As of the late, the Florida Panthers have struggled and as a result, their distance between the teams below them has already shrunk.
In their last three games, the Florida Panthers have lost all three – and to make matters worse – they’ve dropped them all in regulation.
Defeats to the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, and worst of all, the Buffalo Sabres, find the Cats losing ground on their divisional opponents. They now only sit one point ahead of the Sabres and Leafs, and only just last week, they were ahead of both by a comfortable margin.
But now that the cushion is gone, the Panthers can only work towards a better future, improving with the task at hand. Given that they still remain in a playoff spot, there’s really no need to panic, but rather, it’s time to wake up.
This stretch of poor form is the perfect wake-up call for the Cats. Both the Leafs and Lightning have really struggled to show dominance this year, which helped the Panthers rise to the top of their division.
But since the Leafs had a shakeup behind their bench, they’ve refound their mojo and are 3-1-0 with Sheldon Keefe in his first four games. Toronto are back into the mix and have already caught up to Florida.
The Lightning, on the other hand, have suffered from an even slower start, struggling to put a meaningful win streak together. While the Lightning are certainly not firing on all cylinders right now as they usually do, it’s key to remember that it’s still early in the season and they are only one point behind the Leafs and Sabres, and only two behind the Cats with games in hand on all three. Without any doubt, the Bolts will be back in their usual spot up at the top come the new year, which is something Florida needs to be wary of.
Florida’s main problem this year has been their defense, which has been an issue for quite some time now. Of course, MacKenzie Weegar’s injury that kept him out for eight games certainly didn’t help, but the zone coverage and overall play from the blue line were absolutely dreadful.
With Weegar returning today against the Nashville Predators, the Panthers will receive a much-needed reinforcement. But how much of the weight can Weegar shoulder? Given that he’s just returning from injury, it would be advised to ease him back in, especially on his first few shifts.
Goaltending, as well, has been subpar but that’s largely in part because the D core leaves the likes of Sergei Bobrovsky and Sam Montembeault hanging to dry. Of course, that’s not to say that both haven’t let in goals they would love to have back but enlarge, the majority of the goals have fallen at the hands of the defense, particularly because of poor coverage and missed assignments.
With Chris Driedger – Florida third netminder – starting against the Preds in his first game with the Panthers, the defense (in particular) cannot afford to have hiccups in front of him.
Ideally, this next stretch of home games is a chance for the Cats to regroup and gain some ground in the standings. It’s also an opportunity to regain form and close out on a strong foot before the Christmas break rolls around.
More importantly, this is a time where the Panthers cannot afford to panic, but it’s time to wake up and turn this ship around. Another bad week could not only see the Panthers out of a top-three spot but it could also see them looking from the outside in.
Hoping for a wild-card spot is risky given the strength of the Metropolitan, which means that the Atlantic’s top-three spots remain Florida’s ticket to the eventual 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But before we get ahead of ourselves, the Panthers need to wake up from whatever nap they had the last week and get back on track before it’s too late.
This upcoming week of hockey is crucial if the Cats want to remain safe before the Christmas break. Teams are catching up and beginning to find form, which will only make the puzzle more difficult to solve. It all starts tonight against Nashville at 7 P.M.