I was really looking forward to last night’s game. The Florida Panthers have had a little stretch where they have been playing much better than the start of the season. Coming off a win against the gritty Philadelphia Flyers, it would have been really nice to have beat the New York Rangers to silence the blue shirts that always show up to the BB&T Center whenever the Rangers come down to play. And as the first period went on it looked like the Panthers would do just that and get revenge for the loss they suffered to the Rangers back on November 10th.
One crucial thing was missing though: goals. The Panthers outskated and outworked the Rangers throughout all 3 periods of the game but they just couldn’t put the puck in the back of the net, even when Henrik Lundqvist wasn’t there. Add to that a horrible powerplay unit and lack of discipline and what you have in your hands is a recipe for disaster, especially against the Rangers.
As I mentioned before, our primary problem was in net. No improvement can be made in other areas if the goalie can’t stop the puck. If there is improvement, most of the times it will prove to be ineffective towards the desired outcome of winning the game. Now that the net situation has been solved (at least when Tim Thomas is in net) we can move on to tackling the other issues. Yes Thomas had an easy shot (more like pass) go in, but it happens to the best of us. The issue was the other 4 goals and the countless other nonexistent Panthers’ goals.
Time after time the Panthers’ powerplay have failed to punish the other teams. I say, since the Panthers can’t punish them, just forgive them. If another team commits a penalty against the Cats, just let them keep that player on the ice for those 2 minutes since the Panthers have a better chance of scoring when it’s even strength than when they are a man up. It does fascinate me how the Panthers just CANNOT set up on the attacking side of the ice during the advantage. If the Panthers dump the puck it is taken away and thrown back the length of the ice. If the Panthers try to carry it over the blue line, well nothing a harmless poke with the stick can’t take care of. The powerplay unit was simply awful. They didn’t get one shot off. The Rangers however got a total of 5 shots on Thomas during their man advantage situations. I repeat, the Panthers had none last night. Oh and unlike the Panthers, the Rangers were actually able to set up with ease during their powerplays. They need a special teams intervention. They need to sit down and talk to a shrink.
So then we move on to the lack of discipline. The cause for Rangers’ goal 1, 3 and 4. The first goal came off a penalty on Dylan Olsen for holding in the first period. The way the Panthers tried to kill that powerplay is to allow the Rangers to set up and just give them highways between the defense to pass the puck. Don’t get me wrong it was a beautiful goal and the Rangers deserve all the credit as it was a classic tic-tac-toe play. But if the Rangers don’t allow you to set up and thread the needle on their defense when you are on the powerplay, then you better be ready to return the favor.
The Rangers 3rd goal came off a beautiful no look pass by Tom Gilbert. If you look the at boxscore you will see that next to Rick Nash it says “ASST:NONE.” That couldn’t be further from the truth as Gilbert picks up an assist in my book. I’m pretty sure Nash will be attending Gilbert’s Thanksgiving dinner to celebrate the Day of Thanks. It was easier for him to have spun around and banked the puck off the board and clear it out than to do what he did. A “no look, through your legs, behind the back, inside your own blue line with Rick Nash behind you” pass is just unacceptable.
And then the infamous 4th goal. Poor Dmitry Kulikov is getting all the blame for this one. I truly believe he shouldn’t though. Yes he tripped and allowed for a Ryan Callahan breakaway but players trip and slide and fall all the time and the only reason Kuli is getting attention was for the unfortunate timing of it. I truly believe it’s what happened next where the Panthers go down in flame and smoke. Aleksander Barkov is then chasing Callahan and gets called for hooking. Many people say there are good and bad penalties in hockey and you want to only take the good ones. Many people also say this was a good penalty. I have to disagree. First of all, the way this team has been killing penalties no penalty is a good penalty. They are 28th in the league. Second of all, lets suppose Callahan does what he intended to do which was score or assist on a goal. The Panthers would have been down 2 goals with more than 2 minutes left in the game. Ok, that sounds terrible. As opposed to what though? There was a chance that a goal would not have been scored and the Panthers would have found themselves down 1 goal with the same amount of time left. That obviously is the best of scenarios. Then you have the scenario of killing a powerplay. So many things can happen during that time but the 2 most obvious ones are 1) the Rangers score and now the Panthers are down by 2 with less time on the clock or 2) the Panthers kill the powerplay and they are down by 1 with 39 seconds left in the game. I think being down by 2 with more than 2 minutes left and with Barkov on the ice is the best of scenarios. The Panthers being down by 1 with 39 seconds left sounds very enticing but it is a little bit of too much wishful thinking given our record on the kill.
Hopefully the Panthers come back against the Pittsburgh Penguins with the same killer instinct that they will have at the dinner table tonight. I wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving. Lots of food and joy but I’ll certainly pass up on the food in exchange for some scoring on Saturday.