Monty’s Debut Wasn’t A Flop, However The Defence Did.

The Florida Panthers’ Sam Montembeault made his NHL debut last night against the Carolina Hurricanes. The anticipation of him starting (game time decision) and his performance was intensely dissected throughout the day and continued beyond the end of the game. Sam was good. Not great, but then again, he wasn’t bad either. He faced 30 shots, stopped 26 of them, and with the exception of maybe the first goal, you can’t fault him entirely for the goals that were scored.

It was asked by many why Sam was starting the most important game of the season. The reality of it is, the most important game of the season for the Panthers was probably played in November, when the Panthers lost a 2 goal lead and proceeded to lose in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks. On home ice. Therefore last night’s loss only cemented the fact that the Panthers are not a playoff team, as they are now 10 points behind the second wild card spot, with essentially 5 teams ahead of them.

You can stop scoreboard watching.

As for the game, Monty wasn’t really tested. He made some very good saves, and he made the ones he should have. Again, the first goal he’d like to have back, but let’s take a look at the video replay of how it happened:

The first mistake was the pass to the middle of the ice by Mike Matheson. Who was that pass intended for? The next mistake was Keith Yandle being careless with the puck, then getting pick pocketed, and not even touching Brock McGinn, the eventual goal scorer. This is the definition of softness that many have been describing for our defence

On the second goal which was scored less than a minute later, look at the defensive coverage by Josh Brown, Ian McCoshen and the forwards who all seem to be chasing the puck, yet forgetting about the open man in the slot, former Panther Greg McKegg. He has a clear pathway to Monty, and because McCoshen didn’t know where to be, and Brown was late back to cover the area near the net, he scored. As good as those two have been recently, those were caused by inexperience.

Two minutes into the game the Panthers found themselves down 2-0, and the rookie goaltender likely asking himself, “is this how the rest of my night’s going to go”?

As per usual the Panthers had a slow start. The Hurricanes knew that the Panthers have a habit of doing that, and played an aggressive opening few minutes. There was hardly any action in the area I was sitting in (Panthers shoot twice zone). But the defensive play in front of Montembeault was sloppy and careless. They were unprepared, and unaware. As though this was their first game together. Things finally settled down, and the Panthers ended up tying the game with goals from Henrik Borgstrom and Mark Pysyk. Here’s the first of Borgstrom’s two goals. The first one scored on a sneaky wrister:

There were no goals scored in the second period, but at the 5:32 mark of the third, Borgstrom scored his second of the game to give the Panthers the lead. The lead was short lived however as Brett Pesce scored just under 3 minutes later to tie the game at 3. You’ll see on this game tying goal, Vincent Trocheck made a careless play in the Carolina zone, leading to a turnover, which the Hurricanes capitalized on.

The mistakes are no longer limited to the defence, the forwards have been making them as well. After 64 games, no lessons have been learned. Last night was proof that if the Panthers don’t pay attention to shoring up the defence in the off season, it won’t matter if Panarin, Hoffman, Dadonov, Barkov and Huberdeau are all with the team. Heck, might as well bring back Pavel Bure and Olli Jokinen. The defence is swiss cheese, and we already are aware of the goaltending issues. You cannot score your way to the Stanley Cup if you can’t stop the other team from scoring.

The game was tied after regulation and the faithful were treated to extra hockey on a Saturday night. Always nice to see some exciting 3 on 3 action. However the deployment of the players likely cost the Panthers a victory. As good as Borgstrom was (2 goals) he only played 8:16 of the entire game. He wasn’t allowed to take a shift in overtime. I question that decision.

Keith Yandle played 24 minutes last night, and was his usual defensive liability all night, especially when it mattered most. Here. On the game winning goal.

As you can see the Panthers had two glorious chances to win the game, but Hurricanes netminder Petr Mrazek made two outstanding saves. Sebastian Aho scores the game winner on a beautiful pass from Nino Niederreiter who was defended by Yandle. No one is really sure what Yandle was trying to do on that play, yet his flop, and roll was a display of poor defence. My point is this. If you aren’t going to give Borgstrom at least 30 seconds of overtime play in a game where he’s scored twice, you cannot let Yandle play in overtime when his defence has been inadequate.

Yandle is excellent on the power play. He’s a big reason why it’s ranked number 2 in the NHL. We know this. Yet what we are continuing to see, and yet is continuing to be ignored is how poor his defensive play is. In overtime it’s a liability that the Panthers cannot afford. His minutes need to be micromanaged at this point, and careful attention should be paid to who he plays against.

The Panthers host the troubled Ottawa Senators tonight. The game time is 5:00 pm, and there should be no debate on who starts in net. Go with the kid. Let’s see how he does in back to backs. Yesterday was his first game in about a week, and after dusting off a little rust, and getting over the nerves, he played well. Let him go again. But the defence in front of him, or whoever ends up starting needs to be prepared to play.

We’ve been saying this all season, as well as parts of last season. Wash, rinse, repeat. It’s no way to challenge for the Stanley Cup. Things have to change from the top down. There is talent on this team. Lots of it. But, unless the team is playing as a team, and the sacrifices that need to be made starting being made, nothing will change.

The Panthers didn’t play well enough to win. If they did, they would have won. That statement along with the old, at least we got a point, has created a culture of mediocrity that isn’t acceptable.

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