For obvious reasons people are getting nervous. Based on Friday nights loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, combined with the Washington Capitals victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers lead in the Southeast Division has dwindled down to two points. With the Panthers off today and the Capitals hosting the Carolina Hurricanes this evening, that lead could very well disintegrate. If that were to become a reality, the Panthers could fall to the seventh or eighth spot tonight depending on what the Pittsburgh Penguins do in Tampa this evening as well.
After spending 57 consecutive days in first place that nauseating feeling is beginning to creep into some. The “I told you so gang” is all revved up and ready to push their “See, I warned you button”. There are a few Panther fans as well that are ready to push a different button…..the panic button.
Boys and girls welcome to a playoff race. Welcome to the time of the season where the times get tough and the tough need to get going. It’s time for your skin to get thick, and I’m here to tell you that the idea of throwing the baby out with the bath water (something an elder used to say to me) isn’t your next move. In recent years we’ve all been accustomed to a mild flirtation at some point in the season where we could see the final playoff spot in the conference, only to be sadly disappiinted and given a dose of reality that we were afraid to admit. Those teams just weren’t good enough to compete. Some knew it, while other kept their hopes alive.
This years version of the Florida Panthers is different. I’m not going to sit here and go over the stats. You know what they are, and you know statistically what needs to happen. This team however was good enough to win 21 out of 43 games, and get points out of 29 in total. Why? Character, talent, hockey sense, and a leadership group that isn’t afraid to do the things during a game and in practice to drive the point home that every player must push each and every night. The perfect example of that is forward Kris Versteeg getting very little ice time in Friday’s third period. Here’s what the coach had to say about the “benching”:
“I think that was a pretty strong reflection of what my feelings were on his play and that’s not a one-game snapshot,’’ Dineen said of playing Versteeg for just 1:19 in the third period, compared to Weiss’ 4:14 and Fleischmann’s 3:28.
“I don’t do that based on one game. I think there’s been a stretch of games where he … is such an important leadership role for this team, [he] needs to play a higher level of hockey.’’
If things don’t turn around for that line, you can bet someone else gets nailed to the pine for awhile. The FlashMob line needs to find it’s mojo and splitting them up isn’t the way to do it…yet. Versteeg isn’t the only player that’s struggling as Stephen Weiss hasn’t scored a goal since December 5th, after a torrid start of his own. As a result of his tailspin hes dropped to fourth on the team in scoring.
But all should not be lost, and all the pressure shouldn’t be on one line. Remember too that we’ve beaten some very solid teams throughout the season: Boston, the Rangers, Vancouver. You don’t lead your division for as long as we have if you aren’t very good. On top of that the teams chasing us, the Washington Capitals for example are a very good team that’s been going through a rough patch of their own. Now they seem as though they are finding their way again. You didn’t think this would be easy did you?
As we approach the All-Star break the games won’t get any easier with games this week against Boston (at home) on Monday, in Colorado on Wednesday, and back to back games this Friday and Saturday against Chicago and Winnipeg (Rat Trick Road Watch). However their is light at the end of the tunnel as some of our injured players are close to coming back. Jose Theodore, Jack Skille and Scottie Upshall have all begun skating again, although there is no timetable yet for their return. Theodore is most likely the closest to coming back.
It’s been a fun 43 games, but now it’s time to put your seat belt on. Buckle in and get ready for the final 39 games of the season. The destiny of this team lies in their own hands. They know what they need to do, and the year is far from over. Yes, there are problems, but they’re all fixable. Look at last year’s roster, and look at this year’s current roster. That alone is reason enough to keep your finger off the panic button.
To keep you mind at ease, go to today’s practice in Coral Springs. 10:30 and open to the public. Send us some pictures or post them on our FaceBook Page.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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