When David Booth - owner of 105 PIM for his career - takes a goaltender interference call (he was, ahem, pushed from behind into Cam Ward), you know things aren't going well for the Panthers.
After a combined 105 shots over the previous six periods of hockey, Florida escaped from Raleigh with a paltry 20 (11 in the third frame) this time out; all but two forwards finished with one shot or less. Worse, the Cats napped through the first forty minutes of play, making no attempt to establish either a physical presence nor puck possession in any zone. Battles along the boards were white-flagged far in advance as a mindset of "reaction" took hold of the lineup.
And then there were some penalties...
Captain Bryan McCabe was issued a demonstrably weak tripping call at 12:03 of the first. Darcy Hordichuk (1g) claimed his proprietary two minutes of shame at 6:09 of the second, quickly followed 13 seconds later by Michael Santorelli (for "hooking", evidently). Florida's penalty killing was sublime in the resultant 5-on-3, finally succumbing to an inevitable Eric Staal (2g) blast in front. Of course less than a minute later Stephen Weiss was cited with a tripping call. For those curious, Santorelli and Weiss combined for four PIMs in 21 games this season heading into tonight.
But we don't at all doubt the professionalism of referees Steve Kozari and Gordie Dwyer, even in light of what could be perceived by conspiracy nuts as union retribution aimed at Dale Tallon's "Coach's Challenge" proposal. You recall the inspiration for that...this unthinkable flub which flew well over the radar, forcing the league soonafter to brand it a "mistake" and claim "it shouldn't have happened". And we all know how quick the NHL is to regularly criticize members of the Officials Association on disputed calls...like, well, never. Head on over and remind the zebras to set their clocks back on Sunday.
Whatever. Carolina danced circles around the Panthers for what remained of even-strength hockey for two periods; Florida's two power play opportunities were of the "let's decline this" variety. We're all sure they'll get around to fixing that little sticking point, and pronto. The third was a rebirth of sorts, but far too little, and way too late...though full kudos are in order to Michael Frolik keeping it interesting with 42 seconds remaining.
On the plus side, Scott Clemmensen (26 saves) was just short of superb considering the circumstances, keeping the game within arm's reach all night; the final score could have been a lot worse. Frolik's 7 SOG were far and away tops among Cats; Booth followed up with 3.
Impressive rookie forward Jeff Skinner shook off Friday's zero-point (-3) dust, responding with a goal and assist.
Next up: Leafs are in town Wednesday; Live Game Chat at 7pm.