I took $10.60 out of my meager allowance to buy two “victory rats” for a Florida Panther victory today, but I didn’t get to throw them.
In a game with solid physical play, good defense, and a one heck of a fight, it was the Florida Panthers’ lack of scoring depth that prevented a victory tonight. Behind two pretty goals by Kris Versteeg, there wasn’t much pressure to speak of in the New Jersey end of the ice for the second half of the game. The stats sheet is telling: the Cats had only eleven shots in the last two periods, and only one in the third. The Panthers’ lack of puck possession gave the Devils plenty of time to ratchet up the pressure and force overtime.
Once again, Jose Theodore was solid stopping pucks for the Panthers, turning away 32 of 34 shots in regulation. For the most part, the defense played well in clearing pucks, but there was a lapse from Brian Campbell that led to the Devils scoring the tying goal. Henrik Tallinder took a slapshot from the point, and Campbell turned expecting to clear a rebound. Instead, the puck missed the net, bounced back off the boards, and Zach Parise rushed into the crease to deposit the puck in the empty net. If Campbell played tight to his man, the ice crew might still be sweeping up plastic toys off the ice right now.
While I’m on the subject, Zach Parise might be my favorite non-Panther player. He plays a gritty style of hockey, is a backchecking demon, is always secure with the puck, and he always finishes his opportunities. It would be more than a mistake for Lou Lamoriello if he let Parise walk after the end of his contract.
But to stay on point, the biggest issue on this game and on this Panthers’ team is the lack of secondary scoring. The top line of Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, and Stephen Weiss can only do so much to contribute to the Panthers’ scoring attack. We fans often give the bottom three lines a free pass because they generate chances and hold the puck in the opponent’s zone. When they can’t even do that, like they couldn’t tonight against the Devils, those players deserve the brunt of the criticism. Every defenseman and top-line forward did their jobs to help the Panthers, but the bottom lines fell short of their tasks. If the Panthers like their spot on top of the division, they need to put forth a TEAM effort, not a top line or goalie effort.
But if there is one thing where the Panthers are consistently bad, it’s in the category of shootouts. The Panthers have gone to six shootouts this year. They have scored one goal total, from Marcel Goc in the very first game against the Lightning. That is one area where the Panthers need some inspiration: no matter who goes out there, nobody can find the back of the net. It’s getting frustrating to think that these shootouts are a foregone conclusion.
But finally, I wasn’t at all displeased with the effort put forth by the newest Panther, Krys Barch. His fight with Cam Janssen was one of the best that you’ll see all year. It was long, brutal, and set the tone for the chippy atmosphere of the rest of the game. I like the physicality that he brings to the team, and hopefully he can stick around and produce in other areas of the game as well, like in the penalty kill.
Overall, though, we probably should be glad that the Panthers squeezed out a point. With a one-shot third period, you’re not going to earn many points at all. We just need to find that extra scoring touch from the rest of the team. Once that happens, we should be fine. In the meantime, let’s try to turn our average performances into points so we can stay on top of the Southeast Division.
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