Something has changed in the team dynamic for the Florida Panthers. Since the third period in the Isles game, Florida has strung together 7 exceptional periods of hockey and find themselves with consecutive victories, both of which being characterized by only one opposition goal. Whether it was TJ Brennan acting as the catalyst to the recent success, Jacob Markstrom finding his groove, secondary scoring or a combination of the three; the bottom line is that the Panthers are playing as good as they have all year.
It appears to me that the big performances from Jacob Markstrom have given the rest of the team something to rally behind, and good plays in the back end are opening up more chances for the forwards to do their jobs. A big night from the hot forwards and a very calm, methodical defense employed against the Rangers stole the show as Markstrom paved the way to victory. A very solid win with only a spirited individual effort blemishing it. Some improvements should still be made, but the Cats are enjoying what is becoming a very successful roadtrip.
- Quinton Howden would return to the lineup with both George Parros(upper body) and Eric Selleck(suspended game 1 of 2, concussion) out. Howden would be skating in his second NHL game, and I had a better opinion of him the second time around. He must be enjoying a vacation from the reeling Rampage, because I didn't notice many of the breakdowns he was rumored to have in San Antonio.
- Early into the game the referee took a puck to the mouth, chipping out a few pearly whites in the process. The ref skated over to the Rangers bench, took a towel and then joined his lineman in the search for his tooth; no pain involved. Hockey makes you tough, as Jean Hebert's scowl would show throughout the rest of the game.
- For the second straight game, the Panthers would score the first goal; tonight's was a powerplay marker off the stick of Brian Campbell. Assists would go to TJ Brennan and Jonathan Huberdeau, a trio of players that should be on the Panthers powerplay for years to come.
- Scottie Upshall has earned some heat lately for his often injured presence on the Panthers roster, though I still think he has something to prove in the second half of his contract with the Panthers, and he's getting back into the swing of things. I was a fan of throwing Jack Skille, Shawn Matthias and Upshall together, becuse they all play a similar style and each can compliment the others play.
- Alex Kovalev is gone. The retirement is now official, and how glad I am that the ill fated experiment has ended.
- Matthias and Skille are the perfect linemates. Despite the obvious disparity in point production, the two are very similar players; I'd say Matthias is just a luckier Skille. But even so, Skille has become a really effective grinding player who can draw bodies to him and make space, and having Matthias to finish has created an unexpected phenomenon.
- After the second goal, boos rained down at MSG. Money doesn't always buy happiness for the New York Rangers.
- Jacob Markstrom has looked really, really solid in his last two games. Incidentally, TJ Brennan and the new defense have also looked great.
- One weakness I've noticed lately is that many Panthers forwards are willing to take a perimeter shot or slide it on goal instead of creating a genuine scoring chance. Unfortunately some of the Panthers act very timid when it comes to closing in on the goalie, and it makes that certain line fit for textbook defenses. The Cats need to make teams play uncertain defense.
- TJ Brennan is starting to look like the #2/#3 defenseman for the Panthers. I took a few shifts to watch him, and not only is he defensively sound with the puck, but he also has good positioning and keeps pressure on his man. Dineen is comfortable throwing him out there for 20 minutes a game, and Brennan is making the most of it.
- Filip Kuba looks good, and I'm willing to admit it.
- Expect a suspension for Rick Nash following a leaping, broadside high hit on Tomas Kopecky after he rang one off the post. Whether it was a hit targeting the head or not, the hit should be reviewed.
- On that last bullet-point above, things have gotten a bit weird...
- Find the New York state of mind at Blueshirt Banter.
The Cats will have a chance at playoff revenge on Saturday; a playoff rematch against the New Jersey Devils. The offseason didn't treat these two teams well, as the Panthers sit in 15th place while the Devils sit just outside the playoff picture at 9th place. Will the Panthers turn the tables on New Jersey? Find out on Saturday, 7pm.