Outmuscled and outworked, Panthers fall to Blues 4-1
Fresh off a fun and encouraging 6-0 smashing of the Dallas Stars, the Panthers came into St. Louis with spirits high and legs rested, as head coach Kevin Dineen gave the troops a day off before facing the suddenly-hot Blues. Ken Hitchcock decided to do the opposite, and it showed, as the Blues outworked and outmuscled the Panthers en route to a 4-1 victory. Florida certainly had their chances in this game, but the work effort we saw in Dallas didn't seem to be there in the same fashion. Perhaps it was the day off, or perhaps it's Hitchcock's inspired coaching and St. Louis' physical play that wore down the Cats over the course of the game. Either way, the consistency still isn't there for Florida game in and game out, and there's no question Dineen will have the team working hard when they get back to South Florida.
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Additional coverage at St. Louis Game Time
Florida and St. Louis looked pretty tentative to start the game, gauging each others play style and getting used to the opposition. This was a game where neither team wanted to make the first mistake, but unfortunately for the Panthers they were the first to do so, as a Brian Campbell pass tipped off the stick of Tim Kennedy and went right to David Backes, who ripped a high wrister over Jose Theodore, giving the Blues an early lead. The Cats didn't look too energetic or ready for the first period, with a lot of sloppy passing and too much dumping and chasing. The Panthers went on the power play about eight minutes in, with Kris Versteeg drawing a holding call against Kevin Shattenkirk, but the Panthers weren't really able to get set up at all. The forwards looked lethargic to start the game and clearly didn't have their legs under them yet. St. Louis continued to pressure Florida, but the Cats finally answered the Backes goal with a tally by Mike Santorelli off a great shot through traffic that Jaroslav Halak never saw. The teams traded chances until very late in the period, when St. Louis took a rare spearing penalty, giving Florida a five minute advantage, but it turned into a four-on-four when Sean Bergenheim got called for roughing. The period finished with no more goals, but Florida would be granted a three-minute powerplay once the Bergenheim penalty finished up.
The Cats killed off the four-on-four and were granted with a three minute powerplay. Florida went into this powerplay going 0-for-11 in their last eleven chances, so scoring on this powerplay was important. That definitely didn't happen, as the Blues had an absolutely stellar penalty kill against the Panthers and had more shots than Florida managed. The Cats again looked a bit lax and shortly after the powerplay, the Panthers turned the puck over while trying to clear and Chris Porter made them pay, scoring on Theodore from in front. This was yet another game where the Panthers had immense trouble at times in clearing their own zone, and in every game where that's been the case, the Panthers gave up goals because of it. The puck went back and forth after the goal, with each team getting their opportunities until a St. Louis point shot pinballed and ended up in the net. Luckily enough for the Panthers, the T.J. Oshie goal was waived off as the refs called Oshie for goaltender interference, so the game remained 2-1. Versteeg took a penalty shortly after for boarding, but Shattenkirk came in defense of his teammate, and took a matching roughing penalty, creating another 4-on-4 situation. The Blues took a too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty (damn that's a lot of hyphens), giving the Cats a 4-on-3 chance. The Cats couldn't score on that, and the matching minors then expired, and the Panthers attempted to convert the 5-on-4 man advantage, but failed on that as well. Power play just wasn't clicking again.
The Cats started the period with some pressure, but Tomas Kopecky took an early high-sticking call, giving the Blues a chance on the powerplay. Florida had a great penalty kill though, heavily pressuring the Blues and not allowing them to set up until late in the man advantage. The Cats killed it off and got back to even strength, but Dmitry Kulikov took another penalty shortly after while defending Backes during a scrum in front of Theodore. Florida's penalty kill once again did the job, killing off the penalty without letting one up. At about halfway through the third, the Blues took advantage of an Ed Jovanovski pinch, scoring on an oddman rush and making it 3-1. Not Jovo's best decision this season; in such a close game you'd like to see him make the safer choice. Not long after, Shawn Matthias took a hooking penalty in the offensive zone, putting the Panthers back on the penalty kill. They were yet again able to kill it off, but weren't able to put much more sustained pressure on the Blues after. The Cats weren't able to get anything going and pulled Theodore late, but it backfired as Backes fires it from his own end into an empty net, sealing the deal and giving the Blues a 4-1 win.
- The Panthers went with seven defenseman and eleven forwards this game, with Marcel Goc out with a lower body injury. That meant both Erik Gudbranson and Keaton Ellerby saw ice time, but not much.
- Kulikov took a hit up high during the game, cutting his lip and possibly costing him some teeth. Let's hope Dmitry's pearly whites are okay. Despite the hit, Kulikov finished the game and looked great the whole way.
- Once again, clearing the defensive zone seemed to be a struggle at times. Not sure what makes this team forget the "high off the glass" mantra, but they seem to just forget that idea entirely at times and throw the puck up through the middle or low on the ice too often.
- St. Louis has a lineup similar to the Panthers of yore: full of names you may not recognize. Regardless, they play a hard-fought game, with plenty of big hits and dirty work in the corners. They're an imposing team to play against and it's a good thing Florida doesn't see them much. Props to Ken Hitchcock for righting the ship so far.
- The Panthers missed the net a lot in this game, and it cost them quite a bit. It was most noticeable on the powerplay, but some credit must go to St. Louis for their tenacity on the Panthers blueliners. Still, the forwards have to hit the net when given good scoring chances.
- I feel like a broken record saying this again, but Theodore looked good. His rebound control was better in this game and he played aggressively out of his net, cutting down angles very well and challenging shooters. He is on top of his game right now, and it's very encouraging to see both him and Scott Clemmensen playing so well.
- Florida was outhit in this game on every area of the ice. Against more physical teams like St. Louis, who employ a physical style so well and use it effectively on the forecheck, the Panthers seem to have a lot of trouble not only clearing their own zone, but generating speed through neutral ice and playing the puck possession game Dineen is coaching. This is a problem that will have to be addressed by the coaching staff throughout the season.
- Evgeni Dadonov didn't score tonight, but made several simple yet effective offensive plays that led to shots, penalties against, or scoring chances. He's really making the most of his time up with the big club and if he keeps it up, it's going to be tough to send him back down to a struggling San Antonio team.
- When is this team going to put together a serious win streak? It's been a long time since Panther fans can remember a win streak spanning five or more games, and this roster seems more than capable of making that happen. The more points they gather now, the less those late season losses will hurt, right?
- The powerplay was just not effective again, and downright bad at times. The Panthers are now 0-for-15 in their last three games. That needs to be rectified ASAP, as it's costing the team some points right now.