It hasn't happened much this season, but it's a feeling many Panther fans are all too familiar with: the desire to grab the remote and find something to watch that doesn't make you upset, depressed or disappointed. Sunday night's game against the Rangers was one of the few efforts this season that had fans reaching for their remotes (or radio dial, or a barf bag). The Rangers simply owned Florida throughout the entire game, trouncing them 6-1, ending the Panthers' road trip on an extremely sour note. Starting netminder Jose Theodore was pulled after the second period, but by that point the Rangers amassed an almost insurmountable lead, and continued to push to make sure a clearly resilient Panther team would not get a chance to get back in the game. Outworked and outhit, Florida simply looked overmatched against an energetic and physical Ranger squad.
The Rangers came out with some thumb tacks in their jocks, playing angry and aggressive while hitting anything in a Cats sweater, especially on the forecheck. Dmitry Kulikov was the recipient of some early beatdowns from Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle. Florida had the first real scoring chance as Marco Sturm ripped a solid blast at Lundqvist and it trickled through, just barely caroming off the post before a Ranger defenseman could push it out of harm's way. The Cats got the first powerplay of the game shortly after, with Tim Kennedy drawing a high sticking call. The Panthers struggled to set up and get consistent pressure against the Rangers' 8th-ranked PK unit and the Rags were able to kill it off. New York then went on the powerplay thanks to a terrible goaltender interference call against Jack Skille, who BARELY clipped Lundqvist's arm while driving towards the net with the puck. Fox Sports Florida aired coach Kevin Dineen's reaction to the bad call, which was utterly priceless and may become my SBN avatar moving forward. The Cats managed to kill off the Rangers penalty without much trouble, but went right back on the PK due to a too many men penalty. This time the Rangers would convert thanks to a Brad Richards powerplay goal. Hilariously enough, the Panthers then went back on the powerplay immediately after due to a Boyle trip, but didn't score. The Cats had some great even-strength pressure thanks to Shawn Matthias enabling Beast Mode, but couldn't put one past King Henrik. Not much later, Tomas Fleischmann took yet another penalty and gave the Rangers another chance on the man advantage. New York would score their second powerplay goal due to some bad positioning by the Panthers (which I'll elaborate on in the observations section). Luckily for Florida, the top line would start to apply some real pressure, and Panther rookie Erik Gudbranson would be the beneficiary, scoring his first NHL goal off a cannon from the point, cutting the Rangers lead to one goal. Florida would continue to pour on the pressure but couldn't beat Lundqvist again and went into the intermission down a goal.
The Rangers again opened a period with solid forechecking, hemming the Panthers in their own zone until Brandon Prust took a high sticking call. The resulting Florida powerplay struggled yet again, and Derek Stepan corralled the puck at the end of the powerplay and rushed up the ice, torching Gudbranson one on one and beating Jose Theodore for a 3-1 lead. Definitely a rookie mistake and you hope Gudbranson will learn from that one. The teams would go back and forth applying pressure but the Rangers would get their fourth with around nine minutes remaining as Steve Eminger would rip a loose puck from the point past Theodore. Krys Barch dropped the gloves with Prust immediately after, trying to fire up his team by mutilating Prust's face. The Rangers would then take a penalty as Jeff Woywitka was called for a holding penalty, but once again the Panthers couldn't put one by Lundqvist. Marian Gaborik made it 5-1 with about three minutes left in the period, beating Kulikov to a rebound past Theodore. Less than a minute later, the Rangers would score their sixth as Stepan puts yet another rebound past Theodore. The period would mercifully end with the Panthers exiting the second with a head-scratching five goal deficit.
The Panthers pulled Theodore and put backup Scott Clemmensen in net to start the third. The Cats entered the period with only 14 shots and you know Dineen gave them either an angry tirade or the silent treatment in between periods. Florida went on a four-minute powerplay to start the period as Gaborik nailed Jason Garrison in the mouth with a high stick, drawing enough blood to get the call (and then some). The top line applied the most pressure during the man advantage, but considering how things were going, you'd figure they wouldn't score on a four minute powerplay, and you'd be right. The Rangers would keep their foot on the gas and nearly scored a few more times until Florida drew a powerplay with about eight and a half minutes in the period. This was the SEVENTH powerplay for the Cats and yet again they weren't able to convert. The teams would continue to trade chances, with the Rangers getting the majority of them, but no one would score and the game would thankfully end, going in the record books as a 6-1 win for the Rangers.
- Theodore looked pretty bad in this game, mainly because of his rebound control. You can't pin it all on him, as the defense has to help with rebound control and tying up the sticks of the incoming forwards crashing the net, but the amount of rebounds and the placement of them didn't help the D-men out much. So far this season, Theodore hadn't played a game where he struggled as much as he did in this one and hopefully he bounces back from this rough outing.
- Shawn Matthias is panning out for the long term. He's finally using his size on every shift, and although you'd like to see him hit just a bit more, there are no other complaints about his game. He's got great hands for a big man too, and between his size and hands, he's gonna post career numbers this year. The sky's the limit if he keeps up the sterling work effort. The kid is a beast.
- Matt Bradley was back after a twelve game absence. For those of you who follow hockey in general, you know how much of a Lundqvist-killer he is. Too bad he couldn't net one against him in this game.
- Florida needs to tighten up their game and cut down on the penalties against. The last three games, the Cats were down a man twelve times. Can't win games like that.
- The Panthers suffered by their own hand several times in the game. One of the basic tenets of hockey: take care of things in your own end before you start to transition. Several players got caught high looking to jump on the rush before the puck was under control to be moved out of the zone. That kind of stuff has been rare from this team so far this season, so let's hope this was a fluke.
- Despite the Panthers laying a steaming pile of dookie in this one, you gotta give a lot of credit to John Tortorella and the Rangers for playing a fantastic hockey game themselves. They skate hard, hit hard, shoot often and work their tails off all game long. There's a lot of folks who feel the Rangers performance so far this season has been a bit of a fluke, but just like Florida, they're starting to show critics they're flat out wrong.
- This was yet another game where the Panthers were outworked in their own zone, struggling mightily to clear most of the time and getting beat to loose pucks. The Panthers really seem to struggle against heavily physical teams like the Rangers and need to find ways to work around that, as they're not going to outhit the opposition.
- As well as Dineen has this team playing, he's gotta work on the invisibile men: the players who seem to show up every second or third (or tenth) game. Guys like Sean Bergenheim, Tim Kennedy and even Ed Jovanovski. There needs to be a more consistent and dominant performance from everyone on every night if the Cats expect to win every game. Realistically, they won't, but Dineen has to make sure he's squeezing as much from some of these big-dollar second and third line guys night in and night out.
- Brian Boyle = MASSIVE
- You gotta wonder how much some fresh bodies would help the team keep its momentum as the season continues. The return of Marcel Goc is hopefully imminent, though there's no way to tell how long his concussion will keep him out. Scottie Upshall has a few more weeks at least as he works through an abdominal injury and he's not expected to return until the new year at least. No question Dineen wants to get these guys back in the lineup as soon as possible.