The Panthers have two key Southeast division games in the next couple days, including a trip to Atlanta to take on the Thrashers Thursday night. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
The math is rather simple.
The Panthers have two games against Southeast Division rivals in the next three days. If they win both games, they’re back to .500 and within reach of first-place Carolina.
“You can’t do anything about what’s behind you,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin after the Panthers practiced Wednesday morning at IncredibleIce in Coral Springs. “You have to look ahead.”
The Panthers, who play Thursday in Atlanta and back home Saturday at BankAtlantic Center against the Lightning, have been up-and-down this season. But their talent suggests they’re closer to the team that went 6-1-2 just a few weeks ago than the one that has lost five of its last six games.
“It’s a matter of being on the same page and focused for 60 minutes,” Martin said. “That’s our biggest problem. Most games we’ve been in. I think, one, is not to have lulls, periods that cost us, and, two, get our specialty team to be productive again.”
Just moments before the Penguins scored three goals Tuesday in 3:06, Gregory Campbell was stopped on a short-handed breakaway by goalie Ty Conklin.
“If we score…it might have changed the whole game,” Martin lamented.
But the Panthers might have had to score more than a goal against the high-flying Penguin offense. And they’re hurting offensively. They are 14th in the Eastern Conference in goals scored.
When asked about the team’s recent woes before Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Penguins, goalie Tomas Vokoun responded; “I think talent wise, this team is capable of being a lot higher than we are. So we don’t have a good excuse to say, ‘You know what? We have this problem or that problem.’ You can slowly run out of excuses and sometimes you have to look at yourself and say, ‘Well, maybe I should be better or we should all be better.’ ”
“You can blame everyone else, but there’s 20 guys every night on the ice and we play the game,” Vokoun added. “Nobody else does. If we lose, if we don’t do the job, you have to blame yourself.”
The Panthers Wednesday afternoon flew to Atlanta to meet a Thrashers team that is two points ahead of them in the Southeast Division and is 5-5 in their last 10 games. They also have two of the league’s top players in Ilya Kovalchuk (35 goals) and Marian Hossa (16 goals, 22 assists).
“They’re two points ahead of us but we have a game in hand,” Martin said. “We go into their building, we won their the last time, so, obviously, it’s a big game for us. No doubt we’ve got to shut down some of their key players. We’re playing one of the better players in the league in Kovalchuk and they got Hossa. But I think if we do a good job defensively, and get the power play going...”
The Panthers could be back to .500 by Saturday night.