Frustration Grows as Cats Drop Another Close One

Bill Whitehead goes over the Cats’ most recent loss, one that has to do with a critical blunder.

During the season there are games a team should win and don’t, ones they shouldn’t win and do, and contests that could go either way depending on a timely goal for or against. I’m not particularly sure which category Wednesday night’s 3-1 Florida loss to Boston fits in to, but I do know this: There won’t be too many more defeats as frustrating this season.

Before the puck was dropped, the Panthers (9-11) had every reason to win. The club had been shut out by Boston’s Tuukka Rask last week, so payback — or turnabout or revenge or whatever you want to call it in pro sports — should have been on every player’s mind. Florida had put together a strong effort against Pittsburgh two nights before and come up short, primarily because of a futile power play. And after head coach Pete DeBoer’s recent assertion that the team needed to start winning two out of three, it was time because they had already lost the first. Mainly, this was a must-win situation against a quality opponent.

After 40 minutes, it looked like a pretty good chance to win. Steve Reinprecht finally broke the ice against a Boston goalie — this time Tim Thomas — and the Panthers’ blue line, playing with rookies Keaton Ellerby and Joe Callahan, was doing its job well in front of netminder Tomas Vokoun. The offense was getting pressure on Thomas, though the power play still couldn’t produce but looked better and was more active.

Then an epic collapse began in the third period. Vokoun, the main reason for any Panther success over the last few seasons, completely botched a dump-in by the Bruins, committing the kind of play that looks like it belongs on a blooper reel. An awkward move with the puck, his stick getting caught in the net, and failure to get back in the crease in time to defend Brad Marchand’s short-handed goal just eight seconds in completely drained the BankAtlantic Center of any life it had. 1-1, Boston. The collapse was completed later when Florida committed three penalties in a span of 4 1/2 minutes, gave up two more goals and couldn’t solve Thomas.

Following the game, the team held a closed-door meeting, and players vented their emotions. Blah, blah, blah. But the bottom line — that’s an often-used term with the Florida Panthers, usually in the context of, “The bottom line is we didn’t get it done” — is that we’re a quarter into the season and this group of Cats looks very similar, maybe a sliver of shaved ice better, than last year’s. The defense is generally solid and the goaltending better than most in the Southeast Division. However, scoring is still a futility, the power play is something worse than atrocious and the club lacks offensive firepower that allows them to come back late in games — all of which should have been addressed more in the offseason.

Florida is at a pivotal moment in its season. It’s time for these Cats to man-up and get wins, not just chances or opportunities, which is something else the players mention often. If the club can’t step up its game,┬áit should start doing detailed research on players like Sean Couturier, Adam Larsson and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL