|Panthers forward Brett McLean (53) skated on the first-line with Olli Jokinen and Richard Zednik on Monday. The Cats are looking to find another scoring line to go along with the trio of David Booth-Stephen Weiss-Nathan Horton. (AP Photo/Don Wright) |
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
The Panthers took the ice Monday morning at IncredibleIce hoping to correct their inconsistent play before their rematch Tuesday at BankAtlantic Center against Sidney Crosby and the Penguins.
The Panthers are only five points out of first in the Southeast Division despite losing four of their last five games and getting shutout in two of them.
With any kind of roll, the Panthers could quench the thirst of a town dying for a playoff contender. But first they have to find a way to stop Crosby while playing a consistent game that doesn’t fluctuate every few nights.
After winning in Long Island last week, the Panthers opened Saturday flat in Pittsburgh and it wound up costing them two points. And, once again, more than a few players seemed to find an invisable wall they couldn’t get through in front of the opponent’s goal.
“You’d like to see more progress on a more consistent basis,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin. “You play a game like Thursday in Long Island. You play a pretty good team game. That’s what you want. You’re not going to win every game – the league is so close – but you want to give yourself a good opportunity. And especially with the absence of people we’ve had on defense. We need to compensate.”
Along with being more responsible defensively, the Panthers, outscored 15-7 the past five games, need a way to score more goals. The line of Stephen Weiss
between Nathan Horton and David Booth has been the team’s “best line,” according to Martin.
On Monday, Martin had leading scorer Olli Jokinen with Richard Zednik and Brett McLean, while Jozef Stumpel and Rostislav Olesz were skating with Radek Dvorak. “Maybe play them (Olesz and Stumpel) in a more defensive role with Dvorak,” Martin said of that third combination.
As for Crosby? The Panthers are well aware of what the phenom can do after getting torched by him Saturday for a goal and an assist. Crosby has resurrected the Penguins. He’s fourth in the league in scoring (57 points) and leads the league in assists (40).
“He’s probably the best player in the game right now,” Martin said. “What’s amazes me is his maturity for his age; how mature he is and how consistent. How he comes out and plays hard.”
But Martin isn’t shocked by Crosby’s ascending star. He recalled Monday morning a conversation he had with Wayne Gretzky at the 2004 World Cup.
“Gretzky mentioned to me (Crosby) was going to be better than him,” Martin said. “Wayne is a very honest person.”
And, obviously, a good judge of talent.