SUNRISE, FL - SEPTEMBER 24: Teddy Purcell #16 of the Tampa Bay Lightning scores the final goal of the game as he is checked into goaltender Jose Theodore #60 by Dmitry Kulikov #7 of the Florida Panthers on September 24, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Lightning defeated the Panthers 5-3. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
There was some grumbling in the parking lots last night, after the Panthers lost a one-goal lead in the third and lost to the Lightning. It was a rough third period, certainly, but that doesn't mean that all hope is lost or that it's going to be a rough season. There are things to keep in mind during the pre-season. One is that the point of exhibition games isn't necessarily to win them but to see how your players play, how well they play together in different combinations and how they react. A lot was made over the summer about how the Panthers would have a lot of work ahead of them bringing all these new people together and making them into a team. The beginning of those growing pains is what we saw in the third period last night.
The Lightning started out with a goal early while Stephen Weiss was in the box, but the Panthers came back quickly and took the lead. David Booth and Tim Kennedy combined to score again, which is starting to make me think that Kennedy might be making this team. But then something happened in the third: the Lightning woke up and the Panthers struggled to react. They looked confused at times. Brian Campbell made a weird pass to Booth that he didn't see coming. Tomas Fleischmann made one back to Dmitry Kulikov that he wasn't expecting and he lost it at the blueline. The Lightning were playing a B team, but a number of those people have been in the organization for a while and several of them played deep into the playoffs together. The Lightning played like a team in the third period and the Panthers didn't. That's something they have to work on and they still have over a week to go to the start of the season.
There were some positives. Booth and Kennedy combined for points again. There may be some history as both played for Michigan State. Kennedy also played for Dineen in Portland. Tomas Fleischmann is going to be dynamite once he gets used to playing with his linemates. I haven't seen a player that creative in the five seasons I've been watching the Panthers. We've been waiting for a guy like him for a while. The same goes for Jonathan Huberdeau. I can't say enough good things about him. Whether he makes the team this year or next, he's going to be huge for the Panthers. Brian Campbell is another standout. We may be overpaying him but he brings a lot of skill and vision to the Panthers' game. The power play had some issues last night, but it's looked better in every game than it did last year and a lot of that is because of Campbell's work at the point.
The Booth - Kennedy - Tomas Kopecky line was the best of the game, combining for two goals. The second best was the Huberdeau - Mike Santorelli - Evgeni Dadonov. They were the steadiest when the game started to fall apart for the Cats, possibly because Santorelli and Dadonov played together a lot last year and in this year's pre-season games. Jason Garrison has continued his good play from last season, even when not paired with Mike Weaver. He's been making up for the loss of Bryan Allen with some huge hits in the defensive zone.
There were negatives as well. Jose Theodore looked a bit rusty, giving up five goals, including three on twelve shots in the third. Mike Kostka made a lot of mistakes on defense. Even when the Panthers were playing well early in the game he still stuck out. Steven Reinprecht just isn't looking good enough to make this team anymore; they brought in too many better guys over the summer.
There are two games left before the start of the season, both against the Dallas Stars. Word is Scott Clemmensen will start the game here and Theodore the one in Dallas. Look for the coaching staff to try out another bunch of lines and for some of the guys who got their first game in tonight to settle in a little. And maybe we'll finally see the debut of Quinton Howden, who has still not seen game action. Then, no matter what happens, the team will be cut down to 22 on Thursday and then they have a week to practice systems and get used to playing with each other before the season opener on Long Island.