Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes The Wheels Fall Off: Thoughts From The Panthers Opening Games


Sometimes the wheels fall off
Sometimes you can’t get up
Sometimes I just sit and think
and I don’t talk much
-Neil Halstead

Everything looked so good on Thursday night. Saturday was an entirely different story.

The Florida Panthers had an up-and-down start to their 2013-14 season. On Thursday night, the team defeated the Dallas Stars in Texas, 4-2, but things fell apart in St. Louis on Saturday with a 7-0 whipping at the hands of the Blues.

The victory over Dallas was full of positives. Tim Thomas looked strong in net, Florida outshot Dallas 39-27, Marcel Goc scored twice while centering the top line with Fleischmann and Versteeg, and the Panthers got goals from newcomers Aleksander Barkov and Scott Gomez.

Any positives from Thursday were wiped out and then some by the disaster in St. Louis on Saturday. Against the Blues Tim Thomas allowed five goals on 28 shots. He was pulled after the second period with the Panthers trailing 5-0. His replacement Jacob Markstrom fared just as poorly allowing two goals on just six shots. The Panthers offense matched the defense’s uselessness only managing 19 shots on Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak and on top of that, the Panthers also went 0 for 7 on the power play.

The loss to the Blues on Saturday was an important lesson in managing expectations over an 82-game season. I am not talking about the players here but about myself as a fan and as someone who writes about the Panthers on a daily basis. After the Dallas win, I was just about ready to hand the Atlantic Division title to the Panthers. I was fully aware that it was just one game and it does not mean much in the long term but deep down inside I was already starting to think irrationally.

“Tim Thomas is going to be a Vezina-caliber goaltender this year! The Panthers are going to stay healthy and bounce back from last year’s dismal season to regain their playoff form from two years ago! Everybody was wrong about this team! Aleksander Barkov is a future hall-of-famer!! Erik Gudbranson is the next Shea Weber!!! The Panthers are going to go 82-0!!! They are going to win the Cup!!!!”

My manic reaction to Thursday was tempered by the melancholy of Saturday night. As my optimism soured into jaded pessimism I became sure that we would see a repeat of last year’s league worst finish. This season’s beginning has already matched last year’s beat for beat. Florida began the 2012-13 season with a resounding 5-1 victory of the Hurricanes and then proceeded to get shutout 4-0 to the Senators in game two. Sound familiar?

The lost to the Blues was also reminiscent of the Panthers penchant for folding in games. Last season the team consistently allowed manageable deficits to stretch into bonafide blowouts. On nine occasions last season, the Panthers lost by four goals or more. Nine times in 48 games! That means the Panthers were blown out in almost 20 percent of their games last season. Saturday had a feeling of “here we go again” to it. Strap yourselves in, it is going to be a long miserable ride.

It can be easy to fall into that doom and gloom way of thinking but it is important to remember that it is just one loss. Enjoying the highs and enduring the lows is what makes following sports so much fun. The monotony of our daily lives can be as exciting as pushing a plow but following sports is like riding a stomach churning roller coaster. We overreact to the wins and freak out about the losses because that is what being a fan is all about. In the end, the net result of all those overreactions is zero.

The Panthers first two games is a perfect example of this. The Panthers are 1-1-0, they had one strong road game and one not-so-strong road game. We still have no idea what to expect from this Panthers team. We are essentially still at square one. The soaring highs of the opening night win and the crushing lows of the shutout defeat in St. Louis cancel themselves out, we are back where we started, and while we haven not necessarily gone anywhere yet, it has already been one hell of a ride.

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