Early into the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it appeared as if the 5-2 whipping the Florida Panthers received last game was just an outlier during their stretch of convincing wins. The Panthers started out with a rare power play goal to take an early lead against the Bolts, but six Tampa goals later it was apparent that something went wrong between tonight and their last victory. In two games the Cats have coughed up 11 goals while only scoring three of their own, and goaltending isn't the only culprit for the two losses. Tonight the whole team was used as the welcome mat at their own homecoming for a critical stretch of games that could mean a lot as the playoffs approach.
Tonight the Panthers didn't look anything like the team that won 7 of 8 last week, but instead they reverted back to the blowout prone team of October. The Panthers took a lot of penalties and allowed the Lightning to skate freely around Clemmensen. It wasn't just the veteran Lightning players who put the Cats on ice, the rookies slammed the door in the face of the Florida defense squad and non-existant defensive forwards. Florida proved they could win games over the last few weeks, but the true test to determine whether they can make a playoff push lies in how quickly and effectively they can bounce back from two bad losses.
- Alex Petrovic rejoins the Panthers with Erik Gudbranson down with an eye injury, the last time we saw him was at the end of last year when he dazzled for one game before settling into the defensive ineptitude that plagued the team last season. Gotta hope that isn't an indication of how he develops in red, otherwise that 2010 draft won't be looking too pretty.
- The odds of future Battles of Galve Sweden between Jacob Markstrom and Anders Lindback seem to be dropping quickly as neither goaltender is forcing themselves into the starting role for their teams. The two have combined for 20 decisions (4-12-4) through nearly half a season, and with Ben Bishop playing quite well Lindback has found himself in the same position as he did behind Rinne in Nashville. Markstrom? I guess another AHL season can't hurt.
- For employing the king of questionable hits on their own blue line, Panthers fans sure love to complain about how Radko Gudas is a "dirty player".
- Scottie Upshall left after the first period, leaving the Panthers with a big loss for the first time in his lengthy injury career piled up during his time with the Cats. Mike Weaver also appeared to be injured when he blocked a shot with his ankle, he played through it but you always have to wonder what will be evaluated between periods or after the game.
- During the second period the two broadcasts switched commentators, with Lindsay heading to talk with Rick Peckham of the Lightning and Bobby Taylor to hang with Goldie. Besides enjoying some real analysis from Taylor, I found it ironic how he commented about Tampa's drafting woes just before undrafted hero Marty St. Louis netted a goal and his second point of the night.
- I see the coaching change hasn't created a switch in philosophy when it comes to pulling a goalie. The way Florida has played this year in the third period, I wish Horachek would give the team a shakeup in net as an attempt to jump-start a comeback. I don't honestly expect Markstrom to give the Panthers a huge lift after being shelled in the last game (maybe if he hadn't been subjected to a blowout, I'd have higher hopes with Marky in relief) but Clemmensen hadn't been effective and perhaps Marky would be better. Down three goals with a period left, Horachek has nothing to lose by putting Markstrom in.
- I like Clemmensen and have defended him for a long time, but we're definitely seeing his limits. During the playoff year, Clemmer started a fair number of games which allowed Theodore to rest for big games while also keeping the backup sharp for when he was needed. With Tim Thomas being thrown into almost every game when healthy, we're seeing some of the effects of that approach. Thomas is on his third injury though just 21 games played, and before this latest stretch on the IR Clemmensen was forced into games cold with disuse. Now as the emergency starter, Clemmensen was able to balance his bad starts early with some quality goaltending in recent games...but now the lack of conditioning and playing time may be taking it's toll. When you don't play a goalie as a starter, there's only so many games he can steal without a drop-off later. When Thomas returns, Horachek has to balance his goaltender's starts to prevent this cycle from continuing.
- Go to Raw Charge for a recap and also because they're pretty cool.
Next Up: In the spirit of boring everyone to death, the scheduling roulette has again chosen the Detroit Red Wings as the opponents the Panthers must face after the break. Herein lies the true downfall of new divisions; having to play all of these boring Canadian teams and Detroit. If you missed the last game between these teams (GlassGate, comeback) you can catch it on HBO's 24/7 probably...I'm certainly not watching so what do I know. Panthers vs Red Wings, Saturday at 7.