Saturday, January 31, 2009

Panthers 1 - Islanders 3

The Panthers closed out the month of January with a bit of a stinker, falling 3-0 to the New York Islanders. A fluky first period goal, an incredible individual effort by Bill Guerin, and a perfect pass on the power play finished off the Panthers. Florida had chances, but weren't able to beat rookie goaltender Yann Danis until it was too late.

It was a pretty lethargic contest for the Panthers. Despite having two, separate 4:00 power plays, the Cats never really found momentum. There were stretches of pressure, glimpses of the team we saw in the prior two games, but every time Florida got some sustained offense, the Islanders simply collapsed in front of the net and cleared away any rebounds. New York flipped the Florida playbook and executed to perfection. The difference in the game was when the Isles had a chance to finish, they did. Florida didn't.

It was a bit of a strange finish. The Panthers played the final 5 minutes of the game without a goaltender. Trailing 3-0, coach Pete DeBoer pulled Tomas Vokoun to skate 6 on 5. Now, this game wasn't a "must win." It wasn't earn 2 points or miss the playoffs. It was a sent message, pure and simple. Out skate the Islanders, win the puck, or the score will get ugly. I have no doubt that if New York scored an empty netter with 4 minutes left, Vokoun would still be out of the net. Florida had chances, they controlled the puck, but they didn't work like they had against Montreal. They didn't grind out goals like they did against Philadelphia. So for the last 5 minutes, they were going to have to outwork the Isles or suffer an embarrassing box score. For a rookie coach, this guy doesn't pull punches. Benching starters early in the year, basically cutting locker room favorite Wade Belak , DeBoer hasn't been intimidated by the "NHL Head Coach" tag. He hasn't let the culture of losing that Florida has developed over the past 9 years affect him. Coach Pete expects to win, and he expects his players to work for every win, every goal. I think I'm developing a man-crush.

The Cats have a few days off before their next game, a Tuesday night affair with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are another team, below the Cats in the standings, that Florida should be able to get 2 points off of. If they come out with another apathetic effort like tonight, it won't be as easy. Until then...

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