The 2008-09 season ended in an all too familiar fashion for the Florida Panthers. The consistent plot of the story has been start off incredibly slow, build some consistency, go on a furious last stretch playoff push, and then fall tragically short of the top eight in the conference.
Each year Panthers fans enter the season with hope, and the question could this be the year? In my article I will analyze what the Panthers must do to end this playoff drought.
The most important thing the Panthers must do is start out of the gates quickly. Every season the Panthers find themselves in a hole due to a poor start. A solid start for the Cats will ensure a greater chance of a playoff berth.
The next element the Panthers must focus on is shots against. Florida gave up the most shots per game in the NHL. The constant pressure put on goaltender Tomas Vokoun took it's toll, as Vokoun broke down in stretches, and had to be saved by former back-up Craig Anderson. Anderson is no longer here, and if the Panthers are relying on new back-up Scott Clemmensen to bail them out of a playoff hole, this team will be in trouble.
Florida's young core of talented players will have to step up. The likes of David Booth and Michael Frolik showed they are up to the challenge, but players like Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton and Rostislav Olesz must step up, no longer can the Panthers settle for just solid seasons out of the likes of Horton, and Weiss, and no longer can this franchise settle for injury filled seasons from Olesz.
Defense will be paramount this season, as the Panthers have a new crop of defenseman. The Panthers acquired Jordan Leopold, Ville Koistenen, Denis Seidenberg and draftee Dmitry Kulikov. It will be up to these men, plus Keith Ballard, Bryan Allen and Bryan McCabe to stop the pucks from reaching the net, allowing for a much more reasonable workload for the Panthers' goaltenders.
If the Panthers can sure up these weaknesses they will find themselves in the top eight, but if they fail to fix these problems the Panthers will be fighting for ping pong balls in the draft lottery.