Panthers’ fans haven’t been spoiled with top-end offensive performances from their team this season. And there was nothing to suggest it would be different in Buffalo as the Cats took on the outstanding Ryan Miller and his Sabres last night.
However, the Floridians have been playing better of late and collected 11 out of 16 possible points in the previous eight contests.
Only against Washington had the Cats been defeated in regulation time, albeit in two straight games.
The Panthers also had a score to settle with the Sabres; who had come to South Florida and embarrassed the Cats a month ago at the Bank Atlantic Center. The visitors effectively won that match in a 5-1 first period drubbing.
Since then the Cats have slowly started to find their feet and their game is improving despite the occasional setbacks—such as the one in Washington earlier this month (4-7 defeat, despite leading 3-2 when entering the third period).
The defense in particular is looking more unyielding and robust.
The defensemen are now standing up at their blue-line, making less costly turnovers, and are also helping out the goalie by limiting the shots on goal.
Equally, the offense has simplified its approach.
The forwards are being responsible defensively and going more north-south, rather than east-west, when attacking the net.
In addition to the overall simplifying of individual duties, and the more direct approach on a team level, it must also be said that some players in particular are starting to step up their game.
In defense, Keith Ballard is starting to dish out those punishing hits more regularly; Dennis Seidenberg is looking solid and blocking shots; whilst Bryan Allen is starting to find his game again—after having been injured most of last season.
In the offense; players like Rostislav Olesz, Michael Frolik, Stephen Weiss, Cory Stillman, and Nathan Horton, are finding their way back to good old ways after a slow start to the season.
Then, of course, there is Tomas Vokoun...
The Czech goaltender looked decidedly off at the beginning of the campaign, but has since grown in stature between the pipes.
Now that he’s finally being supported by the defense, we can see the real Vokoun starting to emerge.
And the goalie that denied Craig Anderson a starting job in Florida is looking better and more unyielding for every game played.
Apparently Tomas has been working very hard during the offseason to try and improve his game—and now he’s being rewarded for that hard work.
What’s especially impressive with Tomas is his positioning ability.
Vokoun is at his best when he can step up at the top of the crease and just cut off all angles for the shooter—and simply let his powerful body do the job for him. And that’s exactly what he’s doing.
The defense is then there to help him out with any tricky pucks that might come loose—or as in the game in Buffalo—a forward might even come down to make a crucial save (Rostislav Olesz).
That certainly hasn’t always been the case, but now that this infant team-symbiosis is developing in Florida, the Cats and their fans are the main beneficiaries.
In Buffalo, last night the goaltending, defense, and offense, all worked together to grind down the Sabres in their own building.
To their credit, the Florida players didn’t get fazed by Buffalo drawing first blood, but rather kept plugging away until they were rewarded with the equalizer just before the first intermission.
Somehow that goal seemed to deflate the home side as they looked decidedly shaky in the second period.
The Cats then capitalized on a rare Ryan Miller howler and took the lead through Stephen Weiss. It is not often the Sabres netminder makes mistakes; so you’d better take advantage when they come your way.
Perhaps the shock of Miller’s gaffe resonated through Buffalo, but despite only trailing by one goal through much of the second and third periods, it always looked more likely that the Panthers would score the next goal—which they also did.
The home side was then gifted a brief reprieve and a glimpse of a comeback when they cut the lead to one with a late powerplay goal. It was not to be, however, as the Cats got themselves a rare powerplay tally—to restore the two goal parity.
In the end the Sabres threw in the towel and Florida could put some gloss to proceedings by scoring two more late goals to pave the way for a comprehensive 6-2 victory on the road.
Next will follow another stern test as the Panthers roll in to Hockeytown on Friday and then set up camp at the MSG on Saturday.
While this was a—by and large—positive performance and step forward for Florida; the fans will nonetheless remain grounded.
We have seen too many good performances followed up by one letdown after another, to get too carried away this time.
Besides, did I mention the next game is against the Red Wings?
The Wings may not be flying as freely as previously in the hockey heavens, but they still pack and impressive punch and come loaded with a fearsome one-two that entails both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
The Cats will need to be on their toes for that game; especially as Detroit lost last night at the Joe (to Dallas, 1-3) and will be looking to bounce back quickly after having previously gone 7-1-1.
All too often have South Floridian hockey fans seen impressive play by the Panthers on one day—to then find our hopes of resurgence trampled upon—in the very next game.
While I hope the players can rejoice today in that impressive display I Buffalo, they must also be aware that there is no resting on their laurels this campaign. One win and a few points strung together, doesn’t make a season.
What this team desperately needs is prolonged consistency.
Can you spell that, Cats?
I know it’s a long word and all—but if this team is to ever move up the standings and make a credible playoff push—the players needs to master that word and its implied implication (I know that’s saying one thing twofold, I just want to make sure the point hits home).
The win in Buffalo, and the roaming offense displayed, is encouraging for sure: I just hope we can get this type of game-play ingrained into the walls of this club, rather than it being the occasional occurrence.
I don’t mean to get all wordy and verbose on you guys, but try and incorporate that word into your collective vocabulary. OK, Panthers?
And try to refrain from the use of sarcasm, please.
Yeah, I know...