Florida Drops Third Straight as Tired Maple Leafs Prevail

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The Panthers' road trip closes in miserable fashion as mathematical elimination draws near.

With 3 goals resulting on 86 shots in the last 3 games, the Panthers offense nowadays is all but dead. The concern here isn't quite the same as similar stretches earlier in the season when the Panthers were visibly snakebit, this time the Panthers aren't snakebit at all; they're simply not generating chances. Three games are in the books after that pair of wins that feel so long ago; and all the forwards have to show for those games are two deflections and a goalie mishandle.

Make no mistake; some of this is due to missing several of the Panthers offensive contributors(and subsequent replacements by less than NHL caliber call ups) but some of it is the unshakable randomness of the Panthers scoring. Victories are hard to come by in the league when your team's forwards cannot keep up with their counterparts who've played 3 games in 4 nights. Goaltending and defense can't win every game; showing your first signs of life in the final minutes of each game, hoping for favorable calls, throwing everything on net isn't what winning teams do. That's why Ben Scrivens and every other non-elite goalie looks like an all star when they play Florida.

People will call this a close game, but I'm not. Toronto looked significantly better than the Panthers tonight and outside of one good rush by Shawn Matthias that ended with a bit of luck, the Cats never took the initiative to win. Injuries can't be an excuse anymore, if the Panthers were serious about working their way back into the playoff picture they wouldn't have dropped the last three in the way they have.

Observations:

  • Dineen had some shuffled lines to start the game, with Huberdeau skating with Santorelli and Matthias while Quinton Howden found himself on the wing with Mueller and Shore. Not sure what good that's going to do for anyone...at this point in his career Howden shouldn't even be in the NHL, let alone the second line.
  • In other roster news, Tyson Strachan would be in for Brennan, though I wouldn't be concerned if I were Brennan. With 14 teams scouting the game, I'd get Strachan(paired with Campbell) in front of some eyes before the trade deadline too. The player forcing the move was Erik Gudbranson, who was returning from an illness. Another benefit of wrapping the injury prone Panthers in bubble wrap; natural quarantine from whatever virus has followed the team on this roadtrip.
  • Tomas Fleischmann would net the first goal of the game off a deflection, earning just his 4th point in 11 games. Flash has been mentioned a lot lately as being the only player on last years' dynamic line that's survived this season, and despite the whirlwind he's been forced into with rotating linemates; he's still managed to put up a team leading 21 points in 34 games. If there are players destined to move at the deadline, he certainly isn't one of them.
  • Jerred Smithson is nearing his 50th regular season game with the Panthers, and I doubt he's made a mistake in any of them. Smitty is the perfect 4th liner, and though his contract is set to expire this summer I doubt we've seen the last of him.
  • Dion Phaneuf would tie the game on(you guessed it) a unscreened shot from the point. I'm not sure what the problem is this year with otherwise routine saves, but all three of the Panthers goalies this season have had some problems stopping pucks from long distances. Just another unusual subplot in this disaster of a season.
  • The third period started with some much needed excitement, two Lupul goals sandwiching a Matthias goal, who put the puck on net where it deflected off of old pal Mike Kostka and past Scrivens. Matty has some great hands and is using his size to fly past defenders. Tallon's phone will be ringing tonight.
  • Peter Mueller played a good game tonight with some timely speed, good passes and defensive responsibility, though his ice time dropped a bit in the third period as Dineen switched up the lines here and there. Howden's ice time also dwindled.
  • Mike Santorelli was one of the 4 forwards on the ice with the goalie pulled. What??
  • Mosey on over to Pension Plan Puppets for the best Leafs recap in the land.

With the roadtrip finally finished, the Panthers will return home to face off against the surprisingly hot Buffalo Sabres, marking the first time ex-Sabre TJ Brennan will play against his old team. As of tonight Buffalo has won three straight to rise from one of the leagues worst to just above Edmonton in the standings. So still pretty bad I suppose. Panthers vs Sabres, Thursday at 7:30.

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