“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
It’s an oft-used quote, but it is certainly applicable to the week the Florida Panthers and their fans have had. What started this past Saturday as excitement in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning and grew to euphoria Monday as they destroyed that same team has quickly spiraled into concern following Thursday’s 3-0 loss at home to the Buffalo Sabres. Most alarming is the fact that the Panthers were shut out of the scoresheet for the second consecutive game after scoring nine goals in their previous two. What’s even more troubling than that is that the back-to-back 3-0 losses was nowhere near indicative as to just how lopsided these games were.
On Tuesday, you can put some of the blame on the quick turnaround and arriving at their hotel at 3 am. On Thursday, you could try to put some blame on some team injuries/illnesses (Ed Jovanovski, Shawn Matthias, and Sean Bergenheim all missed the game with ailments) but the Sabres looked very much like the team everyone expected they could be coming into this season and the Panthers looked like they had another late night the day before. Buffalo dominated every period (despite the a statistically close first period) and had the Cats chasing the puck most of the night and looking sloppy when they were able to possess it. Jose Theodore did his best to keep his side in the game, stopping shot after shot (38 total), including Jason Pominville on a breakaway with the score tied at zero in the first. Much like in the Pittsburgh game last week, the guys in front of him didn’t help him out much. A giveaway early in the Panthers defensive zone led to Thomas Vanek redirecting an open Pominville shot past Theodore to give the Sabres an insurmountable 1-0 lead. Later in the period, Ville Leino forced a Keaton Ellerby turnover which turned into a 2-on-1 before he fed Pominville for an easy chance to make it 2-0. For a team that is now struggling for answers, it wasn’t hard for coach Kevin Dineen to see what was wrong:
“I think it started right down at the bottom, right down at our feet, and ended with our heads…We weren’t moving our feet and I just don’t think we tried hard enough. There’s lots of little things that go into it during the course of the game. At the end of the day, if you’re not working hard enough, especially when you’re playing a team that had a lot of jump to them, I didn’t like the way we responded. That’s six periods in a row that we showed little snapshots here and there but we are a long way from where we were four, five days ago.”
Dineen wasn’t the only one involved with the team to share those thoughts. Scottie Upshall, who has struggled in his first few games as a Panther, had a similar view:
“When things aren’t going well, you just kinda go the extra mile to get your chances. And when you get them, you gotta be able to finish. And that’s something, as a group collectively, we’re just shying away from right now.”
Right now, Panther fans have to be asking themselves which is their team: The high-scoring team from Monday, or the team who can’t buy a goal since? I like to think that somewhere in the middle of that scale. Perhaps, those chemistry issues that many expected are coming into play. The teams has only scored four even-strength goals in their six games and the production from the bottom nine forwards is non existent. Tonight, Dineen put Tim Kennedy (recently recalled from San Antonio) on a line with David Booth and Tomas Kopecky, hoping to jump start the second line. As a group, they responded with two combined shots. To his credit, Upshall responded to his demotion to the third line with a team-leading five shots.
It’s still way too early to panic on this team considering the type of guys that now make up the roster but the scoring balance that people were so excited about needs to manifest itself in a hurry. Looking at the schedule ahead, there certainly are no gimmes. Following Saturday’s home game against the New York Islanders, it’s off to Monteal, Ottawa and Buffalo before returning home to face Winnipeg, Chicago and what is certain to be a ornery Tampa team looking for revenge. It’s not an easy road as some of those teams have Stanley Cup aspirations, but maybe this team can benefit from playing great teams early to turn themselves into a better Panthers team down the road.
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