Game Day Preview: Wild vs. Panthers. Including Thoughts On A Slow Start



Game Day Song: Adam Raised A Cain, Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band

With frustration building, and losses mounting, the intensity of today’s game day song expresses what many may feel. Not necessarily the words, but the tone.  After what could be called a valiant effort Thursday night against the Boston Bruins, the Florida Panthers came up short……again.  At some point you’d have to think that this Panthers’ team would be rewarded for their effort, yet there are too many problems that continually cause the end result.  You can pick anything from slow starts, to not burying chances, to sloppy defence, to playing a style that was meant more for the 90′s than now.  The bottom line is, the Florida Panthers continued inconsistency has to give at some point.  Add to that, it appears that each game that is lost, a new way of doing it evolves, and Thursday’s last minute goal by Boston’s Reilly Smith proved it.

Eight games into the young season, the Panthers are looking for answers that hopefully will be found on this current six game homestand, but if things don’t turn quickly, the season will begin to slip away.  Not that anyone has aspirations of making the playoffs, but if that isn’t at least your base objective, then what is?  The Panthers currently sit 13th in the Eastern conference, and 7th in the Atlantic division.  They’ve given up a conference worst 31 goals, and have scored only 18 themselves.  Players like Shawn Matthias, Brian Campbell, Scottie Upshall, and surprisingly Tomas Kopecky are all looking for their first goal of the season.  Campbell is already averaging 25 minutes of TOI, and looks as thought he’s trying to do too much.

Speaking of Campbell, the defence looks out of sorts most of the time, and even though head coach Kevin Dineen has tried numerous line changes with the forwards, he’s basically stuck with the same defensive pairings with the exception of sitting Ryan Whitney for Matt Gilroy.  It could be time for Dineen to take a look at some different combinations on the blueline. As for goaltending, Tim Thomas just returned from injury on Thursday and looked good overall after missing four games, but Jacob Markstrom hasn’t.  Early goals which plagued the youngster last season are still an issue, and big juicy rebounds which aren’t entirely his fault need to be reduced.  Not to be a “Debbie downer” this early into the campaign, Florida needs to find a formula for consistency that will give them success.  Even if it’s in little spurts, but the cliche’s have already become tiresome.

The Minnesota Wild come to town tonight riding a two game losing streak, but are 9-3-1 overall against the Panthers.  A team known for having a stingy defence, and usual solid goaltending, the NorthStars Wild are streaky at best this season themselves.  There must be a problem when Matt Cooke is tied for the team lead in scoring with six points, and Dany Heatley has yet to score a goal.  However Heatley, a former 50 goal scorer seems to be a mere shadow of himself lately, and his lack of scoring could indicate that he’s at the downside of his career.  At only 32 years old, one would hope that’s not the case, but Heatley needs to freewheel in order to be effective, and he may not have that opportunity in Minnesota.

Zach Parise leads in goals with 4, and for the money he’s earning he better.  Ryan Suter is Ryan Suter, but he’s averaging 29:00 minutes of ice time already.  Should that pace continue, he’ll likely collapse by Christmas, and become worthless the balance of the season.  These two players will determine the fate of this Wild team, and while Minnesota doesn’t scare or overpower you, their style of play is meant to be low scoring, and with very good goaltending from Josh Harding, they make you earn your wins.

Florida needs to find some sort of identity that will allow them to make some progress.  Taking things one game at a time is fine, but if there isn’t some improvement soon, we’ll be staring a top 3 draft pick in the face again.  The dump and chase style of play doesn’t work, or at least not for all four lines.  Brian Campbell is a puck moving defenceman, and he really should be moving the puck either himself more, or making more north-south passes.  The team has speed.  Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said so, yet it’s frustrating not seeing it.  The defence needs to be more aware, focusing on clearing players and pucks from the crease, and not allow as many second chances.  Less shots that are 55 feet away from the goaltender in honor of David Booth would be a welcomed sight as well.

At some point the players need to decide that playing a full 60 minutes is the only way they’re going to win.  Until they do, it’s going to continue to be a frustrating season.  Slow starts and cute plays both have contributed to the overall inconsistency, and until that is corrected, the frustration will continue.  It’s a long season, and even though the roster made some late training camp additions, the core of this team has played for a couple seasons.  The chemistry should be better.  Why it’s not is concerning.  This Minnesota team is beatable, but like any other game, the Panthers must work hard, stop the fancy shmancy, and play as a team.  They can’t continue trying to be something they’re not.

Final note, this will be the first game against his hometown team for Panther forward Nick Bjugstad.  Hopefully he’ll be able to make a lasting impression.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments and opinions.

Follow the Panther Parkway crew on Twitter: Frank Rekas @FrankRekas, David Lasseter @davidlasseter , Paige Lewis @PaigeLewisFL, Jameson Cooper @JamesonCoop, and Amanda Land @HockeyGirl2530.  Also, please join our FaceBook Fan Page and hit the like button, send us photos, and tell us what’s on your mind.


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