Well, at least the road trip is over, right? After starting their west coast swing in triumphant fashion with a 3-2 win in San Jose, the Panthers just crumbled, losing their next three by a cumulative score of 12-3. The Ducks just brought it after a brief relaxation period in the second, allowing Florida to score two quick goals and pull within one. After that, the Ducks scored three unanswered and cruised to a 6-2 victory the rest of the way. This game was at no point actually close; Anaheim was basically toying with the Panthers at will.
I could take this opportunity to lambaste the Cats for another sad effort, for sleepwalking through a true beatdown from a team they can't hold a candle to. No, that'd be too easy. What I will say is this: if the future is in the youth, there needs to be a better foundation around them, a better coaching staff, and a better culture. These young guys who are legitimately looking like the real deal (Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Brandon Pirri) desperately need to start winning games and getting confidence. These extended stretches of getting demoralized by the rest of the NHL have to be taking a toll, not only on the player's confidence on the ice, but their confidence in remaining in a Florida sweater beyond their RFA status.
As much as I'm going to miss watching my favorite team play hockey, this season can't end soon enough for the Panthers. Bring on the draft and free agency. What's that? The Panthers always lose the lottery and this year's free agency class isn't that good? Bleh.
- Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry were allowed to roam freely in the Panthers defensive zone, just destroying the Cats with puck possession and great passing. I know Perry and Getzlaf are big boys who are some of the top guys in the league at what they do, but is there really not a single player on the Cats who can't put one or both on their asses on a regular basis?
- The Panthers defense plays scared. They turn the puck over constantly to any sort of forecheck, and they cough up the puck on outlet passes regularly, if they are even able to make an outlet pass. That's not always the defenseman's fault either; the forwards are regularly out of place to receive those passes. If you watch the best teams, it's almost like they have some sort of premonition about where they need to be on the ice to play effectively. Florida is the opposite. It's like they try to find the most difficult way to clear the zone or set up a scoring chance.
- Trocheck had one of his best games so far in his short NHL career. He set up a goal by Tomas Fleischmann from a strong play after a faceoff, taking the puck around the cage and feeding Fleischmann with a nice goal-mouth pass. He played pretty solid defensively and had some scoring chances of his own as well. Trocheck looks like the real deal and I'd be shocked if he doesn't stay up with the big club next season, as he looks ready.
- Pirri had a brutal turnover at the blueline on a Panthers power play in the second period. His ice time took a bit of a hit because of it, as he saw the ice less in the third period. That's a mistake you should only make once at the NHL level and then it sticks with you. Pirri's been a good player for Florida so far, so I don't think it's worth making more out of this play than necessary.
- Poor Dan Ellis. That's all I have to say about that.
- Also, poor Krys Barch. He finally looks to get his first goal since 2012, only to have the pants of Jimmy Hayes steal it away. Oh well, I guess that means Barch can't turn his earth-shattering one goal season into a huge deal during free agency in July.
- Did I state how bad the Panthers defense is? Ryan Whitney would replace Ed Jovanovski on the blue line in this one, making the defensive lineup that much worse. Tom Gilbert got spun around like a top on the Ducks 6th goal, Brian Campbell looked thoroughly disinterested much of the game, and about the only bright spot was Dmitry Kulikov's play. After this season, I'd clean house entirely on the blue line, except for Kulikov, Gudbranson, Olsen, and maybe Tom Gilbert. There's no way the Cats are getting out of Brian Campbell's contract, so he'll be back as well. Outside of that, start shopping.