Remember that whole "play for 60 minutes" mantra that I've been harping on for pretty much the entire season? Yea... I guess no one from the team has been reading it, because the Panthers managed to utterly wilt in the third period against the Boston Bruins on Sunday. After two respectable periods in which the Cats kept it close against a vastly superior team, they just fell apart in the final 20 minutes, allowing four goals and leaving the newly-acquired Roberto Luongo out to dry. Welcome back, Lou. It's going to be a rough end to the season for you.
The Panthers get a chance at redemption, as they always do, when the Phoenix Coyotes come into town this evening. Florida hasn't seen Phoenix since December of 2011, when the Yotes topped the Cats 2-1. Phoenix is currently sitting right on the cusp of a playoff spot in the West and they will be coming into Sunrise motivated for a win to keep that dream alive. The Panthers will again need a complete effort, something that's seemingly impossible for whatever reason, and they'll need to find a way to score some early goals so they're not trying to play from behind again. Or maybe not. This team sure seems to like playing from behind.
Be sure to join the LBC GameThread tonight, and check out the soon-to-be Arizona Coyotes sister site, Five For Howling, for the seldom-heard Phoenix perspective. Peace!
Players to Watch
- Dmitry Kulikov - Kuli has turned his game up a notch since before the Olympic break. He's scored only once in his last ten games, so the offense hasn't really been there, but miraculously he's only a minus-four despite the Panthers losing seven of those last ten. He's cut down on the mental errors in his game and although he still makes some questionable decisions, he's been much more steady. The Panthers will need much more of that from him if Erik Gudbranson's knee injury is worse than initially thought.
- Antoine Vermette - Vermette is on pace to have his best season statistically since the 2009-2010 season when he scored 65 points as a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Vermette is a big center with great vision on the ice and he's been scoring at a pretty decent clip this year for the Coyotes. The Panthers will have to take away his time and space around the net and make sure he doesn't slip unnoticed into the slot, something the Cats really struggled with last game.
- Keith Yandle - How Yandle didn't make the cut on the US Olympic squad, I'll never understand. Yandle leads the Yotes in scoring and has eaten up a ton of big minutes for the club this season, including special teams. Yes, he's a -19 on the year, but he's often matched up against the opposition's top lines and Phoenix doesn't have a lot of scoring support to help reduce that plus/minus figure. Along with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix has a very active and talented defense, something Florida will have to account for in their game plan tonight.
- Brad Boyes - March has not been as kind to Boyes as February was. Boyes has just one point in his last five games, and missing Aleksander Barkov certainly has something to do with it. Nick Bjugstad has plugged in very admirably for Barkov but the injured center was playing at a very high level and with some solid chemistry with Boyes and fellow winger Sean Bergenheim. It's no coincidence their production has dropped since Barkov left the Panther lineup, but Boyes has to fight through it and produce some goals.