SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 3: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Jack Skille #12 of the Florida Panthers skate into the corner after a loose puck on November 3, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
There's been a lot said about the roster turnover of the Panthers this season, and probably the most common is that the Panthers have become the "Blackhawks of the South." GM Dale Tallon won a Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks two seasons ago, and several of those players have now followed him to Florida to try and repeat the success they had in the Windy City. Their former mates marched into Sunrise Thursday night and walked away with a 3-2 shootout win, and despite the loss, this was an introspective game for the Panther organization, as they were basically able to see the Tallon Blueprint several years after the construction ended. There are many similarities between these two teams, and though Chicago walked away with the win, the Panthers future looks awfully similar to the Chicago team that was once like the Panthers: bleak, hopeless and without a winning culture.
Thanks to Tallon's work so far, there's a very good chance that's going to change soon.
The Panthers came out with speed and generated some early shots, but a really sloppy defensive exchange between Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver led to a goal by Jonathan Toews. Not a good way to start; this could have easily been avoided. Florida immediately responded with some scoring chances but Chicago quickly countered by playing a very solid puck possession game. Matt Bradley and Jamal Mayers had a quick tussle after Bradley laid into Mayers by the bench, blowing him clean off his feet. For the next ten minutes or so, the occasional scoring chance for each team was the highlight, as there was a lot of neutral zone play. Chicago had a few shifts where the Toews line was able to get sustained pressure, but no really high quality scoring chances came of it. Sami Lepisto was called for the first penalty with eight minutes left in the period, giving the Cats their first chance on the man advantage, but they were unable to get around the solid penalty killing of the Hawks. Florida tilted the ice in their favor to close out the period, but went into the locker room with a one-goal deficit.
The Blackhawks came out firing in the second, but the Cats held their ground until a rush by the Hawks generated a goal by Marian Hossa. Patrick Kane showed great patience on the play, waiting for Tomas Kopecky to pull away from Hossa so he could hit the open passing lane. Daniel Carcillo nearly had a third goal for the Hawks, but rang it off the iron. Markstrom was lucky on this one, as he was off his angle, as was Kulikov, who got caught out of position after a line change. Chicago then pretty much controlled the pace of play for the next five minutes or so, peppering Markstrom with shots. The young netminder responded after the Hossa goal, shutting down the opposition's scoring chances and controlling his rebounds well enough to prevent too many opportunities. The teams traded chances until late in the period, when Stephen Weiss scored his fifth of the season off a nice passing sequence from linemates Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. Weiss managed to control the puck through traffic and pop it past Corey Crawford after Fleischmann laid a nice pass to Weiss in the seam. This line has been money and they were again tonight.
Early on, Kulikov had a great scoring chance, but Crawford stoned him and started a bit of a scrum as Kulikov got in a bit too close for Crawford's comfort. Because of this, Kulikov went to the box, giving the Blackhawks their first powerplay of the game. Luckily for the Panthers, the Hawks have one of the worst powerplay percentages in the league, and the Panthers were able to kill it off easily. The Cats almost gave the Hawks another powerplay, but good old Micheal Frolik got called for diving, along with Versteeg getting called for holding, creating a 4-on-4 situation for two minutes. Chicago pretty much dominated the 4-on-4, but the Panthers responded after the penalties with some great scoring opportunities. Crawford was great for Chicago in this game, and there's no question they made the right call letting Antti Niemi walk. The second line of Upshall, Kopecky and Santorelli put on some heavy pressure during the period and Crawford stonewalled them multiple times. For the majority of the rest of the period, the Panthers outshot and outchanced the Blackhawks, but were unable to convert until late in the third, when Ed Jovanovski redirects the puck off a Kulikov point shot. This tied it up and sent both teams to an overtime period.
