With the 2011-12 season sadly in the rear-view window, it’s once again time for The Rat Trick to take a look back at those who had the biggest impact on the the Florida Panthers. Over the coming days, we’ll look at review everyone who had key roles in the past season and give them the dreaded letter grade.
Today’s spotlight shines on one of free-agent pickups of 2011, Marcel Goc.
Games Played: 57
You’d be forgiven if Marcel Goc’s name passed you by last July 1st when looking at who the Florida Panthers had signed as a free-agent. And with names like Theodore, Jovanovski, Fleischmann and Bergenheim rolling in on that day, let’s face it, it was easy to do. But, it can be argued that Dale Tallon and Mike Santos (who was familiar with him from his time in the Nashville Predators front office) may have gotten the best value in signing Goc to a 3 year/$5.1 million deal. In him, they picked up a reliable two-way center who has solid in the face-off circle and was coming into his own offensively. A shoulder injury limited his 2010-11 season to just 51 games, a season in which he was on pace to post the best offensive numbers of his career.
And if Panthers fans were unfamiliar with Goc, it didn’t take him long to endear himself to them. His lone goal in the shootout in the home opener on October 15th gave the Cats a win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in front of a sold-out crowd on a night where they first learned to “Believe Red”:
To the surprise of no one, Goc became a key piece of the Panthers penalty kill unit, where he averaged 2 mins/game, the most among all forwards on the team. A concussion he received in the 6-0 blowout win over the Dallas Stars on November 15 caused him to miss 22 games. Upon his return, he promptly scored a goal in an overtime loss to the New York Rangers (and, in hindsight, we know how crucial every point was to the season). Four days later, he factored into both Florida goals in a huge 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks at home.
Down the stretch (pardon the cliche), Goc was instrumental in the Panthers success, scoring in three straight games during a five-game winning streak. He centered a line that also featured Sean Bergenheim and Mikael Samuelsson that, over the final games, was the most dangerous scoring line for a team that had problems putting the puck in the net. His goal in the regular season finale against the Carolina Hurricanes gave the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish on a night that saw them capture their first division title in franchise history.
In the playoffs, the Goc line proved invaluable. They were easily the most dangerous Panther line while at even strength in the seven game series against the New Jersey Devils. His goal in game 2 (the eventual game winner) helped give the Cats their first win the postseason since 1997. And, this incredibly clutch goal in game 7 tied the game at 2 and helped send the game to overtime.
Had the Panthers been able to find a way to win game 7, that goal might have been remembered in the same way that Bill Lindsay’s series-clinching goal against the Boston Bruins in 1996. But, as it is, it’s both a testament to not only how much Goc meant to the team this season but as a microcosm of the fight this season showed much of the season. In addition to the two goals, he was dominant on the face-off dot, winning 60.2 % (45 for 113) while chewing up 2:42 on the penalty kill. His face-off win on the power play was instrumental in the Panthers scoring their first goal in that game 7, which help set up his later heroics.
Final Grade: B+. You could argue for an A here but his numbers before getting injured (2 goals, 0 assists in 17 games) bring it down. But, there is no doubt, that his line’s play during the latter part of the season was a big reason the Cats finished where they did. They picked up the slack for the Flashmob line that wasn’t anywhere near as effective as it was during the first two months of the season. If Samuelsson is re-signed in the off-season, the Goc line will likely start the season as the second line, just as they finished the season. Dollar-for-dollar, there may not have been a better free-agent signing in the league last season for everything he brought to his team.
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