By Bill Whitehead
This may fall in the “Understatement of the Week” department, but here it goes anyway: The Florida Panthers are suffering from a serious lack of chemistry and effort through their first six games. There, I said it. And trust me, I’m not the only one saying it. In fact, here’s what Kevin Dineen had to say after Florida’s mail-it-in matinee on a Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Kings:
“As the game wore on, we got worn down. That’s going to happen. The problem that we have is I think our hockey IQ dropped as well. We thought we could play a fancy game and you cannot play a fancy game against the Kings, the Blues, the majority of the NHL. You can’t play that way and have success. It’s a continuing work in progress for us to play the game the proper way, which isn’t always easy.”
— Dineen after Florida’s 2-hour, 13-minute afternoon break
Can’t argue with that assessment much.
In six games, Florida (2-4-0) has put together solid effort in three of their contests – Dallas, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The other three – St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Los Angeles – were dumbfounding, wretched performances that left fans shaking their heads and wondering, “What’s the real Florida Panthers team here – the good one that’s won a couple of games or the bad one that looks like they’re playing together for the first time?”
At this point, Florida’s like Sally Field in the 1976 movie Sybil when Field starred as a meek substitute school teacher who turned out to be schizophrenic with multiple personalities. No one – not Dineen, Dale Tallon, a media member or the greatest Panthers fan out there like (feel free to insert your name here) – knows what team will take the ice Tuesday night in the Volunteer State against the Predators.
I do know this: Nashville can’t score. At all. And it’s always been their MO. The Predators are last in the Western Conference’s Central Division with a 2-3-0 record and have scored just nine goals in those five games while yielding 15. Meanwhile, Florida has given up 24 goals in six games, so you have a team that’s scoring less than two goals a game hosting a team that allows four a game. Something’s got to give.
The X Factor in Tuesday’s game: The Panthers haven’t played well in Nashville in the five-plus years I’ve been covering them. Dineen and Tallon still haven’t found what they’re looking for, but it’s Nashville, the home of country music, not U2, that may hold the answers. I’m waiting to see something new from these Cats that’s as purty as some sappy country-and-western duet featuring twangers like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. Maybe it will be the return of Nick Bjugstad that will make the Cats sing.
But Dineen and Tallon will take anything from the game at this point — team identity, good chemistry or a unified hard-working effort would do just fine for starters.
Two points, too.