The Panthers have picked up where they left off, as one of the worst teams in the NHL. Sure it's early in the season and there's a lot of time to turn things around, but has this team shown any indication that they're better or even as good as the team that finished 30th last year? The two bright spots through four games have been Brad Boyes and the penalty kill, meanwhile the problem areas exposed in just four games are building up into a nasty dark cloud that can potentially hang over the team for the rest of the season...and maybe beyond? We've seen futility translate between last season and the present team, and what's going to prevent the same old story from continuing on next year?
It's time for a change, and not a David Booth-esque trade we saw a few years ago. After the dismissal of Philly's coach on Monday, GM Dale Tallon was asked if Kevin Dineen was on the hot seat, to which he said no, in fact they were pursuing an extension. Why? What has Dineen done to earn a contract besides be towed along by a complete fluke playoff team during his rookie season. This roster doesn't have the skill and structure to compete for a playoff spot, but they are better than the seven and five-goal blowouts they've been handed in 3 games. There are no injuries to blame for the sluggish start that Florida will probably perpetuate through the next stretch of the schedule, where they will face some of the league's toughest challenges. If the clock isn't ticking on an internal shakeup, it should be.
- Watching the the player introductions for the Lightning I was reminded that George Gwozdecky, former DU Pioneers head coach, had found his way on to the Tampa bench as an assistant. A college hockey legend who's developed many current NHLers, it would have been cool to see Drew Shore meet his old coach in the NHL if he hadn't been sent down to San Antonio on Wednesday.
- Shawn Matthias is consistently the Panthers most driven player, which should be worthy of praise, except for the fact that he simply can't score on his own anymore and lacks the ability to lead a campaign in enemy territory. Twice in the last two games he's been stonewalled on a breakaway with a shot right into the goalies pads.
- For all the things Florida has ranged from ineffective to just plain bad at this early stage in the season, everyone has to be pleasantly surprised at the penalty killing exhibited by Gord Murphy's squad. Yes Martin St. Louis would score one second after the Cats' first penalty expired, but I have to have something positive to say about Florida, right?
- That first goal-against was a product of the Panthers worst possible defensive combination, Brian Campbell and Erik Gudbranson. There's a reason that pairing doesn't get rolled out too often, probably because those two are atrocious defending players around their own net. Gudbranson hammered Martin St. Louis behind the net after he walked right in, Campbell collapsed on the puck as Guddy forgot about St. Louis and skated towards Teddy Purcell; meanwhile Campbell coughed up the puck to Steven Stamkos, who quickly passed to Purcell who sent it across the crease, past Gudbranson into no-man's land, and ultimately to Marty who had an easy tap in. It's kinda terrifying how efficiently skilled players can dismantle the Panthers' defense while the forwards wait for a breakout pass that isn't gonna happen.
- The penalty killers against the Panthers have put up more goals than the Panthers power play has.
- Tom Gilbert is weak on the puck.
- Something that hasn't changed since the playoff year? Team speed. On defense the Panthers' reaction time is lagging badly, and the majority of the forwards look as if their legs were tied together. Florida's players aren't smart enough to predict what's going to happen when the other team has the puck, and they seriously need to dump the rocks out of their skates if they want to compete.
- Joey Crabb was playing in this game, but it took me until the second period to notice and convince myself it wasn't the ghost of John Madden. I think I like Madden better.
- I'm starting to feel bad for Jacob Markstrom, one of just a handful of Panthers who can actually make an impact on the game. The difference that sets Marky apart from those other players is that he carries all of the pressure that his teammates refuse to, and his numbers suffer from it. In this, his first start of the season, Marky gave the Cats a chance to win, and the team in front of him turtled.
- Jonathan Huberdeau netted his first goal of the year on a nice partial breakaway when he split the defense and deked out Ben Bishop. Scott Gomez started the play with a good pass; he's been one of the more effective players this season.
- Raw Charge has you covered for the Tampa perspective on the first installment of the Governor's Cup matchup.
Next up: The road trip may be over, but the schedule doesn't get much easier for the Panthers at the BB&T Center. The Cats play 8 of the next 9 games at home, spiting 2 and 6 game homestands with a trip to Nashville, where they will face 6 of last year's playoff teams. The gauntlet begins tomorrow against the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:30.