Once again, the Florida Panthers’ biggest issue reared her ugly head in Tuesday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils. In a 3-2 shootout loss, the Panthers were totally flat on offense outside of the top line of Kris Versteeg, Stephen Weiss, and Tomas Fleischmann. Lines two to four all fizzled trying to generate scoring chances, and it’s getting tougher and tougher to be patient waiting for a breakout.
Panther fans have seen the effort from players like Jack Skille and Mike Santorelli, and have seen the scoring chances generated in other games, and that is all well and good. The Panthers are well ahead in the Southeast Division’s standings, and almost every facet of their game has been playoff caliber, but they could be so much better if they could get solid contributions from the entire roster. We can sense that head coach Kevin Dineen is throwing out lines on the ice, waiting for the top line to be just rested enough to go back out.
There is a growing feeling that only Weiss, Versteeg, and Fleischmann can score for the Panthers, and that just isn’t good enough if they want to make the playoffs.
Wednesday night’s game against the Devils was the epitome of the Panthers’ offensive struggles this year. The Panthers scored two goals: a drop-dead gorgeous steal and pass from Weiss to Versteeg (with a between the legs shot) and a great individual effort from Versteeg on a breakaway to pick a Devil’s pocket and go top shelf on Martin Brodeur.
Those goals were great, but they were just about it for the Panthers’ offense. Against a fairly shaky goalie of late in Brodeur, the Cats couldn’t do much to make Brodeur uncomfortable. This was especially true late in the game. In the final two periods, the Panthers put eleven shots on net. In the third, the Panthers could muster only one.
When you can’t hold the zone in the third period and continue to attack the goalie, you get scored on. That was exactly what happened last night, when Zach Parise netted the game-tying goal halfway through the third to send the game on the track for overtime. The Panthers could seemingly do nothing to stop the Devils. They needed that third goal to put away New Jersey and take the points, but it never came.
When the top line is off the ice, the Panthers need players like Sean Bergenheim and Mike Santorelli to step up and pocket a goal to help the team. But they, and everybody else too, couldn’t. If the Panthers want to defend this sensitive lead in the Southeast, they are going to need those goals. It doesn’t matter how or where on the ice, but it needs to happen. Everyone needs to contribute to the offense.
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