that it was coming, I think it created turmoil for us.

“They work as hard as anybody in the league. If you don’t match that, if you don’t have 100 percent buy-in and effort to try to contain them, you’re going to get lit up like we did.”

The physical response that’s been missing from the Panthers goes back for quite sometime, yet young defenceman Erik Gudbranson is attempting to resolve that.  The fan base wants it, and yet when Erik provides it, the penalties he receives frustrates them.  You can’t have it both ways.  Gudbranson is a big, punishing defenceman, who is getting stronger.  He needs to play physical to be effective, yet he cannot be the only player providing the sandpaper.  There needs to be an overall response, and tonight would be a perfect time to display it.

The Panthers did end their power play drought last night as Brad Boyes scored the first power play goal of the season to break the 0 for 16 skid, yet it wasn’t enough to ignite the offence any further.  Most of last night’s game as well as part of the other losses looked as though the Panthers were skating in quicksand.  Tonight’s game at home against the Penguins hopefully will provide the adrenalin to turn things around.

The Penguins come to town with a high powered offence featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and a hot Jussi Jokinen.  The Penguins are 3-0-0 and have outscored their opponents 12-3.  They are quick on offense, have an improved defence, and if goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stays hot, they’ll provide a tall mountain for the Panthers to climb.  Also, keep your eyes on a couple young defencemen for Pittsburgh, Matt Niskanen, and Olli Maata.  Both have played well early on, and bring some additional offensive flair to their game.

If the Penguins appear to slow things down at times, or somehow become boring, you can blame that on the newly hired assistant coach Jacques Martin.  Uncle Jack as he in known around this website is a former coach and general manager with the Panthers, and while he didn’t do that very well, he was excellent at pouring a five gallon bucket of paint on the ice and telling his team to watch it dry.

26-year-old Jeff Zatkoff will get his first NHL start tonight as Marc-Andre Fleury’s back-up.

The importance of this game cannot be stressed enough.  The Panthers need to win.  A solid effort with a loss will not be enough to turn the tide.  The Cats had a solid effort for most of the game in Philadelphia, but as I said earlier, that doesn’t show up anywhere other than in your analysis of the game.  While it’s only the fifth game of the season, you’d almost have to believe that this is a must win.

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