I said several previews ago that the Cats needed to win these games before the Olympic break to move them away from the "seller" category at the trade deadline this year. Well, it looks like Dale Tallon better break out the yard sale gear, because the Panthers continue to lose in convincing fashion and Tallon and the Panther brass are going to have some decisions to make in the coming month regarding the future of the roster. Game after game, the Panthers are again saying the right things, but failing to translate words into action, losing their last three games and allowing 16 goals over those games.
Tonight the Cats welcome the Leafs into the BB&T Center, and look to combat the throngs of Canadian snowbirds that will likely be crowding the stands with a Panthers win. I would say the Leafs embarrassed Florida the last time the two teams met in Toronto, but in reality it was the Panthers who embarrassed themselves, blowing an early two goal lead en route to a 6-3 loss. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if the guys in the Cats sweaters decide to work hard for 60 minutes, they can win. If that doesn't happen, then we're looking at four losses in a row, folks.
At this point, there's 27 games remaining in the schedule and then another offseason of "rebuilding". The Panthers will likely finish in the bottom five in the league barring a miracle, and that means another top draft pick. The new ownership claims they will be spending to attract top-end talent, but there isn't much of that on the market, and the ones that are there are likely going to be getting highly overpaid to come to South Florida. Tallon has to deal the current "assets" the Panthers have to teams that will give him a decent return, and hope that free agency is kinder to him this time around, because the current crop of "character" guys he acquired in his last spending spree have all failed to be the model veterans he was looking for.
Best of luck to you, Mr. Tallon. The fans, and likely Vincent Viola, are watching much closer this time.
Players to Watch
- Aleksander Barkov - After a minus-two rating against the Columbus Blue Jackets last game, Barkov's still trying to get back to game speed, but I would expect to see him back at it again tonight and he should be more prepared. The Panthers really missed Barkov, though Scott Gomez filled in admirably, and his excellent two-way play and solid offensive skills will be welcomed back. Barkov's line of himself, Brad Boyes and Sean Bergenheim really needs to get going again if the Panthers have any chance of winning games.
- Phil Kessel - This should be obvious, but Kessel's on a tear even by his standards. He's up to 61 points already and is on pace to break his career highs in goals and points. He has 23 points in his last 12 games (!!!), and that 23 points would put him only THREE FRIGGIN POINTS behind Boyes, the Panthers leading scorer, who has scored 26 points in 53 games. I want to say that Kessel is just that good, and he is, but the Panthers are also that bad.
- Every forward not named Bjugstad, Barkov, Boyes, Bergenheim, Winchester - Seriously, where is the rest of this team? Aside from brief appearances by Scottie Upshall and Shawn Matthias, the rest of this squad is more invisible than Don Cherry at a wallpaper gallery. Good luck, Mr. Horacek, because this group is as apathetic as you're going to get in the NHL.
- David Clarkson - Clarkson's probable for this game, but my guess is we'll see him in the lineup. He has not panned out so far for the Leafs, who took a chance on him at his current price, but he's a proven depth player and should come back and give the Leafs a solid physical presence if nothing else. And, as anyone who knows the Panthers is aware of, physical play is not in their bag of tricks, so Clarkson should have plenty of room on the forecheck against Florida tonight.