You couldn't ask for a much better outing for the Florida Panthers on Thursday night. Despite falling behind early thanks to some nauseating goaltending, the Panthers seemed to dominate the Buffalo Sabres at nearly every turn except for one area: in the crease. Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller would outplay both Florida netminders, as starting goalie Scott Clemmensen would be pulled after allowing three goals on ten shots, making way for Jose Theodore to take over. Theodore would then fail to stop either of the two Buffalo shootout aces in Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, and the Panthers would fail to respond with a shootout goal of their own, giving the Sabres a 4-3 shootout win.
Florida played a fantastic game, excluding the first five minutes. Had the goaltending been there, this would have been a two point regulation win for the Panthers. Instead, the Cats walk away with only a single point and likely a stern glare at the two netminders who have been the source of much strife this season. Both "starters" have GAA's over 3.50 and save percentages under .890. Yes, the team in front of them was bad for a fair amount of games to start the season, but that's been mostly fixed for quite awhile now, so that can no longer be a crutch in the argument against Clemmensen and Theodore. The reality is that the guys in the crease are costing the team points in the standings, and if the Panthers, who sit a mere four points out of the playoff picture (thank you Southeast) want to have any shot at returning to the postseason, they need to start getting two points out of winnable games such as these.
- Clemmensen looked terrible. Jose Theodore's been barely startable. Can anyone explain to me why the Panthers aren't starting Jacob Markstrom more? Not sure how this team can expect to win games when the goaltending is as atrociously bad as it has been. I know you don't want to rush the kid, I don't disagree with that, but the reality is that the Cats aren't that far out of the playoff picture thanks to the god-awful Southeast Division and they should be making the roster moves that can help them get into the postseason. The current tandem is statistically the worst in the NHL and that's gonna cost you points, not allow you to gain them.
- Mike Weaver would exit the game in the first favoring his right leg as he limped down the tunnel to the dressing room. He got hurt on a relatively innocuous play, so it's hard to tell what's ailing him, but my guess is that it could have been a knee or ankle issue. Weaver's been playing like his normal awesome self the last 6-8 games, so hopefully he won't be out for long, if at all.
- I don't care how much he makes, or how much of a veteran he is or even if he's playing hurt. Filip Kuba needs to SKATE HARDER. He lazily chased down a couple pucks for icing, except didn't get there first and gave possession away to Buffalo rather than gain an offensive zone faceoff. That's absolutely inexcusable.
- I wrote a few games ago that Tomas Fleischmann wasn't doing the slick one-on-one stuff he's capable of doing and wasn't really generating any offense because of it. The last two or three games, he's started doing it again, and he's generating all kinds of chances and powerplays. He's got that ability and is one of the few players on the Panthers roster capable of some offensive brilliance.
- Stephen Weiss' problems this season haven't necessarily stemmed from what he does when he has the puck. It's what he does without it. He's generally a great player in regards to positioning, but he seems to be out of place more often than usual and it's a big part of the reason he hasn't been able to create plays and generate something out of neutral and defensive zone turnovers. He seems very out of sorts and not doing the smart things that have made him so valuable over the years. He's also not doing as much of the dirty work along the boards that will help get him out of the doghouse. I'm probably one of the few who thinks he can turn it around quickly, once he wakes up.
- Drew Shore would score a powerplay goal, his second of the year. The top powerplay unit is now the kiddie corps and they've earned it, especially Shore, who has been perhaps the most valuable forward for Florida so far this season, right up there with Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Kopecky. It's great to see him get rewarded and he deserves the powerplay minutes. It's early in his NHL career and early in his development, but I can honestly see Shore continuing to mature into a first or second line center in this league. He has that skill level and hockey smarts and just needs to continue gaining experience.
- My favorite play of the game: Marcel Goc chasing down a dump in, beating two Buffalo players and then stepping out in front of Ryan Miller and popping home the Cats' second goal of the game. The Panthers need Goc scoring timely goals like this.
- George Parros fought John Scott. Didn't see that coming. Yawn. How about someone decking Steve Ott for cross-checking Huberdeau? Anyone? BUELLER? No, not you Peter, I said Bueller. Here, have a hair tie.
- The Panthers really need more defensive scoring. It seemed like last season the forwards looked for Jason Garrison at every opportunity to let him tee up one of the cannon-like blasts from the point that helped him score a career-high 16 goals. This year it seems like the point men either aren't shooting as much or are missing the net more. Erik Gudbranson, Tyson Strachan and Dmitry Kulikov all have pretty solid shots and it would be nice to see them contribute more offensively.
- Jack Skille was all over the place. He's such a hard worker and his speed and recklessness on the forecheck can generate so much havoc for the opposition. He doesn't generate much in the scoring department but as a third or fourth line guy, you can't ask for much more.
- Not using this as an excuse for anything at all this season, but the officiating has been bad.
- More from SB Nation sister ship Die By The Blade here.