The offseason expectations for this Florida Panthers team were through the roof, and by now, we’re all rightfully disappointed. A 1-2-3 record was not how fans expected to start the 2018/2019 season, but this is where we are now, and the Cats have to deal with their own mess now. Lets break down the ups and downs of this young Panthers season to figure out what’s gone wrong or right so far.
Let’s start with the glaring issues we’ve seen so far. The Panthers have given up an astounding number of goals so far this year, and it’s concerning. The Panthers defensive unit was one that had pretty much remained in tact from last season, only adding Bogdan Kiselevich to the mix.
The pairing of Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad has taken a considerable amount of heat from fans recently, with many calls for Yandle to be scratched, ending his streak of consecutive starts. Fans’ frustrations were only fueled by Saturday night’s game losing turnover in overtime by Keith Yandle, one I’m sure he would do anything to do over again.
The Panthers offense has been living up to expectations, scoring 3 or more goals in four out of their first six games, which one might expect to be good enough to win. This might be true, if the team weren’t surrendering over 4 goals against per game so far.
Goaltending issues are included in this because ultimately the goalies are the ones giving up the goals against here. Losing Roberto Luongo in the first game of the season might be unlucky, but James Reimer has looked rusty at best in his starts, while Michael Hutchinson has looked just as good since being called up to fill in Lu’s absence.
For the Cats to start winning more games, the defense needs to play like they actually know the person playing next to them. Giving up 4 or 5 goals each game is inexcusable, and there’s no way to win games like that. Something has to change back there, and it needs to be as soon as possible.
Coughing up a Lead
If you haven’t been watching, the Florida Panthers have had a lead in every single one of their first 6 games of the year. Whether it’s early or late in the game, they have had the lead and some control of every game. This is probably one of the most glaring problems of this team so far. They need to be able to play with a lead, and giving up leads like they have this year will cause them to miss the playoffs if it keeps up. The Panthers must be comfortable playing ahead, and they have to learn how to protect a lead instead of whatever those first 6 games have been.
Flat Second Periods
Another theme of this season has been the lackluster effort the Panthers have come out with in second periods. Over the past 4 games, the Cats have given up 13 goals in the second period, with a (+-) of -8 in those games. Having a “Problem period” like this will prevent the Panthers from being anything special like they want to be. It is unacceptable to get on the ice for a period and just give up the kind of goals against the Panthers have recently.
Strength of Schedule
Perhaps one positive the Panthers have going for them so far is the quality of their opponents so far. 4 of the 6 teams we have played so far this year made the playoffs last season, and the Cats only win this year has come against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. In those games, the Panthers have played each playoff team closely, each game being decided by only a goal. On the other hand, the Panthers have lost 2 games to teams who missed the playoffs last year, each having miserable seasons. Losing to the Canucks and Red Wings at home just can’t happen this year. If the Panthers expect to succeed going forward, they can’t keep squandering points to inferior opponents.
So… Is This Salvageable?
Short answer, YES. If you’re a Panther fan who is disappointed in how things have gone so far, good. So am I, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to jump ship. There’s no need to fire Bob Boughner or Dale Tallon just yet, good things come to those who wait. Remember, this is a team with a top-tier top-6, with pieces other teams would kill to have as their own. I fully trust that things will gel and return to normalcy. For future success, the Cats need defense to get their stuff together, and goaltending to become somewhat reliable. Offense will always be there, it’s just a matter of can the team keep the puck out of their own net.
As always, Thanks for reading!