Not too long ago I did a blog where I gave the Panthers an overall grade of a C+. At the time, Florida was 20 games into the season and improved from the past couple years. However, defense, blown leads and frustratingly inconsistent play prevented me from giving out a higher grade - despite the fact that they were sitting in a playoff spot, which is something they hadn’t seen in October for a long time.
It’s about a month later and I’m sticking with the grade even though the Cats are in second place of the Atlantic Division.
And that’s that thing with this team...
They’re puzzling to me.
How can a team, that can look so different night-to-night, be in second place of their division? I mean...who are these guys? Really? I can’t figure out their identity. Are they for real or are they pretenders? Let’s face it, a lot of teams can go on tears, only to fizzle out and show who they really are.
While I do think the Cats are on the right side of turning things around, I still can’t figure them out.
I think Spittin’ Chiclets has gotten the closest to categorizing this team for me right now:
These guys really are like an ‘80’s team: They can light the lamp at times and can give up goals with the best (err...worst) of them and somehow manage to find success and remain in second place.
Is it the division?
In fairness to the last game, they ran into a brick wall in Ullmark - who turned away 43 of 45 shots. 43! This is the second time Ullmark has stifled the Cats and props to him for it. Actually, Florida controlled most of that game and still managed to lose 5-2. Sure, you can point out that they rang a number of them off the post, but the bottom line is that they let a lot of goals in and didn’t get the job done.
What We Know
We know the defense is/has been a major issue and that goaltending has been suspect. These two can be linked to one another, but not all the time.
We also know that the inability to hold a lead has cost them a number of wins.
Then there’s the issue hiding in the shadows. The one that’s probably been a bit overlooked because of the focus that’s on the first two points...lack of secondary scoring.
This team (really no team for that matter) can survive when the vast majority of offense and scoring rests on the shoulders of the first line/a few guys. The Panthers need to get production from their other lines on a regular basis. I believe this is one of the reasons Toninato was called up to help that fourth line (which has been so good) with lower line scoring.
How Do You Fix These Things?
I really have no clue. I’m just a guy on his couch that enjoys watching hockey. But I have some thoughts...
Starting with the Goaltending:
I think they’re doing the right thing sending Monty down. He has looked good in his relief appearances, but struggled when starting. The upcoming schedule is spaced out enough to where Bob will probably start all the games for the foreseeable future. Let Monty get a number of reps in the A and build that confidence back up.
Not only that, but Chris Driedger has been great for the Thunderbirds and leads the AHL with a .938 save percentage through his first 14 appearances. He deserves the reward of a call up.
This should also light a fire under Monty. Let the backup goalie completion begin...
When it comes to Bob, he simply has to be the $10 M guy they signed him to be.
The backend should get a nice boost soon as it was announced that Weegar has returned to practice.
From the Panthers website:
“Quenneville said Weegar will travel to Washington, but won't be in the lineup on Wednesday.
"Weegs has had a good stretch of days here," he said. "He's getting close to coming in and returning. Getting some skating in and some exposure to contact today was good."
Prior to the injury, Weegar had been playing alongside Aaron Ekblad on Florida's top-defensive pairing. In the 17 games that he's played, he's registered 10 points (three goals, seven assists).“
But getting this corp improved is going to require much more. In my opinion, this is where you trade Hoffman. I know, it sounds counterintuitive to the point about lack of scoring, but hear me out...
Hoffman rumors have swirled for a good amount of time now. He has strong value for a team that’s looking for a PP specialist, and realistically, he can be a regular scoring threat when he finds his groove. I’d love to see them move him for a defenseman - ideally a younger veteran (you know what I mean) that plays a more stay-at-home game. The Cats are screaming for a defensive-minded guy back there. Hoffman and a prospect or pick might be able to get you some decent return on the backend.
Here’s another thought: Where’s Brady Keeper been? I liked the simple game he showed in the short time he was up last year, but he was mysteriously never played again. Admittedly, I haven’t kept a close eye on Springfield, but does anyone know how he’s been doing down there?
Lack of Depth Scoring:
Now I understand why Connolly was brought in. I foolishly thought the scoring was fine based off last year and that the offseason focus should have been defense. But, clearly, the Cats brass knew that offense would be needed, too. Maybe they banked on loading up upfront in hopes the scoring would make up for the weak defense?
Regardless...not enough guys aren’t getting it done.
Maybe this is a situation where you inject some of the prized prospects into the lineup. Sometimes a fresh face brings a new dynamic and energy to a team.
I wouldn’t mind seeing a Tippet called up or maybe taking another look at Borgy since he’s been back with Springfield for a bit now. I’m assuming Noel is probably a little ways away still...
The Cats pick things back up after two rough games against the Washington Capitals. The Caps sit atop the Metro with an impressive 16-4-5 record.
We can go into detail about Washington’s lineup and all the talent on it, but we all know what needs to happen tonight:
Florida needs to lace up their boots and go to work.
The best way to bounce back from a couple loses is to slam the pedal to the metal and not let up. They’ll need to do just that against a team like the Caps.
Get out there, keep it simple, put the body on someone and get pucks to the net!