Panthers Join Slapstick Circus; Ballard Gives Vokoun Some Stick

Robert YoungContributor IDecember 1, 2009

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 23: Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins has his shot stopped by goaltender Tomas Vokoun #29 of the Florida Panthers on November 23, 2009 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Penguins defeated the Panthers 3-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

As if this Florida team didn’t have problems enough with injuries, goalie Tomas Vokoun suffered a sickening hit to the head from his own teammate in yesterday’s game in Atlanta.

To add salt to the wounds, the Thrashers won the game with five seconds remaining on the clock—to put the Panthers firmly out of their misery.

Yet, it is not the 4-3 loss to Atlanta that boggles the mind on this particular next day of scratching-the-head-time. It is rather: What the hell was Keith Ballard thinking?

How is it possible to miss the goalpost, which he was obviously aiming at, and hit his own goaltender over the head instead—with a vicious whack of the stick?

Yes, we can understand why a player might get frustrated after Atlanta’s star sniper Ilya Kovalchuk had just put the home side 2-1 up in the first period. But, what happened next defies logic: Keith Ballard wildly swings his stick at the goalpost and knocks the poor unsuspecting Vokoun cold.

Bizarre, brainless, reckless, or right-on dumb; call it what you want, but it will no doubt be lighting up the blooper reels for years to come.

Personally, I’m going to settle for the adjective slapdash, meaning careless, hasty, and unskillful. I think that adequately sums up that moment of madness from Ballard.

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The fact that the word slapdash reminds me of slapstick (which now takes on a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?) and—somehow as a consequence of hockey—makes it all the more appropriate.

Indeed, as tragic as that hit to Vokoun’s head was—Tomas was stretchered off the ice with a lacerated ear, although he’s now back in South Florida without any apparent long term consequences—the sequence does make for some absurd chuckles.

One can merely—with an acquiescent sneer—scoff at the bad luck that is declawing the Cats one paw at a time.

Keith Ballard’s unfortunate foray into the world of baseball reminds me of what the English, a breed of people always able to see a laugh in any amount of calamity, would jokingly say about this particular play: Vokoun got some stick from his teammate’s.

In English-English, giving someone some “stick” would translate as; taunting, profanity, and snide remarks in general toward a person—not uncommon for an athlete of an opposing team.

Of course, in this case it was more than words—and from a teammate to another—and the whole double-meaning joviality would almost certainly seem a lot more amusing if I didn’t have to explain it.

Nevertheless, as inexplicable as this incident is—and my attempted wittiness not even mentioned—fact is that the Panthers have had some bad luck of late, even if some of it was their own doing.

The injuries are mounting…

David Booth is not looking like he’ll return for a long time, with his concussion showing no signs of receding. Cory Stillman is also expected to be out for a while with a knee injury. Nick Tarnasky, meanwhile, is yet to make an appearance this season. And finally, Kenndal McArdle injured his shoulder last Saturday in Nashville—in a mistimed brawl.

Hopefully, Tomas Vokoun won’t join that growing list of casualties.

The Florida Panthers are not blessed with limitless talents on the roster, and so the injuries to Booth and Stillman have especially had a crippling effect on the team’s offense in general—and power play in particular.

Only the defensive corps has avoided the injury bug to this point, knock on wood.

Considering the thinning ranks of the forwards, it is no wonder the Panthers are finding it hard to find the back of the net and are regularly being outshot by opponents.

Unfortunately, the Cats have also a nasty habit of making ill-timed turnovers in their own zone and, at times, becoming hemmed in by the opponents in their defensive third.

After having not lost a game in regulation for eight straight games, the tables have now turned firmly in the other direction, and Florida has lost five straight games to bookend the month of November.

It is a scenario that the fans are well acquainted with.

After another horrendous start to the season, the Cats clawed their way back in to contention—only to start losing again and drifting behind the playoff pack.

It is hard to imagine that the end product will be any different this time either; another near escape from the playoff specter seems on the cards once again.

I know that is a contradiction in itself, but then how else to explain this club if not with a paradox?

It seems there is little else for Panthers fans to do than grin at the irony of fate and keep on dreaming.

Dream of better days, and, hopingly hallucinate of a post-season on ice in South Florida.

A paradox, you say?

You get my gist.


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