These Florida Felines Look More Like Kittens Than Panthers

Robert YoungContributor IOctober 22, 2009

SUNRISE, FL - FEBRUARY 13: Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Florida Panthers is welcomed on to the ice by the team's mascot Stanley C. Panther prior to their game against the New York Rangers on February 13, 2009 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Less than two minutes into the first period of the Panthers' Wednesday night game against the Sabres, goalie Scott Clemmensen had already been put to the sword twice and was now reeled back-in by coach Peter DeBoer for the early hook.

Tomas Vokoun fared little better in that first period. In fact, he fared a little worse…

Three more goals from a Buffalo team vigorously crashing the net, one of which was a Vokoun own goal (!), and the Florida hosts looked decidedly more like kittens than the more ferocious panther.

And yes, the stats lie. Not the scoreline mind you. But rather, the other stats that would make the uninitiated think that Florida may have dominated this game.

That couldn’t be further from the shocking truth: The Panthers didn’t show up for this game and were dismantled from the very first drop of the puck.

The only reason the Cats could perhaps fool the avid stat-tracker is that Sabres cooled off considerably after that 5-1 first period drubbing. They looked like they were out for a routine practice session and threw the Panthers a late bone of conciliation.

And so the game fizzled out in a 5-2 comprehensive victory for the visitors.

Not what the fans that had turned up had expected exactly. Not least after that impressive win over the Flyers on Friday, which ignited a little hope with the beleaguered hockey fans of South Florida.

The comment of my better half really sums up what many-a-fan was thinking when watching the game: “I waited anxiously for four days, and this is what we get!?”

It truly was a disgraceful performance from the Panthers.

As a fan, it is hard not to get overly emotional after such an appalling first period effort from the Cats. Yes, we’ve seen this before. But even though the Panthers haven’t been one of the better teams since their early heyday, they have nonetheless been a team hard to break down for most opponents in recent years.

Not so—this time around—it seems.

Beaten 4-0 by Chicago, 7-2 by Carolina, and now 5-2 versus Buffalo…and had the latter not let up on the gas after the first period, it might as well have ended 15-3.

OK, enough wallowing in misery. I amply did that last night. Hence, my sore head this morning.

All the same, the Panthers are now two wins and five losses into the season, and look as fragile as a crackled Ming-dynasty vase.

It is clear that a determined opponent can dismantle this Florida team at will.

The two wins were both against teams (Chicago and Philadelphia) that had bad nights in those respective games. They were both rusty coming into those contests and the Cats could eventually scratch out the victories, but not without a lot of effort, mind you.

So, what is lacking in this Florida team?

Well, Richard Zednik for one, Karlis Skrastins for another. And that’s not even mentioning Jay Bouwmeester…

Zednik may have been an enigmatic skater at times and distressingly irregular, but when he scored, it was goals that went against the flow of the game. It was not merely beautiful goals, but momentum-changing goals that could, and often did, flip a game on its head.

There is no Zednik on this year’s roster. No one to unlock an opposing team that has the Cats cornered on the ropes, gasping for air.

There has of yet not emerged a Skrastins on the team, either. An ironman defender that sacrifices his body at every occasion and that always plays his heart out. And in so doing, inspires others to follow suit.

Bouwmeester was, of course, irreplaceable. His puck-moving ability was a continuous source of “get out of jail for free cards” in seasons past.

In addition, he regularly closed down the opposing star players, clocked up minutes like no one else, and was key on specialty teams. I miss Bo.

Nonetheless, he is gone and so we must do without him. It was not a choice of the organization—if the individual doesn’t want to stay, there is little else to do about it. The losses of Zednik and Skrastins, on the other hand, were deliberate moves of the organization.

“Scoring by committee” has become the mantra and a flashy winger like Zednik doesn’t fit into such a narrow box. He must utilize his wings to be effective. Thus, it was no surprise he left either.

As for Skrastins, it was a numbers game.

He wanted a two-year contract, whilst the Panthers were only willing to dish out one-year deals. That was a real shame. Shortsightedness was allowed to guide the organization and hence we should probably have been expecting a two wins for five losses fallout…

Also, as I’ve earlier detailed in the “Life after Jay-Bo” article, the Panthers desperately lack size and grit in the defensive zone.

The risk of such a tactical lineup is that the Cats can easily become hemmed-in within their own defensive zone and be thrown back against the boards for sustained periods of time.

We have thus far seen this scenario being played out, again and again, in the early going.

This is a wake-up call and the management must respond!

Get the players fired up. Not just for one game in a blue moon, but for each and every contest. Also, GM Randy Sexton must start considering his trade options, and if possible, bring in a tall, strong, stay-at-home defenseman to help out poor Bryan Allen in that task.

That would be a good start. Then, in the future, we could perhaps look for offensive help as well. Scoring by this current committee is obviously not enough.

A goal scoring winger and a big No. 1 center-forward would be the choice in a perfect world. But that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, with salary restrictions and a distinctive lack of trade bait within the organization.

These are gloomy days for Panthers' fans—once again.

But the poor start is yet reversible.

If the team starts clicking from the first drop of the puck, and if management realizes that further reinforcements are needed for success, this kitten can still grow into a menacing panther.


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