Make that three pretty complete games in a row. Despite losing 2-1 against a solid defensive performance by the New Jersey Devils, the Florida Panthers played yet another relatively complete game, something that's only recently been evident. A lack of solid scoring chances doomed the Panthers in this one, although there were some great opportunities throughout the game that just weren't converted. Defensively, the Cats were very good aside from a couple of odd-man rushes and a failure to put David Clarkson on his rear before he could score the game-winning goal. Looking at you, Kuba.
The Panthers finally seem to be getting a solid identity to their game: defensively sound, big saves when needed, and feed off the transition game and turnovers by the opposition. That's what we saw nearly all of last year, and something that needs to be drilled into everyone's skull lest they risk at least two more 5-game losing streaks. The players are playing as a team, in a clear system, and it's working. They just need to keep doing it, and carry it into next season with a roster that isn't held together with dental floss, fashion tape, and Chuck Weber's hopes and dreams.
- The Panthers surprised me a little by beating the Devils at their own game: the forecheck. At least in the first period. After that the Panthers seemed to stop playing that way despite holding the Devils for 18 friggin minutes without a shot. Whether it was due to an adjustment by the Devils, or the Panthers decided to try something else, it's encouraging to see them playing that style and succeeding at it.
- Although he played better than he has in just about any other game this season, Scott Clemmensen still looked shaky to me. There were a few instances where he had no idea where the puck was, and his rebound control was decent but not as good as Jacob Markstrom's has been the last two games. With back to back games, however, you expected him to get the start against his old club, and I will say he looked vastly better in this game than he has in his last ten starts.
- Quinton Howden is continuing to get time on the Panthers' fourth line, but got promoted at times to replace Scottie Upshall on the third line. His fabled speed was noticeable and created several scoring chances and a powerplay. He nearly had his first NHL goal on a rush up ice but was stoned by Martin Brodeur. If he keeps skating and working hard like he did in this one, he might not be getting sent back down too quickly.
- Continuing with the recent trend of stupid penalties that lead to suspensions, Colby Robak would cross-check Tom Sestito from behind while chasing down a puck along the wall, leading to a 5-minute penalty and a boot from the game. Horrible timing for the penalty, and what's worse, Robak is likely looking at a suspension for such a dangerous hit from behind. For a team that's already calling up AHL players like it's going out of style, losing those call-ups to suspensions is really going to hurt the roster. That said, are the Cats really in a position to do much in the standings with those AHL guys in the first place?
- Dmitry Kulikov was back in the lineup, maybe a little earlier than he would've liked, as Erik Gudbranson sat this one out due to illness. He was fine, and it's good he's back since Robak is likely going to be sitting out at least a game.
- At this point I'd like to see Gudbranson, Tyson Strachan, or a sack of Idaho Gold potatoes replacing Filip Kuba on the point when the Cats are on the powerplay. He mishandled several pucks, pulling the Panthers back out of the zone, and took some point shots through traffic that left you scratching your head because you knew there were no lanes. He's playing better defensively but the offense is still not there consistently. I doubt it ever will be.
- Shawn Matthias would take a deflected shot off his forehead, cutting him pretty good and sending him sprawling to the ice in pain. He missed majority of the second period but was back out for the third, this time sporting a visor. It was scary to see and reminded you of the Marc Staal episode that occurred earlier this season. Thankfully it wasn't as bad, but should be another reminder to players why a visor is that much more useful than none.
- I love watching Brodeur screw up handling the puck. Love it.