The Panthers left town Sunday afternoon – what else is new? – for a quick flight to Tampa while hoping to put an end to a three-game losing streak Monday against their Southeast Division-rival the Lightning.
For the Panthers, a 1-3 start is a cruel reminder of season’s past when sluggish starts have cost them dearly late in the season. One only has to look back to last season to know that.
But one has to wonder if this early bump in the road is an obstacle that isn’t that surprising. Clearly, the Panthers are mapping a course that hasn’t been charted before. There is no blueprint on how a team will play after spending 23 of 29 days on the road; traveling across Canada, the southeast, and back-and-forth to Finland. There’s no blueprint on what happens when a team doing that opens against two conference finalists and comes home 21 hours after playing the night before while their opponents are resting in their backyard.
Players don’t use excuses – “The past is the past,” said defenseman Jordan Leopold - but the Panthers have seemed a step slow at times and have taken some penalties that one could claim were from being weary. Even coach Peter DeBoer said after Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Devils that “we didn’t have the legs to skate with them.”
Of course, it didn’t help the Panthers were facing Martin Brodeur in goal, who is now 33-12-7 lifetime against the Panthers.
Still, the Panthers have to shake out of their funk before they fall into another early-season abyss that winds up costing them in March and April. They finally snapped out of their 0-for-15 power-play funk Saturday evening when Stephen Weiss
beat Brodeur on a pretty play in the third period to the tie the game at two.
But, once again, the Panthers are allowing too many shots on their own goal. Through only four games, Vokoun leads the league in the number of shots he’s faced with 155. Carolina’s Cam Ward, who’s played five games, is second in the league with 150 while Ray Emery, who’s also played five games, in third with 148.
In all, the Panthers are 27th in the league in shots against with 162. All three teams behind them have played five games. They were outshot in the first period Friday against Carolina 16-5 and Saturday against the Devils 16-4.
Meanwhile, they’re ranked 26th in the league in shots for 95.
Vokoun, who’s used to seeing a lot of rubber, said the Panthers played “better all around” Saturday than they did Friday in Carolina. “But we’re still not quite there,” he said. “Like I said, we have to get this right quickly. It’s only going to get tougher down the road. We don’t want to waste 15 games like we did last time. It’s probably the reason we missed the playoffs. Right now we’re just not playing well enough. That’s the bottom line.”
The Panthers will meet a Lightning team coming off a 5-2 victory Saturday over the Hurricanes. Antero Niittymaki was in goal for Mike Smith, who was run over Thursday by New Jersey’s Jamie Langenbrunner. Smith said he could have played, however, Saturday evening. NOTES
With defenseman Bryan Allen expected to be back in the lineup Monday in Tampa, Jason Garrison
was reassigned Sunday back to Rochester of the American Hockey League (AHL)…Center Dominic Moore continues dealing with immigration issues and, due to Monday’s holiday, isn’t expected to be resolved until the middle of the week…After a tough night in Carolina, rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov
rebounded against the Devils, picking up his first NHL point when assisting on Weiss’s goal and ending the night even after playing 18:25…Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who made a nice outlet pass leading to Rostislav Olesz’s goal, played a game-high 25 minutes…