The Panthers put on some early pressure, but Chicago countered quickly and Markstrom stood tall. He managed to stone Dave Bolland early on, and Florida then responded with some great shots from Kopecky and Marcel Goc. Crawford was again on top of the task, and the teams traded more chances to finish out the OT period, including a Patrick Sharp breakaway that Markstrom shut down. It's a bit of a wonder that neither team scored during the five-minute frame, considering just how many shots and chances there were.
Panthers opened with Kopecky, stopped by Crawford.
Blackhawks opened with Toews, stopped by Markstrom.
Panthers then sent out Goc, stopped by Crawford.
Blackhawks countered with Bolland, stopped by Markstrom.
Panthers try with Fleischmann, stopped by the glove of Crawford.
Blackhawks win it with a sweet backhand move by Kane.
- Considered by most to be a strength of the Panthers before the season started, the defensive corps looks shaky thus far at times. Lots of unnecessary turnovers, losing battles in the corners more than they should, and being caught out of position a lot. Sure, they're basically playing two rookies in Erik Gudbranson and Keaton Ellerby, but there needs to be more consistency. Weaver's turnover to start the game was huge and put the Panthers in a hole immediately. Seems like Gord needs to do some screaming, perhaps? If any unit seems to need to "gel," it's the D.
- Scottie Upshall is playing harder and it showed, as he generated five of the fifteen shots in the first period for the Panthers. The team really needs some secondary scoring, and Upshall is going to be counted on to provide that. He's definitely not going to be a 30-goal scorer, but the Panthers need him to pot at least 15-20 this year to justify that big deal he got in the offseason.
- Chicago is one of the best teams in the Western Conference, let alone the NHL. The Panthers managed to gain a point against them, all while not skating very hard for 60 minutes. Imagine what the Cats could do with a full effort from everyone in this game.
- Markstrom had some great saves again tonight; neither goal was his fault. He got lucky on the Carcillo post shot, where he was off his angle, but otherwise this was another great effort from the rookie. He continues to make the case to be the starter this year and beyond.
- Keaton Ellerby looks rusty. He's got all the tools to be a starter, but with Gudbranson staying up with the team this year, you have to think Ellerby is going to either get moved via trade, or continue to stay cozy in the press box. Can't necessarily blame the organization though; Gudbranson has the higher upside of the two.
- The Blackhawks have one of the best forechecking teams in the NHL. Watching the pressure they apply as the opposition crosses their own blueline is magical. Hopefully Dineen is taking notes and not staring at Joel Quenville's mustache. Alright, maybe just a peek.
- Toews is a fantastic player, one of the best two-way players in the game. Let's hope Jonathan Huberdeau can mature into at least half of the player Toews is. If so, the Panthers are going to be very good when he stays up with the big club. Probably too early for comparisons, but hey... food for thought, right?
- Doesn't matter how long he plays, who he plays for, or how much money he makes: Hossa is one of the best players in the NHL at protecting the puck. If you're a hockey player, watch game footage of him and take note of how he does it; it'll help your game.
- Sean Bergenheim looked good in his return from injury. The Panthers need him to become a scoring threat on the second or third line, as the team's secondary scoring has been sorely lacking. He's one of the more creative offensive players on the team and is capable of becoming a difference maker in each game.
- The Cats are becoming a clutch team, despite the OT losses. They are now outscoring their opposition 15-7 in the third. If they can cut out the early goals against in the first period, they should be able to easily close out games.
- Despite the OT losses, the Cats are getting points. How do playoff teams make the playoffs? By piling up points no matter how they get them. Even with the two OT losses the last two games, the Cats are ahead of Carolina in the division, and only two points behind the Caps (who have two games in hand). Florida still sits at fifth in the East as well.
- Shootout needs work. Just sayin.
Next up: Sunday evening the Cats face off against division rival Tampa Bay at home in Sunrise. The last time they played the Bolts at home was the Cats home opener, with Florida winning in a shootout. Florida hasn't lost to Tampa Bay yet this season; let's hope that trend continues. There's nothing quite like an angry Guy Boucher.