CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20: Jack Skille #12 of the Florida Panthers takes a shot at Ray Emery #30 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center on January 20, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
I guess it's finally time to call it what it is; a slump. Sure the Panthers were on a losing streak before but at least there were some occasional points and signs of improvement, but this game was a bump that should have jarred just about everyone in the locker room. The theme here is 'stop the bleeding'. While Weiss is showing improvement the rest of the top line is hopelessly snakebit. Watching the lower lines play results in an incomprehensible blur, goaltending is inconsistent and the special teams are nothing to gawk over. What will it take to stop the bleeding? Whatever the remedy is, Dineen has a very limited amount of time to find it before focus shifts to next year's preparations. And by that I mean selling at the deadline.
So with the Panthers sitting one point from 9th place, maybe it's time to take stock of the solutions rather than players. All this time we've been relying on someone to come back from injury or to break out with a big game, but perhaps it's time to take the roster as what it is and form a system it can succeed under. Offense is no longer the strong suit, in fact nothing much is for the Panthers. It's a difficult situation to fix, but it isn't a permanent fixture and shouldn't be accepted as such. There are a bevy of problems to deal with, but I get the feeling they've all been treated as one. When players go into slumps, they're expected to work on the little things until they recover their scoring touch. What's keeping an entire team from doing the same thing? Maybe it's time to return to simplicity, the basics. Whatever the answer, the 'garage door' is slowly but surely coming down, hopefully our sliver of promise doesn't come crashing down before it's too late to slide under in dramatic fashion.
1st: Ray Emery and Jose Theodore would start the game in net, with Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim and Jack Skille all returning to the lineup for the Panthers. The first part of the period would be pretty uneventful until Brent Seabrook pulled down Stephen Weiss as he cut into the Blackhawks zone, drawing a penalty. Half of the powerplay would be negated as Upshall high sticked our old buddy Michael Frolik, bringing play to 4-on-4. The remainder of Upshall's penalty would be killed, but Florida would go right back to the box , this time John Madden was called for tripping. Nick Leddy would have the best chance on the powerplay, but in the end it would be killed off by the Cats. The top line would create a beautiful chance in front of Emery, but as the forwards collapsed in no one was left to defend the Blackhawks' breakout. Viktor Stalberg would send the puck up to Patrick Kane, who'd spring Jonathan Toews on a breakaway and roof a backhander over Theodore. Not even a minute later Keaton Ellerby would hammer Andrew Shaw in the corner earning a boarding call, and a slapshot from Duncan Keith would beat a screened Theodore to extend the lead to 2-0 in less than three minutes.
2nd: As the game resumed, the Blackhawks would keep up the pace while Florida lagged behind. The top line would draw another penalty as Tomas Fleischmann would be slashed on a rebound attempt, giving Florida their second powerplay of the night which would be killed. Jack Skille would return the favor with a hooking penalty, but it would also be killed. Thats not to say things would get better though, midway through the period Kane would continue to punish the Cats on an odd man rush, sending a wrist shot through Theodore's five hole. 3-0 Blackhawks. A big rebound resulting from a shot on goal from Dave Bolland would pop up in the air, and Andrew Brunette would bat the puck into the net. The goal would be reviewed, and it was decided Brunette hit the puck with a high stick, keeping the game at 3-0 for the remainder of the period.
3rd: Florida would start out on the powerplay with Johnny Toews called off for tripping, and it wouldn't take too long to make the Blackhawks pay. Just 4 seconds into the man advantage we'd see a familiar sight with Jason Garrison blasting one home past Emery, assists to Dmitry Kulikov and Tomas Kopecky. There would be improvement from the Panthers after the goal, but with Chicago burning time off the clock and Emery standing tall, the game would slow down. This begs the question, is it a good thing Florida shut down the Hawks or a bad thing Florida couldn't mount a comeback? If the opponent wasn't so strong, I'd go with the latter; but keeping Chicago from springing more odd man rushes and scoring chances is a step in the right direction. Dineen would call Theodore to the bench with 1:30 left, but the game would end at that. Panthers goal differential continues to freefall, but at least there wasn't an empty netter I suppose.
- Delayed start time tonight due to a blizzard or something, must be some kinda preparation for tomorrow's game in that wonderful oasis they call Winnipeg.
- Just throwing it out there, but the Jeff Taffe for Marty Reasoner trade with Chicago was the slickest trade evah.
- Now I know a lot of Blackhawks fans didn't care much that Tomas Kopecky was traded to Florida, but I sure am liking the guy. If he ever parks himself in front of the net like he was earlier in the season I'll like him even more.
- Maybe I'm the only one noticing, but it seems Stephen Weiss is getting back into the groove. His power move in Denver resulting in a goal and similar speed tonight drawing the Seabrook penalty is more reminiscent of the player we remember.
- Michael Frolik played on the 4th line tonight for Chicago. If there was any place Frolik could have rekindled his career, it would have been with the talented, high scoring Blackhawks, but it just hasn't happened. And despite this, people still badmouth Tallon for trading him for Skille.
- Whether its a goal in the first five minutes or in the last five, other teams really know how to take the wind out of our sails.
- Theo hasn't been so hot after returning from injury, though the defense in front of him hasn't been great either. Do we go with Scott Clemmensen tomorrow?
- Unfortunately for him, Mike Santorelli was scratched despite a few good outings lately. It makes you wonder what's next for him.
- With injuries no longer a good excuse, its time to make due with a full roster of forwards and defensemen. Give the three returning guys another game or two, but eventually their return should translate into a more complete 60 minutes.
Up Next: A sorta important matchup with the Jets in their building of ruckus. Kevin Weekes thinks they should bring in a band to compliment the college atmosphere at the MTS center. What, is watching their amateur players not enough HARHARHAR...oh who am I kidding, we suck too. Panthers at zee Jets; 7pm South Beach time, 5pm where I live.