I think it's safe to say the Florida Panthers preseason didn't exactly go as planned. 1-4-1 record, 29 goals against in 6 games, one injury in both the 'promising young center' and 'backup goalie who might end up playing 40 games' categories and a good whooping later, the team has got about a week to figure something out. Now besides the 7-1 romp the Dallas Stars handed us tonight the preseason hasn't gone terribly for the Cats, but you have a few reasons to be a bit concerned. This should be a healthy concern, not a sky-is-falling outlook on the regular season. Save the panic button for midseason, there is no need to hit it now. There is a solution that doesn't involve trading for a goalie. Trust me on that.In the imaginary land of goodies and gumdrops most of us expected preseason to pass on by smoothly and without any bumps. Oh boy was that a great summer mindset! I bought into that one pretty well, but then again the unprecedented turnover for the club is really the first of its kind. Chemistry was going to be an issue -we all knew that- but the magnitude of the issue was an unknown for both fans and the players themselves. Sure the players entered preseason with a rough estimate of the chemistry that needed to form, but perhaps a 7-1 meltdown clarifies things for the team. They aren't looking at a couple of meet 'n' greet practices, they're facing some major obstacles they must cross before becoming the major force we know they can be. I know this is motivational locker room speech material, so Kevin Dineen better start watching the movies to get in touch with his inspirational side.
Don't assume the players are feeling skippidy-do-dah about their preformace either, because my oh my they sucked, and after bad losses they know it. Jonathan Huberdeau isn't on top of the world right now because he scored the lone goal, losing in such spectacular fashion sends a wake up call through the entire roster. Take Matt Duchene's tweet just hours after losing 6-0 against the Kings yesterday:
Sorry to all the fans that paid their hard earned money tonight to watch that terrible performance of ours. We WILL be better...This Avs team is not the same one from last year so don't get used to seeing games like that. We're not gonna disappoint you guys again
Don't you think that same thought is circulating through the locker room of a down and out Panthers club right now? The answer is yes. If I were calling the shots I'd be taking my team the long way home, on the bus, just to let the loss sting a couple more hours. Players don't like to lose, whether in preseason or regular. Getting blown out 7-1 is exactly the benchmark a team needs to measure up to, and right now the Cats are coming up short. They'll just have to build themselves up in one week, end of story.
As for goalteanding, there were no excuses tonight for Jose Theodore. He played quite well in the first period but fell apart in the end. He allowed 7 goals while Markstrom sat on the bench waiting for the call he never got. Good! Let Theodore get blown out, this game didn't count towards anything. In fact, I wish the game continued so he could let in a few more! Jose Theodore signed with the Panthers assuming the starting job was his regardless of his performance. Theodore tried the same thing during his last year in Colorado too. The injury to Scott Clemmensen must have resulted in a big sigh of relief for Jose because he played like he'd had a few celebratory drinks before warmup. The fact is, Jose Theodore isn't battling for a starting role with a career backup anymore, now he's contending with the hockey's best prospect goalie who's repeatedly stated he wants the starting job for the Florida Panthers of the NHL, not the San Antonio Rampage of the next best thing.
After sitting on the bench all 60 minutes of the game, maybe Jacob Markstrom had plenty of time to think. Tyler Plante is headed to the AHL unlike most had expected. Theodore got a big slice of humble pie tonight. Florida needs a competent goalie in order to finish outside of the league cellar this season. "I am the goalie of the future, but when does the future become now?" Coach Dineen's strategy isn't top-secret, he's going to ride the hot goalie. If Markstrom can play average in his starts, expect him to become the starter.
I liken it to college football. Sure, starting a freshman quarterback might be rough in the first few years but in those last two he'll be dominant. Or you can start a new senior every year and start from scratch again once next season rolls around. For Markstrom, if he can start out slow and get the hang of being an NHL starter by February, everything will work out just peachy. They'll give him the starting role if he shows he can improve himself, one bad night doesn't equate to a plane ticket to Texas. Yesterday I wasn't a fan of Markstrom getting lots of NHL minutes this year, but tonight is a lot different.
That's the first scenario, the second is that Theodore realizes he's in the fryingpan (before the season has even started!) and makes a valiant effort to become the starter he was in Washington. If anything, Theodore has shown himself to be resiliant over the years, one bad loss shouldn't end his hopes before they even begin. The last time he got whooped this badly was in April 2009, 2 1/2 years ago. Last time he let in 7+ was almost 5 years ago. These kinds of losses don't happen to a goalie simply because they are usually pulled after 4 goals, it's rare to be hung out so badly. We all know that goalies are weird and that little things effect them in strange ways. How about getting blown out before you're set to start your first game of the season? Not only does that get inside your head, it's also a complete and total embarrassment for a goalie so highly awarded. I made plenty of Theodore jokes tonight as Dallas ran up the score, Theodore needs some kind of cruel motivation from the bench and from the fans to come back with a vengeance. Someone has to strike a chord in Theodore, tonight was a blemish on his pride. Maybe Dineen is a genius for leaving Teddy in for the whole game.
So to make a long story short, there are two ways to look at a team from the opponents view. For the Islanders who'll enjoy home ice advantage in the season opener for the Panthers, a Florida team who lost 7-1 can be viewed as "They're down! They're out!" or "They're looking for redemption to start the season". In the latter respect, the Panthers are a dangerous team ready for a statement win to start a statement season. I truly don't think anyone is content with losing anymore, the vectors for that habitual losing streak were removed this summer. The new Panthers are in it to win it, regardless of the goalie captain or coach. This is just the first of many tests.