Saturday, February 28, 2009

Panthers 2 - Devils 7

Sigh. Where to begin. Why don't I just start from the end... since that was the best part of today's game. I tried to imagine all the reasons why the Panthers would put out such a stinker. They've been on the road awhile now. They just won a big game Thursday, so a letdown was expected. One of the locker room fav's was unexpectedly sent home, the team wasn't ready. The Devils were just that much better...

The truth of it is, the better teams in the league have the defense to shut down the Panthers' aggressive offense. Watching the Boston games, the New Jersey game, even the Rangers game to an extent, the top tier teams with the better defenses have figured out how to slow down the Panthers. Here's what one, moderately hockey-savy fan sees happening...

First; the neutral zone. The Panthers love to dump and chase, forcing the other team's defense into quick decisions and creating turnovers. But once the Panthers dump the puck, there has usually been a man on a man, hat on hat, at the blue line, slowing down the forecheck. The best way to stop a fast team is to never allow them to get to full speed.

Second, move the puck. The Bruins and Devils have quicker, smarter defensemen and are moving the puck before the forecheckers are on them. They got support from a forward, creating options for the puck handling D-man.

Third, if Florida gets possession in the attacking zone, the defense has kept the puck to the outside and behind the net. Florida is great at cycling the puck, but that's all they've been able to do lately. The opposition is bringing their wingers closer to the net, meaning there is little to no room in front of the goal. Around and around the Florida forwards go, good time in the attacking zone, and rarely have they gotten a quality shot off. Despite earning a 2-1 win, they were outshot in New York 41-22. They were dominated in New Jersey 46-17. 46-17. Unsettling numbers for a team hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in 9 years. Even worse might be the timing the Cats' offense has chosen to hit the snooze button. What had become an exciting, high scoring team through January has hit a wall. During this 8 game stretch against some of the Eastern conference's best, Florida has scored just 15 goals. 15 goals in 8 games. Less then 2 goals a game. Somehow, someway, Florida has won 4 of those last 8.

On the plus side, if you can find a plus side, the Panthers don't face Boston or New Jersey for the rest of the regular season. Incredibly enough, even more good news came from around the league. The woeful Islanders and Thrashers were able to beat the Sabres and Hurricanes, respectively, to keep the Panthers in the 7th seed. The Rangers and Canadians were able to win today, extending their lead in the 5th and 6th spots, but one can't be too greedy. Especially after the Panthers' performance today. And there is no time to lick wounds, the Cats head to D.C. to take on yet another top team in the Capitals. Florida can't afford to look forward to an easing of the schedule after tomorrow's game. They need to bounce back, again, and gain 2 important points, as well as a much needed boost of confidence.

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