#RedWings 3, #FlaPanthers 1: Anyone have the answers?

By Bill Whitehead

SUNRISE – Florida Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek was looking for answers following the club’s 3-1 loss to Detroit on Thursday night at the BB&T Center.

Two shots in the first period. Just six more in the second. Lackluster effort for roughly 55 minutes before that frantic few moments of desperation with a 6-on-4 advantage after Detroit’s Brian Lashoff committed a cross-checking penalty with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.

And how does this happen after such a dominating performance in a 48-shot, 4-1 win over Toronto two nights earlier? How do the Cats not at least come close to giving even half that effort in the final home game before the Olympic break?

“I guess it’s the same as every team that has difficulties doing it. It’s a lot of games, and it’s hard for them to play at that pace, I guess. I wish I knew,” said Horachek.

“They outworked us. It’s as simple as that. It’s disappointing. We want to play a whole game, but it just wasn’t there.”

Scottie Upshall, just out of the penalty box and behind the Detroit defense, provided the lone offensive highlight when he batted down a long, aerial pass from Tomas Kopecky as the first period was about to end. Uppy possessed the puck, skated in on Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard and beat him 5-hole for a 1-0 lead.

One goal on two shots in the first period.

“It’s happened against us before. I’ve seen it before many times,” Horachek said of the Panthers (22-28-7) scoring on one of two shots. “I’ve seen some strange things where you dominate and they get one shot on one play. The last time Detroit was in this building I think we had nine or 10 shots and many chances, and they scored on their first chance with about three minutes to go in the first period.”

It’s often said that athletes don’t pay attention to the numbers, but defensemen Ed Jovanovski and Mike Weaver were aware of the worst number and mentioned it in their post-game interviews – eight Florida shots over the first 40 minutes.

“Detroit’s a pretty defensive (-minded) team. Obviously they have an offensive side to them, but we need shots. You’re not going to score in this league if you’re not getting a lot of shots, and we had eight shots in two periods…you can’t do that. We’ve got to create more from the point in throwing shots to the net and getting traffic. It’s simple,” said Weaver.

Simple? Maybe. However, Horachek’s having a hard time finding a reason for the lack of effort after such a spectacular one against the Maple Leafs.

And the Cats are running out of time.

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QUICK TAKES: #FlaPanthers pound #Pens, 5-1

By Bill Whitehead

When this road trip popped up on the schedule, I thought Florida could come away with four points – win two and drop one, likely at Pittsburgh against the top team in the Eastern Conference.

Saturday’s dreadful showing in that House of Horrors in my home state left little optimism about the remainder of the trip. Pittsburgh had won 13 straight, and Sidney Crosby had scored a point in 17 straight games at Consol. With goaltender Tim Thomas out because of illness, the odds seemed slim.

I guess we never saw this one coming, huh?

Considering the level of the competition, Florida likely played their best game of the season in the 5-1 win over the Penguins. Drew Shore, who had so many breaks go against him last season, scored twice and set the tone. Dmitry Kulikov, who was rumored to be on the trading block last month, was aggressive and skated hard in on Marc-Andre Fleury a few times, and scored the third goal that gave the Panthers (19-23-7) a 3-0 lead.

Oddly, Jonathan Huberdeau, desperately in need of a goal, didn’t get screwed out of a goal when the War Room in Toronto likely set the season-high for time spent reviewing a goal. Shawn Matthias had that Matty Moment I’ve been waiting for and simply outskated Matt Niskanen for the final tally 12 seconds after Huberdeau’s.

Here are my multiple stars from tonight’s win, in no particular order:

  • Scott Clemmensen, 35 saves. Had little faith in Clem going in, but he was outstanding. In fact, I bet he would admit the only goal he allowed was a bad one, but it doesn’t matter because he made so many great saves and was solid.
  • Drew Shore, two goals. His goals left Cats’ fans more surprised than Fleury after the roof shot on the shorty. He gave Florida momentum it never let go.
  • Jesse Winchester, three assists, plus-4. For someone who hadn’t played since Dec. 15, Winchester was sharp and is a welcome addition as a hard worker.
  • Dmitry Kulikov, goal. He’s been a big disappointment for most of the year, but he played headstrong and with purpose tonight. Also had a lethal howitzer that went high over Fleury. Maybe he’ll turn this around and live up to the potential.
  • Marcel Goc, one assist, 67 percent in the circle. Sure, his helper on Kulikov’s goal was fine, but winning 2 of 3 faceoffs kept Pittsburgh off balance.

Others were great, too. Erik Gudbranson sliding to make a block was just courageous and shows what a tough kid he is, and Mike Weaver was a plus-5. The PK killed off all three Pens power plays, making it 28 straight and 42 of their last 43 on the road. More importantly, the team stayed within the game plan and didn’t stray from it once the Penguins cut the lead to 3-1. Pittsburgh never was able to put together that “Five Minutes of Hell” I expected.

Mike Weaver, who was a plus-5, tweeted this after the game:

weaver

The goal in Buffalo: Score on the power play, get a marker from Flash and play with the intensity from tonight that will help the Cats come away with two more points.

Which wouldn’t be the way it was expected to go down when this 3-game road trip started.

Game Day Preview: Florida at Carolina

By Bill Whitehead

It has to be fairly obvious to either the most positive or negative Florida Panthers fan that both good and bad elements existed in the Cats’ 4-3 shootout loss at home to Buffalo on Thursday night. After a 2-0 early deficit, Florida battled back, kept up the pressure and eventually tied the game with just over a minute to go. A point was gained, but an extra point was not gained…but Florida could have just as easily had no points at all…or both in regulation. It’s all kind of dizzying, but here you go:

The Good: Florida was relentless in its attack, registering 43 shots against veteran netminder Ryan Miller. The Cats never quit either, as Brian Campbell finally tied it with his sixth goal. And it sounds like a broken record, but Florida did get a point, and that didn’t seem possible for 58 and a half minutes of play. The defense stepped up also in the absence of Mike Weaver, and players like Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov logged extra minutes.

