Last night’s sloppy loss to the St. Louis Blues revealed an element of the Florida Panthers game that’s been absent in many of the teams’ losses this season. Physicality. While our record is 9-6-3, it’s really 9-9. Ouch! I didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but in reality, that’s the truth. Not to say that we aren’t playing well because we are, but we aren’t playing well consistently. We are currently tied with the Ottawa Senators for 7th place in the Eastern Conference with 21 points each, however both the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning are on our heels with 20 points a piece. New Jersey and Montreal each have 19, indicating the conference race is going to be a tight one.
We’ve rehashed the game enough(including Dave’s recap), which we all watched at Duffy’s Sports Bar and Grille in Coconut Creek, and we all saw the same things. Sloppy play, relative unpreparedness, and a lack of hitting. I’ve been campaigning since day one that this team needs to be physical, and be a tough team to play against. Not every team is going to be mesmerized by our speed to the point that dishing out the hits won’t matter. When other teams begin to bump and grind, we seem unable to respond. St. Louis was a prime example of how to expose a weakness of ours. Maybe that was the “Hitch” in last nights game.
Looking at the stat sheet you’ll see that we were out hit 24-10. Jack Skille and Mike Weaver had two hits a piece to lead the team. Players like Keaton Ellerby, Shawn Matthias, Ed Jovanovski and Tomas Kopecky had none. I give Ellerby a pass as he only had seven minutes or so if ice time, but you get my idea. Our big bodies, aren’t banging. I would even like to see more contact from Erik Gudbranson. In our loss to the Flyers we were outhit 22-17. The shootout loss to Tampa found us again on the short side 29-19. Even the 5-1win in Toronto saw us outhit 33-17. My point being is there’s a pattern developing here, and it needs to be corrected as soon as possible.
We are fast no doubt. When we have the puck, and can hold onto it longer than the opposition, we’re tough to keep up with. However when other teams can match our speed, or when other teams try to slow us down (St. Louis), we fail to apply the body, and get off of our game plan. Don’t take this post the wrong way, since we are technically off to a great start, but if we’re going to battle in the trenches, and advance to the next level and make the playoffs, we are going to have to be more physical. In my pregame write-up yesterday I talked about bringing the lunch pails, and leaving the fancy at the hotel. Seems as though everything was at the hotel, as the Blues played a very typical Ken Hitchcock game.
I compare this situation to the Chicago Blackhawks. In the year they won the Stanley Cup, the Hawks were fast, scored in bunches, and were physical. Last season, they still had speed, but had virtually no grind to their game, and may times didn’t appear to have the desire to change that when it counted. This season with the addition of a few tough players such as Jamal Mayers and Daniel Carcillo, they are back on their way as a Cup contenders. Do we have the players to dish out the hits? I think so, they just need to do it, and get everybody on board to do it as well. If however, this trend continues where the main reason we lose is due to the fact that we’re getting out muscled, then it will be time to find that muscle someplace else. How much better would we be with a true power forward, or a second line player that can scorer, but can also have a nasty streak?
We need to be tough to play against. Every night. In all aspects of our game. It’s still early, and there’s still along way to go. Let’ s not ignore this, and maybe by being a bit more aggressive, we also end up creating some more scoring opportunites along the way.
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