One month down, six to go (seven? maybe? yeah, it’s six). The Florida Panthers ended their October on a high note Saturday, beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 at Bell Centre, snapping the Habs four game win streak while halting a two game skid of their own. So before the Cats kick off their November on Wednesday at home with their second Southeast Division contest against the Atlanta Thrashers, let’s take a look back on what we saw in the season’s first month.
Record- 4-5-0, 8 pts (T-13th in Eastern Conference),2-1 home, 2-4 road. The schedule makers didn’t do the squad any favors, as they played twice as many road games (all in Canadian arenas) as the did at the Bank Atlantic Center. They managed to get a win in the last game of two separate road swings. A few more breaks and maybe they bring home 3-4 extra points but the really good teams make their own luck. The good news is those first nine games, only twice have there been really bad nights we’ve become accustomed to seeing. While it seems like a backhanded compliment (and it is), it is an improvement, especially in light of the fact they’ve been on the road a lot.
Goaltending- Tomas Vokoun, for the most part, has been stellar. He had two bad outings against the Dallas Stars and Ottawa Senators, but has been more than strong in his other six starts. It’s cliche, but it’s true when you say that he gives the team a chance to win every night. In his only start , Scott Clemmensen played well until a bad call and a Phil Kessel breakaway sank the team in a loss in Toronto.
Forwards- What was perceived to a be a weak point coming into the season has been proven to be true. The forwards as a whole are mediocre. The lines have been shifted just about every game it seems, and the productions continues to elude. It’s been the Century Village line of Radek Dvorak, Marty Reasoner and Cory Stillman that has been the most dangerous and productive (6 goals, 9 assists, combined +7 rating). When that’s the case, you know you’re not horribly skilled up front. The play of Stephen Weiss and Michael Frolik has been abysmal, to say the least (2 goals, 4 assists, combined -6 rating, although Weiss accounts for all of the -6). Coming into the season, Frolik talked about being more consistent, but so far, it’s just been talk. And the Weiss experiment should just about be over (Can anyone still explain why he still has the A on his sweater?) as Frank Rekas touched on today. He’s just not a top tier center, and he won’t ever be. Chris Higgins came into the season hoping to recapture his 20 goal from his days in Montreal, but so far, it hasn’t happened. He hasn’t played bad as it seems he’s done everything right to score, except put it past the goalie. He just seems snakebitten right now and you hope he can put together a couple of goals to get his season jumpstarted. David Booth has put last season’s concussions behind him and looks a lot like the Booth we remember from the 08-09 campaign. Probably the biggest surprise, at least to me, has been the play of Rusty Olesz. In the past, I’ve been way down on Olesz but on most nights, his work rate is very high. While the main stats aren’t there, and it’s impossible to justify his salary, he’s been one of the more aggressive forecheckers.
Defense- This area of the team has been a pleasant surprise. There are no stars, but there are no weak sisters either. Bryan McCabe is second on the team in scoring with 7 points (1 g, 6 a, +4) while Dennis Wideman has added 5 (2 ppg, 3 a, +1). And despite a low +/- rating, Jason Garrison and Mike Weaver may be the team’s best pairing. Their play is a big reason the Cats currently boast the league’s 8th best PK unit at 87%. Their forwards haven’t done them many favors, sometimes leaving them hang out to dry after a bad turnover, the defense has been a strength of this team.
Coaching- It seems that Peter DeBoer has shuffled the lines after every game, trying to find the magic combo. As soon as he realizes that there’s not a whole lot you can do with substandard forwards, the better off he will be. The team has laid a couple of huge eggs where the effort has been horrible, so he’s got to take the blame for that. But those two games aside, he’s had the team competing hard on most nights. But let’s face facts, he’s not a mircale worker. This teams is what it is. Give Gord Murphy credit for the turnaround on the PK. The jump from 23rd last year to 8th this season is impressive.
Looking Ahead- The Panthers play 13 games in the month of November, seven of them at home (including the three game set during Thanksgiving week). We’ll find out just how the team stacks up in the Southeast Division, as they play five games against division foes. How they fare in the mid-month 4 game roadie is crucial point in this young season.
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