After breaking out and scoring 7 goals (five on the power play) against Tampa Bay on Monday night, the Florida Panthers have gone two game without scoring one. I give them a pass “kind of” for Tuesday nights game against Washington since it was their third in four nights, and goaltender Tomas Vokoun seems to already be in midseason form. But Thursday nights game against Buffalo was hard to watch. Head coach Kevin Dineen is full aware of the situation and while he’s not happy, he intends on fixing it. Now. The thing I like about Dineen so far is that he’s not making excuses and his blunt and direct responses after games let you know he’s not letting the players off the hook. Here’s what he had to say after last night’s loss (Source: Miami Hearld):
“I don’t think we tried hard enough,” coach Kevin Dineen said flatly. “There are a lot of little things that go on during the course of a game. … That’s six periods in a row that we showed little snapshots here and there, but we’re a far way away from where we were four or five days ago. We need to address that and soon.
We got outworked in our home building and that has some sting to it. It’s the first time for a lot of us who are new here. It’s got to stop right now.’’
Like it or not, the last time we heard that kind of talk at this point of the season (or any for that matter) would have come from former coach Mike Keenan in the early part of last decade. The players on this team know there’s some issues that need to be resolved as well. With a 3-3-0 record can you remember the last time the players held a team meeting after a game this early in the season? The room is made up of different players than we’ve had in the past. Players with winning attitudes and character. You know they’re frustrated, but they aren’t panicking and neither should you. Kris Versteeg gives a perfect example:
“We had more energy tonight for sure,” said Panthers forward Kris Versteeg. “We definitely got to figure out a way to score more goals 5-on-5, because the last couple of games when you get [3 power plays] you got to find ways to win games in other areas.”
While we’re only six games into the season, take a look at who we’ve played so far. The Islanders, Pittsburgh, Tampa (twice), Washington, and Buffalo. Every team a playoff team from last season with the exception of the Isles, and they’re no slouch this year either. The schedule won’t get any easier with another contest at home Saturday night against the Islanders, then a three game road trip taking the Panthers to Montreal on Monday, Ottawa Thursday and Buffalo Saturday.
It’s quite obvious that our weakness has been scoring. There are 6 forwards without a goal, and even though they’ve had chances, they have to capitalize on them. Jack “Crash” Skille, and Scottie Upshall seem to be the most snakebitten on the team. Unable to find the net, these two players have had their opportunities, but they’ve been thwarted. The five on five scoring that Steeger referred to is concerning, and is only going to improve with hard work, and applying constant pressure. At times on Thursday it seemed that everyone was stuck in slow motion. There’s too much speed here for that to be happening, and I’m hoping it’s not a conditioning issue.
There’s a couple negatives besides the secondary scoring that I’ve referred to here, and that’s the poor defensive play in our zone, especially in front of the net. Poor decisions have been made by every defencemen, yes even Big G, and most of the goals against us have not been the fault of our netminder. Poor clearing attempts, not able to clear the crease, and bad passes have all resulted in goals. That part of the game must be cleaned up. I’d also like to see less of Dmitry Kulikov who is off to another slow start, and more of Erik Gudbranson. While Kulikov has two seasons under his belt he seems to be making rookie mistakes, and he’s better than that. Cut back his ice time by three to four minutes and see if that works. I’d also like to see more of Erik Gudbranson, if nothing else to show confidence in him. He’s still essentially on a nine game trial, and with three games to go he still has a chance, although slim, to go back to juniors. I believe that would be a mistake, but is it possible and do you think he’s a touch tentative knowing that? None of us can know what’s going on in his head at this time, so save your energy and don’t try to figure it out. When he survives the nine games, I’m pretty sure we’ll see a more consistent and confident player instead of the bits of flashes we’ve been given so far. He’s good, and will get better, but needs to know that there’s confidence in him.
Thankfully the one area that many were worried about has been the most positive part of the season thus far, and that’s goaltending. Jacob Markstrom’s NHL debut on Tuesday showed that the future in goal will be in good hands. However more importantly the play of Jose Theodore has impressed everyone, as Jose has kept both losses close. He’s not going to be perfect as no goaltender is, but of the 13 goals that have been scored on him, most were not entirely his fault.
The ironic thing is that after six games, some are beginning to wonder if what we’re seeing resembles prior years. A lack of scoring and good goaltending. On the surface it appears that way, the difference however is the coaching, the players and the system. The makeup of this team isn’t the same as what you might be used to. Too much character, and too much professionalism here. When Mike Santorelli comes back from injury, and he’s close, there’s a potential 25 goals. That right there will inject some spark. We have depth and players whoare going to have to perform to get their ice time. Dineen and his staff will work on the things to keep this team holding their head high.
We all expect more from the players that we have, but don’t worry, so do they!
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