• Marcus Bender

Florida Panther Fans: Is It Time To Panic?

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

I’ve watched every Florida Panther game this season.

This is some sort of dubious accomplishment all on its own. I feel it merits at least a free coffee at the BB&T Center if I ever make it there.

I love the Panther brand of hockey. The free-wheeling speed through the neutral zone. The crisp cross-ice passing. The potent Power Play led by “No Look Pass” Yandle feathering floaters over to Hoffman for a one-timer cannon charge. Panther hockey was new, fun, and exciting.

But it doesn't feel so much like "fun" anymore.

Yesterday, the Panthers got hammered by the Lightning 5-0. Maybe “hammered” isn’t the right word. Maybe we should say “completely decimated” or “run out of the building”. On some level we should be thanking the Lightning for running up the score.

Fellow Florida Panther Fans. Let's sit down with a beer and be honest with ourselves here: Is it time to hit the panic button?

I will say this. I do not like where this team is going.

I had really hoped for a “reset” after the covid break. It looks as though that may now just be an illusion.

Things have been trending down fast for the Cats, ever since the All-Star Break. There is much to be concerned about.

Take for example, the Florida Offense. 1st in the League scoring a healthy 3.67 GF/G before the All-Star Break. This dropped all the way down to 29th, as the Panthers managed to only put up 2.40 GF/G after. That’s one entire goal on average less they are scoring. Usually not a recipe for success.

So what happened? Certainly the Power Play has been an issue. The Panther Power Play went from 24.5%, 5th in the NHL to a measly 12.5%, 29th in the NHL over the same span. This accounts for much of the woes of the Panthers. When your Power Play is halved, that’s usually a very bad sign.

I was in the Bell Center when the Panthers came into town to play the Habs. I splurged for tickets. I sat right up near the glass. It was my birthday, and I was treating myself to as near front-row seats as I could afford.

It was the Panthers’ first game in nearly ten days. The long layoff broke up much of the momentum they had built. But no matter, they looked relaxed. They looked loose. They looked ready to have some fun. I thought to myself, either they are super relaxed playing "loosey goosey" hockey, which will roll. Or, they are going to fall asleep and lose miserably without much of a fight.

Unfortunately for me, and for my birthday present, it was the latter.

The Habs spanked the Panthers 4-0 that day. The scattered Panther defense made Jeff Petry look like Bobby Orr. Bobrovsky flopped around like a confused rag doll. Keith Yandle looked like he was carrying around a wet noodle. It was an absolute disaster.

I left the arena with jubilant Habs’ Fans singing all around me, taunting me, haunting my sleep, on my birthday no less. I felt on that day, the wind of the Panther fading from the Florida Team.

That day, Mike Hoffman played nearly 9 minutes on the Power Play. The Panthers had 5 Power Plays, including a long 5-on-3 on which, of course, they did not capitalize. They put pressure, they failed to score, and eventually succumbed to a crush of incoming offenders because for some reason the Panther D refuses to cover the front of the net.

Does this story sound familiar?

It should, because this is almost exactly what happened yesterday. The script eerily seems to be repeating. A few early Power Plays, missed opportunities, a quick goal off a defensive breakdown for the other team.

Shortly after the first goal yesterday, Barkov had a chance to tie it on a partial breakaway against Vasilevskiy. He tried his patented cross-crease backhand five-hold move, and was shut down completely. Vasilevskiy shrugged it away as though he knew it was coming. The Lightning scored shortly after that.

Here’s what’s happening in Panther Nation: We are getting chances, especially early on. We are putting pressure in their zone. But then we don’t score. Our Team sags. The other team gets one little chance, and immediately scores. Our Team sags even further. Then another goes in. We throw in the towel. It’s like a reoccurring nightmare.

Sasha Barkov has 4 Goals and 4 Assists in his past 18 game played. Keith Yandle has but 6 Assists in his final 20. Dadonov, does this guy even still play hockey? 2 Goals, 5 Assists in his final 20 games, -11 over that span.

Only Mike Hoffman is skating for this club. 19 Points in his final 20 Games to literally lead the charge, and the cavalry, for a squad sputtering its tires in a murky Floridian swamp.

To say this is a funk would be an understatement.

Which is why yesterday’s game was so vitally important. Not for the Standings or the grand scheme of things of course. But for the confidence of the team. The confidence in themselves. The confidence they have in each other.

I can only imagine what that locker room is looking like after finishing the season 7-13 in the middle of a heated Playoff race, dropping from 1st to 29th in Goals For / Game during that time.

The break should have been a moment for this team to catch its breath, reset, rethink the game. Rest their tired bodies. Regain that swagger they briefly had in December. Find that Power Play again which dominated the League last season, and for the first half of this season.

Instead, they fell flat on their face. Instead, it was the same old story as before. Not scoring on the Power Play, not capitalizing on opportunities, and not covering the front of the goddamn net.

Bobrovsky can’t make a save. Yandle can’t lift a stick. Barkov is not scoring goals. The entire team is in a massive rut, and unfortunately it appears as though time is running out.

Fellow Florida Panther Fans: Is it time to hit the panic button?

I would say overwhelmingly YES! We’re playing the best defensive team in the league, and we are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Add to that we can't score. Our Power Play has completely fizzled. Our confidence seems right on the brink. If the Islanders score even just one goal, and they will, we’re going to have an extremely difficult time overcoming both our mental barrier, and their endless waves of defense.

If you are a betting person, and remember this is coming from a Florida Panther Fan here but I’ll be completely honest: Take the Islanders in this series.

It’s not looking good Panther Nation. It has been a fun run these past two years. Watching that Power Play was amazing.

Unfortunately, it isn’t working anymore. Either they need to change something up, or heck they need to freaking get it going.

We've been gifted an enormous opportunity here. Things were spiraling out of control down the stretch. We've been given fresh legs, and a new start.

It's one thing to be loosey-goosey happy-go-lucky during the Season. But now, these games are going to count.

It's time for the Panthers to start playing like it. Otherwise, we're going to be back in Florida playing golf by next week.


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