Ah, that's the team we know and love. After thoroughly dominating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night by a score of 4-1, the Panthers returned to form against the Red Wings last night, playing basically a 30 minute game and getting outshot 23-8 in the first two periods. The Panthers reverted to a team that only seems interested in playing hard for certain stretches within a game, and the complete team effort was once again not present. After pretty much controlling the entire game against the Leafs, you really have to wonder why the Panthers can't put that kind of effort forth night in and night out.
With the loss to Detroit behind them, the Panthers head up to Raleigh to face off against old division buddies the Carolina Hurricanes who, despite not having an incredible season, sit only five points away from Detroit for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Canes definitely have the chance to reach the playoffs thanks to the play of Eric Staal and Anton Khudobin, the latter of which has had 15 straight starts and was recently named one of the three stars by the NHL for the month of January. Staal has been on somewhat of a scoring tear lately, potting 11 points in his last 12 games, and third-year sniper Jeff Skinner has 23 goals scored on the season so far playing alongside Jordan Staal. That 23 goal total is eight more than the Panthers leading goal scorer, Brad Boyes, and Skinner's played in 11 less games. Yikes.
Tune in for another episode of Jekyll and Hyde: Florida Panthers Edition tonight at the LBC GameThread, and peep one of the worst third jerseys ever created over at Canes Country. After tonight's game, the NHL is on hiatus until the end of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, so the Panthers next game will be against the Washington Capitals on February 27. Until then, enjoy the international hockey action and may Aleksander Barkov not get injured!
Players to Watch
- Alexander Semin - Semin torched the Panthers for two goals when they last played in January, and should be a prime target for some physical play tonight. He was called out the day before by Carolina GM Jim Rutherford for his lack of effort at times, and responded with one of his best games of the season. Let's hope Rutherford doesn't have anything to say this time before the game; I'd be fine seeing the lazy backchecker we've come to know and love from his time with Washington.
- Scottie Upshall - Upshall played a spirited game against the Red Wings last night, one of the few Panthers to do so. He's at his best when he's running around the ice taking (clean) shots at the opposition and causing havoc around the crease. The Panthers need him to do that every night, all night, and they need about six other players I can think of to do the same. Upshall's not the most talented or fastest or smartest, but at times he's the best player on the ice regardless and the rest of the roster should learn from that.
- Nathan Gerbe - The little sparkplug from Buffalo is on pace to break his career-highs in all categories, despite playing for a team that's 21st in the league in scoring. He has found a good home in Carolina and is another offensive threat for the Canes, if not a physical one. Both Gerbe and Skinner are smaller guys but very talented with the puck and know how to hit the twine. The Panthers will have to do a very good job keeping these two shifty forwards on the perimeter and not letting them sneak into the slot.
- Tomas Kopecky - After his terrible turnover against Toronto that led to a goal, and the ridiculous unsportsmanlike penalty he took last night against the Wings, in which he shot a puck directly at a referee, I would be scratching Kopecky. I don't see anything near enough from him on a nightly basis to justify his spot over someone like Drew Shore, Scott Gomez, or even Krys Barch at this point. Sit him and light a fire, hopefully he gets the message.