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A Short, Refresher Course In Grit

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
The Panthers got back to basics, battling for pucks a day after being shut out by Washington 3-0. (AP Photo/Steve Mitchell)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com


CORAL SPRINGS – Some 15 minutes after practice began here Wednesday for the Panthers, it was over.

Just like that.

After doing two-on-two drills in the corner and getting players to drive to the net – something woefully lacking in Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to the Capitals - coach Peter DeBoer gathered his players at the blue line, said a few choice words, and then dismissed them.

“Practice today was all about getting to the net, getting rebounds…that’s where we have to be strong and that’s how we get goals,” said forward David Booth.

“Short practice,” said forward Radek Dvorak. “Coach wanted to send a message. This is how we play, this is the game we play. This is our identity.”

And all it took was a few minutes.

DeBoer called it a “refresher course in what our identity is and how we have to play to win games.”

“Get our desperation level back up, our battle level, get to the net,” he added. “And we got all that accomplished in 12 minutes.”

After getting no shots on Capitals goalie Jose Theodore in the third period Tuesday evening and having little presence in front of the Caps net throughout the game, DeBoer message was short but clear.

“We have to get back to the basics,” he said. Once the message was sent? “We’ll get out of here,” he added. “No reason to hang around and think about it. We know what we have to do. I’m confident the guys will bring it to the rink (Thursday) night.”

The Panthers play the third of five home games Thursday against the Maple Leafs, and the Panthers, on a four-game losing streak, need a victory and two points to stay with the pack in the race for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Despite picking up only two of a possible eight points their last four games, they were only a point from Carolina Wednesday afternoon and eighth-place in the conference. The Panthers will have two games in hand on the Hurricanes, who host New Jersey Wednesday night. And the Panthers are still only four points from sixth.

DeBoer reiterated Wednesday that while he was disappointed in Tuesday’s effort, “ they’ve been very few nights this year where I’ve questioned our effort and willingness to try and do what we have to to win games.”

“(Tuesday) I thought we had a lack of will in certain areas,” he added. “I don’t see a trend in that.”

Since the opening six weeks of the season, the Panthers have been one of the NHL’s most consistent teams, that’s why their poor performance Tuesday was so confusing, as well as the fact they’ve been outscored during the four-game losing streak 7-1 in third periods.

When asked if he had an answer to his team’s poor performance Tuesday, DeBoer said he honestly didn’t.

“If I had the answer to that I’d be Scotty Bowman and have my name on the Stanley Cup 10 times,” he said with a smile. “That’s what you deal with when coaching a team. You’re going to have nights when you look like a million bucks and nights when you don’t.

“I thought (Tuesday) was disappointing because our desperation and grit level wasn’t where it needed to be at this time of year,” he said. “We reminded the guys of that this morning. They know it. It’s a group with some character and we’ve worked hard all year to build an identity, and now it’s just a matter of playing to it down the stretch.”

Booth said the Panthers have to be ready to compete every shift.

“You can’t take shifts off,” he said. “When you take a shift off that’s when the other team will bury you.”

Thankfully, one game doesn’t make a season. The Panthers have been steady throughout the season and have corrected themselves through injuries and an occasional poor game. They seem confident they can get through this rough patch.

“We don’t have time to over-analyze this right now,” said forward Gregory Campbell. “The bottom line is we’ve lost four in a row. Nobody is satisfied, but we’re not counting ourselves out. We’ve worked hard all year to get ourselves in this position. We’ve played consistently well. (Tuesday is) over with. We’ve got to focus on (Thursday) night and play like it’s a must win.”

NOTES

Nathan Horton (finger) skated Wednesday before the Panthers practiced at IncredibleIce but is still a minimum of a week away from playing, according to DeBoer, and probably longer than that…The Maple Leafs come Thursday into BankAtlantic off a 4-3 victory Tuesday over Tampa. The Leafs, 29-29-13, climbed back from a 3-0 deficit to win in a shootout…The Leafs are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and 16-16-4 on the road this season…
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