TORONTO - Facing the media after his team lost for the 25th time in 34 games this season, Florida Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen let out an audible sigh before diving into the first question he was asked.
It’s been that kind of season for the Panthers, who are dead last in the NHL and are the only team still looking to record double-digits in wins.
On Tuesday, they managed to outshoot the Leafs 42-31 and outplayed the home team in stretches but lost on the scoreboard 3-2.
“We looked like different teams in different sections of the game,” Dineen said when asked of his assessment of his team’s performance. “(We) played 25-30 solid minutes and we have a few issues that we have to take care of. We had a fairly strong finish but not enough to get the job done.”
Florida was off to a promising start with Tomas Fleishmann’s deflected shot providing the game’s first goal.
The team also responded quickly to going down a goal for the first time in the third period. After Joffrey scored 22 seconds into the third period to put the Leafs up 2-1 Shawn Matthias scored 23 seconds later on another deflected goal.
Matthias' goal came about thanks to him taking it to the net — something the team knows it has to do more of.
“We got shots but we just talked about it after the game — nobody’s in front of the net,” said a veteran defenceman Brian Campbell. “We’ve got to find ways to go to those areas. That’s where goals are scored. That’s how goal-scorers score 40.
"On our second goal, Matthias takes it to the net and it goes off a skate. We don’t do enough of that to be successful and to score goals.”
There have been bright spots for the injury-decimated Panthers (163 man games lost this season), including Jonathan Huberdeau. The centre is second in the league in rookie scoring and got his 21st point of the season when he assisted on Matthias’ goal.
But as with any rebuild, the glimmers of optimism will also be overshadowed by a lot tough lessons. The goal the team has set for themselves now is to finish the season strong with an eye on next season.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Campbell. “Now you’re at a point where you want to build on things and build what we have here and I think we can use this as a great stretch run to see what we can do and learn.”