With 8 games played since the All Star break, the Florida Panthers have gone a decent 5-3-0. Their most recent loss to Ottawa snapped a 3 game winning streak, but the Panthers hope to start a new one tonight against the Washington Capitals. Before the beginning of February I did a post titled 5 Important Things That Must Be Done After The All Star Break . With 8 games behind us, I’d like to take the time to do a bit of a recap and grade how the Panthers have faired thus far.
My first key component was that Dale Tallon needed to be a buyer before the Trade Deadline. Although the deadline isn’t here yet, there have been rumblings across the NHL already. The most recent trade was between the San Jose Sharks and the Tampa Bay Lightning, where former Panther, Dominic Moore was sent over to the Sharks. Harvey Fialkov, the lead writer for the Florida Panthers on the Sun-Sentinel recently talked to Dale Tallon about the deadline, and Tallon gave us a pretty clear answer on what he plans to do.
“We’re not sellers,” Tallon said. “We got five games before the deadline, so we’ll know better. We got a good team, so it’s a matter of adding pieces. We’re moving forward from here; we’re not subtracting.”
Certainly a good attitude to have as we are still in 1st place and drastic changes aren’t needed, unlike last season. Many players like Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, Ryan Smyth, Ales Hemsky and many others have been the headlines for this years trade deadline but Dale said that the Panthers are still building for the future. Yes they’re ahead of schedule but just because this season has gone so well we can’t forget about the plan. He wants players that will help in the long run, not just for the 2nd half of this season. Thus far I would have to simply give this component the following rating:
Rating: A because Dale looks to be interested in adding or keeping players rather than selling.
The 2nd component was that the Panthers needed to win 9 games in the month of Februrary. So far, through 8 games they have 5. With the next 3 games at home, look for the Panthers to inch closer to that number with an extra week in the month left. With 6 games remaining in this month, the Panthers would have to win 4 of those games, which can certainly be done since we play only 1 team currently holding a playoff spot and thats Toronto. Tonight could be a real statement game in which the Panthers would take a 6 point lead in the division and would certainly remain in the playoff picture if Washington were to catch fire after. With the Panthers going 6-3-1 over their last 10 and the Capitals going 3-4-3 over their last 10, a game like this can really change the momentum in the locker room.
Rating: B+, a 3 game winning streak helped boolster the confidence and with a win tonight, the rating could pump up to a A-
The 3rd component was no more overtime/shootout losses. The Panthers have done well thus far in this area. They have not gone into overtime since January, and they have been closing out games when they’ve needed too. The average margin of goals in the Panthers wins have been 2 goals, so the Panthers are either getting a back breaking empty net goal, or are simply just getting better goaltending down the stretch. What the Panthers have done well at is bouncing back in games in which the other team scores first, and thats usually early. We’d like to see the Panthers score first, but in games where they have lost, they have been losing pretty badly. In the 3 losses this month, the other team has won by either 3 or 4 goals.
Rating: A, not giving up extra points to the other teams and taking the 2 points is huge down the stretch.
The 4th component was that Tomas Fleischmann had to get back into rhythm. After going through a stretch in which he only had 5 points in 19 games, Flash has found his step and has 8 points in the 8 games this month. Flash is currently riding a 4 game point streak. Flash has to keep scoring and producing points because when the Panthers stunk in January, a big part of it was because the top line was not producing anything. Now that the top line is, the Panthers have been playing better and the rest of the team has been feeding off of that.
Rating: A+, it looked like Flash really woke up after the break and if he can average a point a game the rest of the year like he has in the last 8 games, he would definitely have to be the 2nd half MVP.
The final component was that the Panthers had to remain healthy. Although Dmitry Kulikov, Marco Sturm and Ed Jovanovski still have not returned from their injuries, players like Tyson Strachan, Colby Robak, Erik Gudbranson and Keaton Ellerby have all stepped up. With the exception of those 3 players, Jason Garrison is the only one that has gone down since the break. It looks like Garrison will miss a week or two with a leg injury. Jovo is expected to return sometime next week and Kulikov is still a ways away, look for him to return sometime mid-march. Losing Garrison was a major blow to the Panthers, but Gudbranson has certainly been given more of a workload on the powerplay and penalty kill. Overall, the Panthers have gotten healthier with a couple exceptions but it’s a gruesome game and injuries are bound to happen.
Rating: B. Players like Bergenhiem, Samuelsson and Goc have all returned from injury and have made immediate impacts, Garrison is the only bump.
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