The Florida Panthers certainly had a surprisingly strong start to the hockey season, going 12-6-3 to begin the season. That record was good enough to lead the Southeast Division and simultaneously enthrall even the casual Panther fans. However, the Panthers have looked more than a little bit vulnerable the past few games, falling two games in a row to the Tampa Bay Lightning. You can attribute those losses to many excuses: Mathieu Garon, the Panthers being tired, a revenge factor from the Lightning, etc.
There could be any number of reasons why the Panthers dropped those games, but a more telling issue would be the disparity of scoring in the bottom three lines. The top line of Weiss, Versteeg, and Fleischmann has scored 30 of the Panthers’ 63 goals this year. When you factor in the huge statistics for Jason Garrison and his slap shot, an abnormally large brunt of the team’s offensive attack comes from four players.
For a team that was so confident to get goals up and down the line, the Panthers have not been producing much when the Sawgrass Express’s incredible chemistry or G-52′s awesome howitzer is not on the ice. In order to win some more hockey games, the Panthers’ role players are going to need to pick up some of the slack.
In order to be fair, you can’t blame the bottom line players from trying. Forwards like Jack Skille, Tomas Kopecky, and Shawn Matthias have been buzzing around the net for weeks, and none have been able to consistently put the biscuit in the basket. Last night’s brutal loss to Tampa Bay did have a goal from Matthias that was assisted by Skille, but it was by no means consequential towards the outcome of the game. It took the Panthers about 58 minutes to find the back of the net in that game.
It is getting to a point that head coach Kevin Dineen can only count on the Weiss line to score goals, and the other forwards can only butter up the defense or psyche out the goalie. The second, third, and fourth lines always seem to generate chances, but they are almost always squandered. Michael Repik had a great fastbreak opportunity against the Rangers turned away by a great save by Henrik Lundqvist. Matthias skated past a rebound in the overtime loss against the Lightning. Mike Santorelli missed a deflection last night on the power play. If the Panther players have the skill to generate these chances, they certainly have the ability to bury them.
It’s pretty much common sense at this point that the Weiss line can’t score the Panthers’ goals every game. Even though their play has been spectacular, their needs to be some support. Dale Tallon signed all of these free agent forwards to create a formidable depth, so that every line has a roughly equal shot at scoring. Things haven’t exactly materialized that way for Mr. Tallon, but it’s only a matter of time before those players break out and start doing their share. Hopefully for the Panthers and their fans, that day comes soon, because the Sawgrass Express can stay hot for only so long.
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