No one's yet climbing the less-than-storied walls of the BankAtlantic Center to notify a waiting world of a revamped, successful strategy by the home tenants embarking on a Cinderella-style run to the NHL playoffs.
The Panthers are, after all, 2-1 since the season returned last week, and effecting no earthshaking moves in a bid to improve the on-ice product through the remainder of an increasingly bleak year. Wednesday's sleepwalking clunker at Atlanta offered minimal hope for forward momentum, but something difficult to define occured in the downtrodden Florida dressing room only hours later.
Viewed after Wednesday's deadline a more intriguing scene is portrayed: 2-0. May not look on the surface as a Long March North up the Eastern conference ladder, but for a club coming off an 0-6-1 run which failed to score more than two goals in their previous fourteen matches, some rather remarkable numbers begin to appear just short of stunning.
In those two most recent games the Cats have scored a combined 11 times (1 EN), clicking at 20% on the power play while killing 9 of 11 shorthanded situations (including all 7 TS versus the Hurricanes on Saturday).
Lousy competition, perhaps? You be the judge: prior to their respective games in Sunrise this week, Philadelphia was 5-0 (22 GF), Carolina 7-0 (29 GF). Hardly the stuff of bottom-dwellers.Yet Florida diced them into allowing a combined eleven goals. Blame the opposing starting netminders if you wish, but both Michael Leighton and Justin Peters were every bit involved in their clubs' recent winning ways. Everyone's allowed a stinker, to be sure, and maybe they were due, though based on the Panthers' approach coach Peter DeBoer was not relying on a predicted Duo of Failure. Or "Trio" if the Flyers' Brian Boucher is included among the carnage, fairly or not.
What has worked for the Cats in this short period of success? Beyond Tomas Vokoun's obvious iron will, an offensive explosion involving names fans haven't become accustomed to hearing of late. If ever.
Sure, the Big Boys at forward have done their part: David Booth continuing his rehab with 4 points (1G), Michael Frolik with 3 goals, Stephen Weiss found the back of the net once. Nathan Horton, of course, remains sidelined.
Those numbers collectively pale in comparison with where the real meat of the story has been: everyone else.
Defenseman (and captain) Bryan McCabe: seven points (1G). Jason Garrison: 2 points (and his first NHL goal). Kamil Kreps: 2G. Left-for-dead Steven Reinprecht: 2 points (1G). Cory Stillman: 1G, 2A. Keith Ballard: 2A. Even Gregory Campbell and Nick Tarnasky offered up an assist apiece.
Some of those names were quite understandably swept under a rug until a few days ago. What the deuce is going on? Lose two of your top defenders and the team gets better?
Is this reflective of a sudden, inspired change in coaching strategy, or more purely a level of comfort from the group
of professionals now that the dreaded trade deadline is in the rear-view mirror? Guys like Garrison, Shawn Matthias, and to a lesser extent Keaton Ellerby and Michal Repik, are reasonably assured they are going to be in a few more games for the Panthers, instead of incessantly shuttled to-and-from Rochester as has been the case all season. That's got to be a postive for all of their unique situations.
As always, a two-game winning streak does not magically morph into a fourth-seed for the postseason. But it's something to grab hold of with little left on deck until the draft.
I was as willing as the Cats' harshest critic to write off the year, blow up the roster, and start anew; I remain convinced that is quite probably still the correct approach, considering the ever-so-shaky foundation this squad is built upon. Did not want to see the future dealt away - in any formulation - for a quick-fix, Atlanta-style one-and-out trip to the playoffs, only to fall right into the same old Florida just-short tease the following year. Evidently general manager Randy Sexton agrees.
If the current group finds within their heart/liver/bowels to be that Cinderella team of 2009-10 - and there is no reason to believe they absolutely CANNOT - they will be playing to the extreme upper limit of their collective talent and character, proving the doubters wrong (myself included) while progressively elevating to South Florida sports legend.
Improbable? Certainly. Impossible? Just ask this collection of castoffs and neverwillbes...