Life with diabetes is certainly not easy. Life with diabetes and being a Panther fan now becomes truly unbearable. Especially since lately solar eclipses seem to be more common than wins for us. Luckily for us diabetic Panther fans the latter is curable. Obviously for me it is a lot easier to rid myself of my diabetes than it is of my passion for the Panthers. So the medicine I am talking about certainly does not involve abandoning the red jersey. The medicine I am talking about is just simply giving us a nice good dosage of GOALTENDING!
It is impossible to deny that even with the injury plagued season the Cats had last year, we are a far better team this year than the one that won the division in 2011-2012. The core of that team is basically untouched. Although the past 24 hours might indicate that statement might not hold true for very long. The Panthers however are more mature and since then we have received a nice injection of youth to our lineup. The screaming difference between both teams is goaltending. The Southeast Division champs finished that regular season with a .916 Save% as a whole. Last year the Panthers regressed to .891 Save%. Now this season, after 19 games played the Cats find themselves posting a .890 Save%.
What this tells teams, independent of where they sit in the standings, is that currently if you shoot 10 times on the Panthers net you are guaranteed 1 goal. And that is 100% true. I don’t remember the last time I checked the stats and saw an opponent without a goal within their first 10 shots. If they push a little harder they will squeeze a second one as well. Then we wonder why we seem to keep crawling out of the hole we dig ourselves in. Yes, our offense could be producing more and we can be turning the puck over less. However, if our goalies can’t give us a chance to win every night then not even Stamkos and Crosby on this team could help us get a “W.”
Our powerplay unit has been struggling. That is not something Panther fans should be worried about though. This endangered specie’s powerplay unit has a proven record of being very good. The goals will come and the drought will end. Anyone can see that especially watching the past few games. When this team pushes, they PUSH and bring havoc to the other team. The fact that this club score the majority of its goals in the third is a plus. I remember not so long ago we couldn’t keep a lead in the third even if we shrunk our net. It goes to show the character of this South Florida team. Never in my life time have I seen a Panthers team so talented on the ice where they can outskate, outpass, outshoot an opponent like this team can. But never have I seen a Panthers team with such poor goaltending either.
I challenge anyone to find me a team that qualified to the playoffs in the last two years with a team total save% of less than .900%. You will not find one. In fact, it is nearly impossible to make the playoffs with such numbers. Give this Panthers team two goaltenders who can provide the Panthers with an above .900% and you will see this team flourish into a playoff contender. And if you are worried about our offense, just imagine the wonders it would do these players’ confidence and consistency if their goalie could stop pucks. Absolutely no fire sale needed and the reality is no matter how bad a defense is, the job of the goalie is to stop the rock.
I will certainly agree that firing coach Kevin Dineen does not fix the problem. The root of the problem comes from in between our pipes. However coach Dineen never seemed to address that in the interviews. Instead he seemed to focus and direct the blame to the lines. So even though coaching wasn’t the main issue with this hockey club, redirecting the focus to the other 5 players on the ice certainly will not help either.
If you remove goaltending momentarily from this equation, never have the Panthers had a better potential product on the ice than right now. Not even the 95-96 team. That team never had a superstar. Oh wait, correction… they did. His name was John Vanbiesbrouck. He gave that team of solid players a chance to win every night. Now we have a group of solid players with possibly 2 superstars in the making. A healthy Tim Thomas will provide us with an above .900%. Unfortunately the key word there is “healthy.” After playing three straight games since coming back from his second injury this season, Thomas looks like he has put his rust related injuries behind him. Sure a different voice in the locker room can help spark things up but you can see the difference it makes on the ice when players have confidence in their goalie. That has been evident during these last 3 games. Even though he has only played in 9 games for the Florida Panthers, Tim Thomas is the foundation of this team. Once our goaltending is settled then we can start addressing the problems in front of him more effectively. If this team plans on resurrecting this season it will rely heavily on his play and there isn’t any doubt that he will live up to it. The issue is when he is not playing.
If you were to substitute ANY team’s goaltending numbers with the Panthers numbers they too would be in a playoffless position. It’s no secret. You need great goaltending to make the Stanley Cup playoffs. You need spectacular goaltending to win the Stanley Cup. Easier said than done and maybe I am asking for too much. But surely it can’t be harder than curing diabetes.