Cats take day off on Long Island

After an early exit from star Stephen Weiss, due to a game misconduct, NHLHS Florida Panthers correspondent Bill Whitehead explains how the remainder of the Panther’s player may have also taken the game off.

Presidents’ Day is one of those holidays that delicately straddles the line of formality, not as important as Christmas or Thanksgiving but a cut above April Fool’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day. If you want to take your kids to school to get a little education, maybe grab some cash from the bank and then mail off a large package at the post office — all in one purposeful trip into town on Presidents’ Day — forget it. However, everything else is pretty much open. Want to know who else takes Presidents’ Day off? Evidently the Florida Panthers, judging by Monday’s 5-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

The 2010-2011 season has seen plenty of low points — lowlights, if you will — for the Panthers, including constant struggles on offense (a common theme the past few seasons), a mind-boggling penchant for blowing multi-goal third-period leads, and general shortcomings when victory seems close. One thing that hasn’t been lacking most every contest has been effort. Florida (25-27-7) has been on the short end of the stick, talent-wise, against most of its opponents, but the Cats have been gritty and made teams earn points against them for the most part.

Not Monday afternoon, though. Center Stephen Weiss, whose name keeps popping up in trade rumors, received a game misconduct in the first period and took the rest of the day off. Unfortunately, everyone else in a Panthers sweater did the same. The coaching staff received little effort from the entire roster, and no one’s play made anyone want to say, “Hey, so-and-so played a great game.” Even assistant coach Jim Hulton, interviewed during the second intermission, didn’t hesitate when asked what the problem was as the Panthers trailed 4-0: “Passion,” he responded.

The coaching staff can take some of that blame, too. Pete DeBoer’s conservative, take-no-risk approach was the wrong tact to take against an Islander club that has been playing loose and carefree with nothing at stake. With career underachiever Al Montoya in goal, making just his sixth career start, Florida decided to play it close to the vest in fear of the offensive wrath of John Tavares, Matt Moulson and — it’s painful to type this name — Michael Grabner. Florida took zero risks in trying to set the tone early by scoring the first goal, quickly trailed 2-0 after one period and 4-0 after two, and were pretty much done when Moulson tallied his first goal in the first period shortly before a first-time visitor to Nassau Coliseum had time to look around and proclaim, “Wow, this place is a dump.”

Worse still was Florida’s futility in trying to beat Montoya. New York outshot Florida 16-3 in the first, and the Panthers went roughly 20 minutes between shots on goal in one anemic span. That shouldn’t be acceptable against Vancouver, Detroit, Philly or Boston, much less against one of the bottom three teams in the NHL, a club whose strength lately had been scoring goals, not stopping them, though Montoya did shut out Los Angeles over the weekend.

On paper, the three-game road swing set up well for Florida. The Cats should have had some momentum after Saturday night’s win over a quality team in Tampa Bay, with Florida improving its record to 3-0-1 against the Bolts. Two bad bottom-feeders lined up for Florida on Monday and Wednesday (Ottawa), and Friday’s opponent, Atlanta, has been struggling and shuffled its roster. Monday’s game in that glorified mausoleum looked like the perfect way to start a successful week.

But like schools, banks and the U.S. Postal Service, the Panthers just decided to take Presidents’ Day off instead.

By Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL