There aren't many ways to make a 7-2 loss to a division rival less painful, but knowing that that Florida Panthers dropped an essentially meaningless game to the Winnipeg Jets may help a little. That's the point the Panthers are at in the season; with playoff chances hanging at just .4% the only tangible benefits that can be scraped out of this season will come via losses. Yes it would be nice to win 8 games in a row to close out the season, building up a little confidence and momentum that would maybe carry over to next October. Yes, losing sucks. But lets embrace the absolute that will come from a losing record to cap a losing season, the chance at drafting a top 2 player that would develop into a tool to avoid such 7-2 losses in the future.
The Florida Panthers just blew one of the two 'easy' games the Panthers were to face in their final 9 games, and they did it in convincing fashion. It's been easy to suggest after a few of the last week's wins that Florida isn't far off from being a playoff team next year, but then these sorts of embarrassing losses throw a wrench into that theory. Playoff teams have to maintain a certain level of consistency which the Panthers simply haven't been capable of. Injuries have long been a staple of Panthers hockey and should be factored into the equation until a true turnover the young replacing the old takes place; meaning next year shouldn't be assumed to be different in that regard. What needs to change for the Panthers to peak at more than just a 7/8th seed playoff team is an overhaul in skill.
I don't like watching perennial losers either, but I'll embrace the chance at injecting much needed skill into the lineup when I can. I'll take Seth Jones or Nathan MacKinnon over good feelings that will dissipate when the team breaks up the summer. At this point, a loss is simply more beneficial than a win for the franchise and the future, even if that isn't what the players and coach say.
- Peter Mueller would be left in Florida for the trip as his wife was expecting their first child, meaning Greg Rallo would be back in the lineup, along with Drew Shore who missed a few games with a wrist injury. It took Shore a few shifts to get back into things, but looked good on the fourth line(please Kevin, move him up) while Rallo wasn't terrible either.
- Plenty of scoring early in the game with TJ Brennan and Tomas Fleischmann both putting up a goal and an assist through 6:31. I can't say enough good things about Brennan, who scored a Campbell-esque goal as he capitalized on an opening left by a Jets breakdown and followed up with a smart pass to a wide open Flash less than two minutes later. Add in TJames' solid defense, it looks like with a little more experience he'll become the Jason Garrison replacement this team needed. All for a 'worthless' 5th rounder.
- I can't wait for Mike Weaver to return to the lineup for obvious reasons, but having Tyson Strachan forced out of the lineup may be just as big of a victory. I was a fan of Strachan's play last season as a call up and honestly wasn't too concerned when Tallon resigned him on a one way, but in a year where no player can ride on the team's collective success; it's become clear that Strachan doesn't belong. Dineen has consistently paired Strachan with Campbell hoping Soupy can act as damage control and keep the mistakes minimum, but there's only so much that he can do. The experiment has all but ended, and it's time for Strachan to return to San Antonio.
- ROOKIE OBSERVATIONS(since the rookies are pretty much the only thing worth watching on this team, I might as well kill 5 birds with one stone with a mega observation): Markstrom-Faced a lot of shots throughout the game, many of which were quality scoring chances. Very little help from his defense, though the 5th goal from Byfuglien was on him as well as a brutally indecisive attempt at playing the puck on a partial breakaway that cost him a seat on the bench. Huberdeau- Looked pretty strong on the puck tonight, which has been a concern off and on since his debut. Howden- Had a few chances, but also had some problems getting free from defenders. He's getting better with each game but as others have said, he's a bit too one-dimensional right now. Bjugstad- For being 15 feet tall he hasn't been very noticeable, the endless hype surrounding him has been mostly manufactured. He had good positioning defensively and played it safe, though doing so may have cost a few rebound opportunities. Shore- As mentioned above, it took a while for him to shake off the rust. Otherwise he had good positioning throughout the game, skated well, nearly tucked in a goal, logged some meaningful PK time and was difficult to knock off the puck. Shore wins the rookie of the night honor.
- George Parros took a tripping call midway through the second, followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct call 7 minutes later. In the box, Parros would receive an additional unsportsmanlike conduct call. This would infuriate the TV guys and fanbase, though the reality of the situation is that we don't know what was said between Parros and the ref after the tripping penalty, which probably gave the ref an excuse to tack on the additional UM call following the first one. Parros is 450 game veteran, he knows where the line is drawn and obviously crossed it. Sorry guys, but I'll side with the referee over the career 1000+ PIM player each time in these situations.
- I had to remind myself on which numbers James Wright and Mike Santorelli wear for the Jets. Such tremendous waiver losses.
- Stick tap to Scott Clemmensen who came in relief of Markstrom and stopped 11 of 12 shots to close out the final 27 minutes. Some one had to spare the Cats from getting into double digit goals against.
- Find all the victorious Jets hullabaloo over at Arctic Ice Hockey.
- Update: postgame audio from coach Kevin Dineen, Manitoba native Quinton Howden, and Fleischmann via Illegal Curve here.
Up next for the Panthers is a game at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins before embarking on a 4 game road swing in the northeast. The Penguins and Panthers each have a home victory against the other, and without offensive catalyst Sidney Jawsby the Pens will have to rely on bottom six players like Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen and Jerome Iginla to pick up the slack. Should be a blast. Pens at Cats, Saturday at 7:30.