The Florida Panthers have been one of the best stories in hockey. Expected to miss the playoffs for the 11th consecutive season, only one pundit, Harvey ‘Homer Harvey’ Fialkov of The Sun-Sentinel, thought the Cats would still be in the postseason mix this late. Yet, when the Cats take on the Washington Capitals on Thursday evening, they cannot lose their spot as the number one team in the Southeast Division.
However, they can, and likely will, lose to the Caps. After blowing a 3-0 lead against their division ‘rival’, the Winnipeg Jets, the Panthers have to actually win a game, or have either Washington or Buffalo lose, in order to make the show. And with four consecutive losses, that task seems harder by the day.
Hockey is a game of momentum and right now the Panthers simply don’t have it on their side. Currently, the team’s top three centers– Shawn Matthias, Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc– have combined for three assists over the last five games. And while wingers Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann continue to show their worth to their team (and fantasy hockey owners), their individual efforts have been lost statistics in one disappointing loss after another.
This offense as a whole has struggled since the team won five games in a row in mid-March. After March 20th, the Panthers have only topped three goals in two of their last seven– with one of those offensive outbursts coming in their now-infamous loss to the Jets.
Perhaps worse than their offensive struggles, however, has been the inconsistent netminding of starting goalie Jose Theodore. Theodore, who looked like a feel-good story, has allowed three-or-more goals in four of his last six games. Considering backup Scott Clemmensen has outplayed his counterpart over his last three starts, we might see the former Devil in nets on Friday against the Carolina Hurricanes, possibly even with the division on the line.
Something needs to change as it appears head coach Kevin Dineen has worked his blue-collar team to the core. Only a handful of players maintained their effectiveness over the course of the season which speaks to his level of competition. Simply put: the Panthers have been the hardest workers of the five mediocre Southeast clubs which almost certainly earns them a playoff berth, but not much else.
For the rest of the week, if your Florida Panthers aren’t named Brian Campbell, Fleischmann or Versteeg, free up that roster spot for someone in a better situation.