For the first time since 1999, Florida Panthers’ fans have something to get excited about as the team has found themselves in a dogfight for the Southeast division title. Right from the start of the season the Panthers turned heads as they climbed to the top of the division and remained a leader for 57 straight days. But just as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” so did the Panthers rein as top dog. A tough schedule combined with untimely injuries to half of the offence, allowed the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets to play catch up, and pull themselves back into the Southeast division race.
The Panthers have gone 3-4-3 in their last 10 games including a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last night in which GM Dale Tallon saw his former team outplay the Panthers, taking note that if he wants to turn the Cats into a playoff contender, there must be work done before the trade deadline.
The excuse of “we’re playing with key guys out of the lineup” is not a factor anymore as Florida had Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall and Jack Skille return against the Blackhawks. Neither of the three had a point in the loss, but they did have a moment or two of solid play considering the time spent attending to injuries.
With the trade deadline quickly approaching Panthers’ fans want Dale Tallon to pull the trigger and make a move that will once again shakeup the squad. If we look back to when David Booth was shipped out of town, it was a move which was sudden and unexpected. It really sent a message throughout the dressing room that this season the Panthers are going to be contenders and if you’re not pulling your weight, you could very well find yourself walking out the door. Booth was interviewed January 9th when the Vancouver Canucks were in town, and he expressed how surprised he was by the move, and added that he wasn’t surprised how the team took off after the trade, he said that the team had what they needed to contend, but after the move, everybody just stepped up their game.
As we look throughout the lineup, breaking down each position we realize that there isn’t much to fix with the team, simply a little “kick in the pants” attitude is just what the doctor ordered.
The Trio of Jose Theodore, Scott Clemmensen and Jacob Markstrom between the pipes have been killer this season for the Panthers. Night after night the goaltenders have played lights out hockey allowing their teammates to keep themselves in the game. Injuries have played a factor, resulting in all three guys getting a fair amount of time in net, but as Markstrom said earlier this season in an interview, the guys know how to communicate and really support each other, something which is a key in successful goaltending.
When we look at our defensive core this season, the Panthers have if not the best, then one of the top blueline in the whole league. Brian Campbell will represent the Cats at the 2012 all-star game in Ottawa. His 31 assists are good for 7th in the league, and 2nd in defensemen trailing only Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators (38). After a goal Friday night against the Blackhawks, Jason Garrison now leads all defensemen with 13, three more than Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators. Overall, the rest of the Panthers blueline has played very well this season, and have all stepped up their game, even rookie Erik Gudbranson has begun to settle in after a shaky start to the season which was understandable.
The Panthers top line of Kris Versteeg-Stephen Weiss-Tomas Fleischmann was unstoppable early on in the season. Night in and night out the Flash-Mob line put up big minutes, and lifted the Panthers to victory. But, lately the line has had trouble getting things going. Other teams have found ways to shut down the trio, and neither has been able to find ways to score. Even worse is other than our top line, guys are really having difficulty to put the puck in the back of the net. If the game isn’t taken control of by our top line, the rest of the team struggles, and since our top line isn’t producing, it is a big reason why the Panthers are in such a funk as of late.
Therefore, Tallon really needs to look at his options. The Panthers best option is to bring in two more top 10 offensive players which can produce for Florida as quickly as possible. Frankly, waiting until the deadline may be too late as Washington and Winnipeg continue to play strong. We need solutions fast, so that we can right this ship and jump back into the playoff hunt as we continue our goal of snapping that terrible post-season drought. The question is, who is out there and who do we give up? Making a trade isn’t easy. You need a partner that’s looking to unload a contract, give a player a change of scenery, or has someone that no longer fits the style of play. Also a team that might be looking to acquire draft picks. We can make all the suggestions we want, but it’s more to it than just that. Surely Dale is working the phones and looking at all angles. I don’t see him sitting tight very long.
Whoever he brings in, will have to be a player that can make an impact. That’s what we need.
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