Well, it wasn't perfect by any means but I must admit that this is the best effort I've seen out of the Panthers so far this season. Despite falling into a 2-0 hole to start the third period, Florida never really looked overpowered by the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and found a way to earn a well deserved point with a late comeback. Florida is still having issues on a regular basis throughout games, but players are finally showing up when needed and Florida is starting to put together a team. Seeing resiliency after 50 minutes of offensive stifling is certainly a welcome sight, and picking up a point is just a bonus.
The only shadow cast on this game is that the Panthers may be without their stating goalie for another stretch of games, as Tim Thomas would leave late with an injury that looked identical to the groin pull he sustained against Philadelphia. Hopefully that is all the more serious the injury is, but even so having uncertainty with goaltenders is not a good thing. With a little momentum on the Panthers side, Florida desperately needs Jacob Markstrom to string together some good games until Thomas can heal up.
- I was happy to see that Tom Gilbert was relegated to rookie defenseman status and paired with Weaver to start the game. Gilbert has been so visibly horrible through the early season that seeing him paired with Weaver is awesome, because it means that the coaching staff has at least taken notice of Gilbert's play. As far as the other lines concocted by the coaches, Huberdeau was playing with Winchester. Seriously?
- Tomas Kopecky had a great early chance on a turnover in front of Crawford in which he could have strung the goalie out and tapped the puck into an open net but instead decided to do nothing and waste the chance entirely. The only way Florida is going to consistently score is by putting pucks on the net and creating rebounds, not trying to score fancy highlight reel goals.
- I sure wasn't impressed with the Hawks' effort in the first period, as Florida looked about as good as the defending champs with only 1/4th of the talent. Even so, the Hawks defense looked pretty good as they defended the Panthers' rushes and broke up a lot of plays in their infancy. There aren't many times I'd revert to dump-and-chase, but the Panthers were doing a much better job beating defensemen while they were in the zone than on the transition.
- Tim Thomas is definitely looking like Tallon's best offseason addition. Timmy's goaltending style is a bit unconventional and I don't like how long he stays down during scrambles, but so far you can't argue with the results he's provided. Thomas is likely going to give Florida a legitimate chance to win each night, if he can stay healthy. Late in the third period Thomas would tweak something in his lower body forcing Markstrom to join the fray.
- The Toronto Sun reported earlier that the Leafs were interested in trading for Kulikov (or something to that effect) which upset Panthers fans due to Canadian press trying to scavenge Florida's young talent like vultures blah blah blah...but really, is there any hope for Kulikov in Florida anymore? Kulikov has only regressed on both sides of the ice since the playoff season, and rarely shows glimpses of the potential he supposedly has so much of. Kuli is approaching his 250th game in the NHL, and if it weren't for Florida's D prospects stalling in the AHL, he'd be playing on the third string. Why not trade one of the few players who has value but provides little to his team in return. Maybe not now, but when Tallon is ready to make a move Kulikov needs to taken off the no-trade list. (Yeah yeah, he'd score the game-tying goal. The point still stands.)
- Speaking of trades, remember how Kopecky and Matthias were prime targets to move at last year's deadline and Tallon kept them instead? The two have combined for zero goals since April 7th.
- You know the Panthers don't have much speed when Michal Handzus can effectively backcheck against a rush.
- Huberdeau has some unreal passing abilities. If he could ever get some real linemates to draw attention from him, he could rack up some major points.
- Florida would get on the board with a slick pass from Barkov to Fleischmann to bring the game to 2-1, and minutes later Dmitry Kulikov would catch a bad clearing attempt from Duncan Keith and beat Crawford glove side. Nice comeback for the Cats, they really hadn't played bad up to the third period and finally started to find the goal.
- Head on over to Second City Hockey to pick up on the Chicago recap.
Next up: There are no easy games for the Panthers (as proved when they visited Philly) but Friday's game against Buffalo should go down in the win column. Florida has had success in the past against the Sabres, and the trend will have to continue if the Panthers have any hope in competing in the Atlantic Division. Panthers vs Sabres, Friday at 7:30.