Florida Panthers Get Back to Basics in Keystone State

Robert YoungContributor IOctober 23, 2009

SUNRISE, FL - OCTOBER 10: Head coach Peter DeBoer of the Florida Panthers goes over a play during a time out late in the third period of the game against the New Jersey Devils on October 10, 2009 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Devils defeated the Panthers 3-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

The Florida Panthers need to realize the urgency that surrounds them upon their trip to Pennsylvania.

Having been outscored 11-2 in the opening period of the previous seven games played, it is time to start competing from the first drop of the puck.

The Panthers do not enjoy any glaring opulence of skill or physical superiority over opposing teams, and thus, need to rely on good old fashioned hard work to be competitive.

Somehow the players don’t seem to have digested this nugget of wisdom quite yet.

This was blatantly obvious in the dreadful 2-5 defeat against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday at the Bank Atlantic Center…

Complacency again reared its ugly head in that first period and, as always, the consequences were dire.

The coaching staff, lead by head coach Peter DeBoer, tried to get the message across by pulling goalie Scott Clemmensen after a mere two minutes of play, but with no visible effect.

Since that abomination of a period, the staff has again made the point in training drills by having the players crowding the so called “dirty-areas” of the ice; along the corners, crease and goalie line.

Now that’s where you need to be to compete!

The players will have a chance to show that they got the message loud and clear by making it a game against the reigning Stanley Cup Champions tonight. Not the easiest place to be triumphant, but the players should nevertheless be able to spot this game as a possible season changing contest.

Imagine going to Pittsburgh and challenging the Penguins up and down the ice and grinding out a result. What could possibly be a better way to reignite Florida’s season…?

As long as the Cats show their claws and aren’t beaten beforehand, this could be a more competitive game than most would imagine.

The key will of course be the start of the game. Whilst the Panthers have been sleepwalking through these first periods of the games so far, the Penguins on the other hand have been looking focused.

In their previous game, Pittsburgh beat St. Louis 5-1 to record an impressive 8-1-0 start to the season. In that first period they out-shot the Blues 22-3; which makes those 20 minutes of action all the more important for the Cats—to have as their mental and pregame focal point.

Get off to a good start and with a pinch of confidence returning: anything can happen!

Win or lose, the Panthers need to show they are no pushovers as against the Sabres. And then, perhaps, they can take whatever they get out of the game and take it to Philadelphia tomorrow and stuff it to their hosts once more.

Having beaten the Flyers recently 4-2 at home, the Cats are in for a less friendly opponent this time around as Pronger & Co. lace-up in front of a fanatical crowd at the Wachovia Center.

The Philadelphia Flyers have just come off a scheduling quirk that had them playing only their second game in twelve days yesterday—the previous one being the game against the Panthers in Sunrise.

In that match last night the Flyers recorded a 4-3 win against the Boston Bruins. This shootout victory effectively ended their three game losing skid in what was essentially an appetizer for the coming Winter Classic.

For the home side, it was particularly the fringe players that raised their game against the Bruins. Both the fourth forward line and third defensive pairing caused all sorts of problems for the visitors.

The Panthers must beware that Philly will come at you with everything and everyone they have. This brings me to my final point: squad depth.

Coach DeBoer has not yet revealed his cards as to who will be in goal. Both Scott Clemmensen and Tomas Vokoun were unimpressive in the recent beating by Buffalo.

But, being the No.1, Vokoun would be expected to be given the task of trying to stop the Penguins’ imposing array of firepower tonight. However, whatever performance Tomas melds together in The Steel City, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Clemmensen back in goal for the Flyers game; seeing as he won the previous matchup.

Elsewhere, question marks surround defenseman Bryan Allen. Can his delicate knee handle two such high-intensity games in a row?

If not, expect to see Jason Garrison to be called up from Rochester for the match in Philly.

Also, we can almost certainly expect DeBoer to try and juggle a few people around in the lines to get some feet moving and perhaps some goal scoring chemistry clicking.

Apart from these possible changes, we can only hope that these two games won’t cause the injury bug to appear in the Florida camp—as it subsequently has amongst other teams in the league that have already felt the congestive grind of the schedule.

Playing two such tough head-to-head games will undoubtedly put the Panthers firmly in the chomp of the crunch. The strength levels within the team will be tested to the limit. And at such a critical point of this early season; the Panthers must prevail and bring something with them back home to South Florida from The Keystone State.

I don’t want to imagine a 2-7-0 start to the season. If that does happen however, then it is truly time to hit the panic button…

It will thus be a critical trip for Florida and a real test of its players, their strength in character and the team’s will to win.

Can the Panthers find that inner fortitude to bring them through these trying times with flying colors or will they again buckle under pressure?


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