The Florida Panthers' season to forget continues to roll on much as it has in the last few games: downhill. And at this point, it's not really rolling. It's careening towards an imminent fiery wreck of a season that none of us could have expected. Who really could have predicted the Panthers to be just this bad? Sure there were doubters of the offseason moves and the Panthers ability to keep up with the pace set last year, but I doubt anyone really expected Florida to be dead last in the standings and just about any important statistic with an eighth of the season in the books.
If the Panthers don't have any excuses, what do they have? Each game seems like the bottoming out point, but whether score indicates it or not the Panthers seem to find ways of being worse with each game played. Tonight the Cats fell 5-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning(an admittedly red hot, conference leading team), but for a long time the Panthers seemed to be faced with a win-able game. Then they got behind, slowed it down, got behind a little more, and then more, then more...not unlike the Philadelphia game. The slightest challenge will break the twiggy little back of the Panthers, and it feels like the pain will continue with a tight schedule and no leadership to right what's wrong.
- Kris Versteeg made his season debut tonight, further shuffling the Panthers' already disjointed lines. I didn't notice him too much throughout the game.
- I don't know why Scottie Upshall was demoted to the fourth line, but he immediately showed some life by forcing and perfectly picking off a pass between Bolts defensemen and springing off on a breakaway. Anders Lindback would stick with him and make the save as Uppy went to the backhand, but I'll take a clean scoring chance early on during any game.
- Florida started out the game with almost all of the play in the Lightning zone, stringing together several shifts of offensive pressure; something I thought was extinct in the Panthers playbook. And winning battles along the boards? Color me shocked.
- Keaton Ellerby is really starting to hurt the team. Not only does he negate an impending Tampa Bay penalty with an instigator of his own, but earns another by fighting with his visor on as he decides to take a face pounding from a well established tough guy. And to top it all off, the Panthers have to wait an extra ten minutes to get him back on the bench after earning a misconduct. All in the name of defending a teammate who didn't need defending. The Lightning would score on the powerplay, and the Cats' momentum would be completely ruined. Ellerby has nearly 40 penalty minutes in just 6 games. There's a problem here.
- Peter Mueller is starting to find the back of the net with a breakaway goal against Philly and a grinding goal at the crease tucking the puck in past Lindback.
- Cory Conacher might be a good player. Maybe.
- Lightning TV guys described Jay Feaster as 'one of the greats'. After the messy first period, I needed a good laugh.
- The Panthers are really starting to look like the worst team in the league. Absolutely nothing is working for Kevin Dineen, and I doubt the return of players like Goc, Gudbranson and(someday) Bergenheim will help a roster that has no meaningful chemistry to begin with.
- Consistency is hard to come by anymore, even for the players who you could always count on for a solid game. Jose Theodore is having a tough time with rebound control and second hand chances, and Mike Weaver looks completely lost. It must be opposite year.
- Drew Shore is awesome, shame he hasn't been rewarded on the scoresheet for his effort. I really think he's done playing in the AHL, and as rookies go Shore is outplaying Huberdeau.
- I know last year the goal differential knock on the Panthers was a bit ridiculous, but those making that assertion must be feeling pretty justified right about now.
- I really miss the old Panthers. The ones with drive and tenacity that turned heads and made people think twice about matchups with the Cats.
- On a positive note, the Huberdeau-Mueller-Shore line looks like it could be fun. If they continue to play well, I wouldn't even mind a promotion as the new first line.
- Tomas Fleischmann scored on a breakaway. I repeat, a breakaway, Fleischmann, goal.
- Head on down to the lightning-in-a-bloggle Raw Charge to remember what winning feels like.
Florida returns to action on the 31st when they take on the G-T-S-less J-E-T-S on Thursday night. Of course we all love Winnipeg. Love them. LBC GameThread opens for business at 7 p.m. ET.