The Bad: Goaltending continues to be the club’s biggest problem. Scott Clemmensen, who was so good in relief against Pittsburgh, was very bad from the start against Buffalo. Jose Theodore was solid in relief against Buffalo, but really, the Sabres had pretty much decided against any kind of offensive push the last two periods. It’s as if they quit caring about scoring and put the outcome all on Miller. Theodore faced just 15 shots in 48:14. That being said, I kidded on Twitter Thursday night that it wasn’t goaltending that was the problem, just starting goaltending. Panthers goalies allowed no goals on 30 shots in 68:14 of relief in the last two home games. The forwards’ inability to finish is also puzzling and surely frustrating to coach Kevin Dineen.

In summary, two points were there for the taking against a Sabres team that had little interest in trying to score, choosing instead to turtle and go into prevent defense mode, while Florida had the most offensive opportunities its had all year but couldn’t beat Miller too often. Given that scenario, it’s frustrating to see Florida get just the one point.

Some notes for tonight’s game against Carolina up in NASCAR country:

CANES WHO CAN: Carolina was blanked 3-0 earlier in the week against Washington in a game that featured current Canes winger Alex Semin squaring off against his former team. Ex-teammate Troy Brouwer provided a few sharp criticisms of the Russian right winger, saying at one point that the Caps weren’t always sure that Semin would show up at Verizon Center — at all. But Semin, on a one-year contract in Raleigh, is second on Carolina with 16 points (4-12-16) in 19 games and had current teammate Tim Brent rebutting Brouwer and showing support for Semin’s play and character. Eric Staal leads the Hurricanes with 10 goals, while Jiri Tlusty and Jeff Skinner, who received a second concussion recently, have nine and eight goals, respectively.

LET’S GET TOGETHER: Florida is, of course, facing a familiar foe in divisional rival Carolina, but the two won’t play as often if the new conference realignment is enacted for next season. Carolina would potentially join the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division that would also feature familiar opponent Washington. Meanwhile, Florida would align in the Central Division with Tampa Bay, while Winnipeg would move to the Western Conference. Florida is playing Carolina for the 101st time; the Panthers own a 40-38-11-11 mark against the Canes and have beaten them to close last year and open this one — 4-1 and 5-1.

DEJA VU?: Word came down Friday that Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau, in what is likely a first of many accolades from the league, had been named Rookie of the Month for February. The Quebec native leads all rookies in goals (8) and shots (57) and is second among rookies in points (13). Rookie center Drew Shore may give Huberdeau, his linemate on the Kid Line, his best competition in March. The University of Denver alum has 10 points this season (2-8-10) and has tallied eight points in his last nine games. The top rookie this month could also be wearing Florida’s red — though No. 15 instead of No. 11.

RED-HOT SOUP: With Mike Weaver getting injured early against Buffalo, Florida fans saw plenty of Brian Campbell skating up and down BB&T Center ice. Campbell, last year’s Lady Byng Award winner, logged 33:16 TOI to help pick up Weaver’s missing minutes. From a goal-scoring standpoint, the 33-year-old Campbell has had a breakout season. He’s tied for first in goals by a defenseman (6) with Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson, who is out for the season after a severe laceration. Five of Campbell’s goals have come on the power play. His career high is 12, which he netted with Buffalo in 2005-2006.

LOOSE PUCKS: D Mike Weaver was hurt in the first period against Buffalo, playing just 2:11 in four shifts, and is expected to miss a significant amount of time with a lower body injury. Brian Campbell and Dmitry Kulikov (25:53 TOI) picked up the slack with Weaver out. Expect Colby Robak in the lineup against Carolina…C Marcel Goc has scored goals in two straight games and has four points (2-2-4) in his last two games…Tomas Fleischmann has a three-game assist streak and five points (1-4-5) in his last three games…Florida plays five straight games against Southeast Division foes — back-to-back contests versus Carolina over the weekend to start it — and the Cats have five games in seven days. Florida will also play red-hot Winnipeg on Tuesday and Friday at BB&T Center, plus a road game sandwiched in between at Washington next Thursday…C Stephen Weiss, who returned against Buffalo after missing the Pittsburgh game due to a death in his family, is one assist short of 250 for his career, five goals shy of 150 and six points from 400.

A banner-winning moment last April:

Florida (6-9-5, 17 pts.) at Carolina (10-8-1, 21 pts.)
Sat., Mar. 2, 7:00 p.m.
PNC Arena — Raleigh, N.C.

BY THE NUMBERS

FLA                       vs.               CAR

20.2% (10th)            Power play               14.7% (23rd)
72.9% (29th)            Penalty kill             78.2% (23rd)
2.50  (21st)            Goals per game           2.84  (10th)
3.60  (30th)            Goals against            2.90  (19th)
0.63  (29th)            5-on-5 For/Ag.          1.00  (17th)
50.4% (13th)             Faceoffs                 51.4% (7th)
29.7  (11th)            Shots per gm             33.0  (1st)
31.3  (24th)            Shots ag. per gm        31.6  (26th)

PANTHERS’ PACE

Florida has 17 points in 20 games: 40.8 over 48 games.

LOCAL TV BROADCAST
Fox Sports Florida, 7:00 p.m.
Steve Goldstein (PxP), Bill Lindsay (Color)

LOCAL RADIO
99.9 KISS FM, 7:00 p.m.
Randy Moller (PxP)