It seemed like the Florida Panthers just couldn’t catch a break with their endless injuries last season. Much of the time, us fans were waiting on the return of first liners Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov.
Though their returns ignited some momentum, it soon faltered out after returning from the Western Conference road trip. After hitting their highest point in the season by winning five in a row, they’d go on to lose 7 of the next 9 games in regulation.
After struggling for a good portion of the season, the Cats finally found themselves in third place of the Atlantic.
This was after a big win in Los Angeles, one where Barkov would score the game winning goal just 15 seconds into the third period. The Panthers had been riding a wave since a 7-4 victory in Nashville to begin their trip, on February 11th.
Vincent Trocheck would propel them to their fifth straight victory a couple of nights later with a late goal against the St. Louis Blues. It seemed like things were finally clicking on all cylinders and the bounces were finally going in, as Tom Rowe would say.
February 22nd the Cats would face off with Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, back at home for the first time in about two weeks. A close game the whole way, the Panthers couldn’t find an answer when down 4-3 in the third, despite out shooting the Oilers by 8 for the period.
After that it seemed to all go downhill, the “hot goalie” excuses, the bounces none of it seemed to make sense. Why was a team so talented underachieving at this magnitude?
The locker room had to take a big hit after the firing of Gerard Gallant, these guys are athletes but also human. That may have had an affect on how much the players bought into what Rowe came in and put in place.
He came in as the “good soldier” but had to take a heap of flack from us fans, about his systems and deployment of players and their TOI.
The injuries, even if they’re as extensive as they were last season, they shouldn’t serve as the main reason for the teams struggles. If anything, they exposed how the Cats need to work on having a larger selection of NHL ready prospects in Springfield, for times of need and of course the future.
I think the fact of the matter was that the Panthers were sadly chasing to begin with. They had two tough teams in the Bruins and Leafs on their tails at the time, who were rightfully stronger contenders this past season.
There was just too much to come back from, guys like Aaron Ekblad, Nick Bjugstad and Reilly Smith couldn’t seem to find their groove. Not to mention vets like Jussi Jokinen and Roberto Luongo, who played a big part in the 2015-16 playoff run, playing hurt for the majority of the season.
The chemistry just wasn’t there, consistency was also a big problem. One night you’d see a team that can shut out the Chicago Blackhawks 7-0, all to turn around and lose 6 straight.
To avoid another conundrum like last season, the organization must find a respectable voice for the locker room. It will be the glue that keeps the team from falling apart, similar to the 2016-17 campaign.