Month: February 2014

Olympic torched Panthers playing for Pride

The Florida Panthers will kick the rust off their skates as they take on Alex Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals tonight at 7:30. It’ll be their first game since the Olympic break – which didn’t fare so well for the two Cats chosen to represent their country – as rookie sensation Aleksander Barkov and the pesky penalty killing Tomas Kopecky were both injured in Sochi with likely season ending injuries.

There aren’t very many teams in the history of the NHL that have depended on a rookie to center their first line, but these Florida Panthers are different. Barkov’s absence has left a glaring hole between Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim. Luckily, the Florida Panthers have a big backup plan….fellow second line rookie, Nick Bjugstad.

Dale Tallon dipped his hands into the San Antonio Rampage’s AHL roster to find someone to fill Bjugstad’s former spot on the second line and chose Drew Shore to fill the slot between the sophomore slumping reigning rookie of the year, Jonathan Huberdeau and the often struggling right winger, Scottie Upshall.

No one has heard the rumors that if either Drew Shore or Nick Bjugstad are injured in the coming weeks that Dale Tallon will dip his hands into local high school teams, because that’d be a joke. But for an organization that prides itself on depth, it’s surprising how much they rely on youth over depth to score against the best players in the world.

Whether or not our new top 6 lineup is a recipe for success or disaster remains to be seen, but with the season quickly coming to an end just like the Panthers playoff dreams, I can only hope that these professional ice hockey players will play for the pride of wearing a Florida Panthers jersey rather than for the hopes and dreams of being traded away to a Stanley Cup contending team at the trade deadline and kissing Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.

Maybe if they can find a competitive edge as sharp as their skates the Panther’s will be able to end the season on a positive note, but it’s becoming more and more apparent that the positive note may not sound until after the final horn blows and the season comes to a close.

The Panthers are poised to be very active during free agency and are positioned to take a top five pick. The Panthers learned last year that being the worst team in the NHL won’t guarantee you the best player in the draft when they missed out on first overall pick in rookie scoring leader Nathan Mackinnon to the Colorado Avalanche. So perhaps they’ll get lucky this time and go number 1 overall. Their chances would certainly increase if they manage to fall apart and ride a losing streak of unimaginable lows.

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Florida Panthers Burn Maple Leafs

The Florida Panthers basked in the embers of the Toronto Maple Leafs last night after extinguishing the flames of one of the NHL’s hottest teams. The 4-1 victory was one of the Panthers better performances of the season. So does it come as any surprise then that their triumphant effort happened to coincide with a season-high 48 shots on goal?

I dont think so.

Although head coach Peter Horachek expressed concern over the Panthers effort in recent games, the Cats had all hands on deck in Tuesday night’s win. The Panthers commitment to outworking the Maple Leafs even manifested in an elusive powerplay goal when Tom Gilbert’s slapshot put the Panthers on the scoreboard with his 3rd goal of the year and 8th point in 9 games.

Aside from the aforementioned evasive powerplay goal, there were quite a few anomalies that really made this one of the Panthers most exciting games of the season.

Let us reminisce.

It’s no secret that reigning rookie of the year, Jonathan Huberdeau, has been Tangled Up In Blue all season long. Although the sophomore slump has fastened a firm grip around his body of work, we got to see him express some of that positively snake-bitten pent up aggression when he body slammed Jake Gardiner halfway through the game for the first fight of his NHL career.

When I initially saw Jonathan picking the fight I admittedly was concerned for his well being. But by the time he plowed Jake Gardiner onto the ice I felt that same wave of pure beardly manliness radiating from his aura that energized the Florida Panthers bench, as well as the BB&T Center, I sank back into lawn chair,  sipped my pina colada, and bathed in the glory of the Miami sunshine.

Although Hubby couldn’t put together a goal to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick, last night was a breakthrough performance for him. That wasn’t just a typical fight, that was a game changing fight. Huberdeau flexed his beard muscles at exactly the right hour of the night, and if the Panthers were about to show any signs of slowing down at the halfway mark, they had to think twice after seeing Hubby throw it down like that.  

Yet the Panthers didn’t really seem to slow down at all. They didn’t take their feet off the gas pedal from the moment the Killer B’s opened the game going to the final sound of the horn. The Barkov line set the tone as soon as the puck dropped by establishing sustained pressure in the offensive zone, and the Panthers didn’t wilt. The effort was contagious as all 4 lines playing inspired hockey culminated in the Panthers outshooting the Maple Leafs 19 to 4 in the first period.

After losing a series of games recently, this was an important win for the Panthers. Not only was it against a division rival, but it was against a team that decisively spanked them just a week prior and served as a shot of medicine for fresh wounds.

“This was probably our best game of the year”, said Tim Thomas afterwards.

Although there were plenty of reasons to smile after all was said and done, there’s one important lesson the Panthers have to internalize.

They have to know that they can  beat any team in the league if they bring the effort for sixty minutes. On any given night if they all work together and work as hard as they’re capable of, the Florida Panthers can beat anyone. This team was built to win with hustle and grit, not with an offensive superstar. Besides, who needs an offensive superstar when Tim Thomas has your back?

If the Panthers can will themselves to outplay their opponent for 60 minutes they will defeat them. That’s really all it comes down to. And in a game where Jonathan Huberdeau dropped the gloves and Erik Gudbranson hit two posts, anything is possible.

Like Jovo said, “To win we need to play with intensity, because if not, we’re just a mediocre team.”

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Don’t Call it a Comeback

After last nights loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets I can’t tell whether we should be asking ourselves, “what’s wrong with the Florida Panthers?” or “what’s not wrong with the Florida Panthers?” as the endangered cats teeter-totter on the brink of an evaporating playoff dream yet again.

This current Panthers squad is playing like they’ve lost their heart and soul give or take 20 minutes of effort here and there. It’s almost becoming too hard to watch them as their body language crumbles while the game wears on. But can you really blame them for their lack of confidence?

It’s got to be pretty brutal to play for a team whose offensive strategy is to seemingly kill their own power plays.

Also…although it’s very hard for me to admit this… I think Tim Thomas may have given up on this team. Their dismal performance against the Boston Bruins was a downright embarrassing homecoming for the former champion and quite possibly the nail in the coffin.

Although I love what he’s done for the Panthers, at this point, it would seemingly be in the best interest for Tim Thomas and the Florida Panthers to part ways so we can give Timmy a shot playing for a contender at the trade deadline, and we can grab a pick to help our franchise. I’d hate to see him walk away from no return after the season a la Bouwmeester.  After the way this season has played out the task of re-signing Tim Thomas may prove to be too mighty.

It was only a couple weeks ago when Panther fans were able to ponder whether we’d be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, but a string of recent losses to the Avalanche, Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Columbus Blue Jackets have turned those playoff dreams into unrealistic fantasies.

It’s time to get real and start wheeling and dealing.

The Florida Panthers organization will have to start seriously considering who they’ll choose at the draft with a top 5 pick and how they’re going to spend all their new money on free agency if they’re going to find any Shelter From the Storm.

I’m personally hoping we get a big top 6 power forward who can play on the wing and score goals. Whether we get him through free agency, the draft, or at the trade deadline, we need a first line right winger to fill the void Tomas Fleischmann left behind after his departure from his former self.

With the Olympics right around the corner, Dale Tallon will have extra time to re-evaluate the current Panthers squad and strategize how he’s going to turn this team into Stanley Cup contenders. It would be nice to hear from him and get an update on his vision and how the blueprint is going to be adjusted during the Olympic break, but it would also be great to hear from you.

Thanks for reading and say hi to me on twitter @cats2thecup