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