Oct 19, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver (43) checks Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise (11) at BB&T Center. Robert Mayer USA TODAY Sports.

Panthers Vs. Sabres: What We Can Learn

The Florida Panthers will face the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at the BB&T Center. I am very excited for this game, not because the Sabres are particularly interesting, they’re not, but because the result of the game will tell us so much about this edition of the Florida Panthers.

Here is the thing, over the last few days I have been constantly asking myself the following question: what kind of team are the Florida Panthers? Are they good? Are they bad? Are they disastrously bad? Are they just average?  I don’t think we can answer that question only ten games into the season.

Let’s talk about what we do know. I think we can say with conviction that the Florida Panthers are not an excellent team i.e. they will not be contending for the Stanley Cup, but is it out of the realm of possibility that they could be a pretty good team, that they could compete for a playoff spot? Their record so far would suggest that the answer is no, but if you take a closer look, a case can be made that the Panthers might be a pretty good team.

To make that case, you point to three games: the 6-3 win over Pittsburgh, the 3-2 loss to the Bruins and the 3-2 SO loss to the Blackhawks. The Panthers came one flukey last minute goal against the Bruins away from taking at least a point from three of the league’s best teams.

Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Blackhawks in a shootout stands out when making ‘the Panthers are a pretty good team’ argument. To many around the league the narrative coming from that game was, ‘the Blackhawks narrowly escaped a trap game’, ‘Chicago fell asleep on the road against a bad team,’ ‘the Blackhawks picked up the win but looked awful doing it’. Blackhawk Up, a Blackhawks fan site, referred to the game as a Milk Carton Game for Chicago, i.e. the team went missing for most of the night.

That may be true, the Blackhawks did not look very impressive for most of the game, but should the Panthers get any credit at all? Is it possible that the Blackhawks struggled because of all the pressure they endured from the Panthers? I guess what I am asking is, what do we attribute the Blackhawks almost losing to the supposedly inferior Panthers to, poor play by the Blackhawks or impressive play by the Panthers? Could it be a little bit of both?

Is it just a fluke that the Panthers beat the Penguins and competed against the Bruins and the Blackhawks or does it mean that the Panthers could be better than their record indicates?

The case for the Panthers being a bad team is much easier to make. Just look at their record. At 3-6-1 through ten games, the Panthers have only accrued seven points. They are seventh in the eight team Atlantic Conference and 12th out of the 16 Eastern Conference teams. They lost 7-0 to the St. Louis Blues and 7-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Their 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers accounted for the Flyers only win and points of the season. (The Flyers are 1-7-0 and have brought new meaning to the word awful, and the scariest thing is the Panthers played well enough to win that game in Philadelphia.)

So which one is it? A good team or a bad team? The result of tomorrow’s game against the Sabres will go a long way in answering this question.

The Buffalo Sabres are by all accounts a bad team. With three points and a 1-9-1 recored they sit in last place in the Atlantic Division and are saved only by the Flyers from bearing the title of ‘worst team in the league’.

In a home game against one of the worst teams in the league, a good team takes care of business. A good team wins this game, no questions asked. Using wins/close games against Pittsburgh, Boston, and Chicago as an argument for why the Panthers are a good team does not work if the Panthers turn around an lose at home to the Buffalo Sabres. If the Panthers lose to Buffalo then all the momentum gained from their strong performance against Chicago goes right out the window.

If Florida loses tomorrow, it would go a long way towards advancing the, ‘the Panthers are a bad team’ argument. If they win, it won’t necessarily prove that Florida is a good team, but at the very least they will be a team that takes care of business at home against the dregs of the league.

There are still 82 games played in the regular season so one game is never the end-all-be-all but the way we think about this Panthers team will be dramatically different if they lose to the Sabres compared to if they win.

What do you think? Am I overstating the importance of one game? Were you as impressed as I was by the Panthers in the Blackhawks loss? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and follow The Rat Trick on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest.

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