This summer, Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon began the umpteenth makeover of the club since its last playoff appearance in 2000. Jettisoned were the likes of Nathan Horton (who asked to be traded) and Keith Ballard, talented players who never reached full potential with the club. In came a group of players who, while underwhelming on paper, have helped reshaped the attitude of a team in desperate need of it.
In addition to a first round draft pick received from the Boston Bruins, the Panthers received D Dennis Wideman (pictured above, scrapping with Dallas’ Adam Burish ), who was coming off a disappointing season after a great 2008-2009. It was thought that Wideman would help beef up a power play that was 29th in the league last year. And although the Panther PP is still 29th in the league six games in, it’s not for a lack of trying from Wideman. His lone tally of the early season gave the Cats their first goal of season with the man advantage and his twelve shots are tied for seventh on the team (with Michael Frolik nonetheless). When (If?) the Panthers PP start’s producing more goals, chances are high that Wideman will be a big part of that.
The most pleasant surprise has to be Marty Reasoner. The 33 year-old center was brought over in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks to play on the fourth line but has found himself earning about 15 minutes a night while centering the third and sometimes second lines. He’s chipped in five points in six games (including two goals in the opener against the Edmonton Oilers). He’s also a big reason that the Panthers have killed off 14 of 16 penalties (the unit was perfect until Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders), an early dramatic improvement from last season’s 23rd ranked PK.
Also adding to the success of the PK unit has been D Mike Weaver. He was acquired from the St Louis Blues, last season’s top penalty killer and hasn’t missed a beat as a Panther. Weaver and Jason Garrison (when he’s been healthy) have arguably been the Panthers best defensive pairing. Saturday against the Islanders, he recorded his first two points as a Panther, tallying a goal and an assist.
Also having a positive impact have been RW Steve Bernier (1-3-4, +1) and C Mike Santorelli (0-2-2, +3). Overall, the infusion of new blood seems to have given Tallon’s desired attitude adjustment (Thursday’s 4-1 loss to Dallas aside). They’ve scrapped, fought, forechecked, backchecked, played defense better than at any prolonged point last season and the numbers show it. In addition to the PK numbers mentioned, the Panthers are currently ninth in shots allowed at 27.7/game. Last season, they were dead last in that category with 34.1/game. While their record is currently at 3-3-0, the eyes and the numbers show that most of the new guys have given this team the fresh outlook the club has desperately needed. The results (i.e. playoffs) may not be there, but improvements can now be seen, which, at this point, is all fans can ask for.
Now if only Chris Higgins can get his game going….
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