SUNRISE – There is no panic in Pantherland.
At least not yet.
Despite going winless in their last three games – though they did extract a point in two of those games – the Panthers spent an hour Monday at BankAtlantic Center practicing and looking forward to turning their fortunes around Tuesday evening when the Southeast Division-leading Capitals come to town.
“We’re right in this thing,” said Gregory Campbell.
“We’re still in a good position,” said goalie Tomas Vokoun.
In fact, despite currently sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers are only a point from eighth and only four points from fifth.
Just how crazy is this playoff race? The Panthers dropped from fifth to ninth in a week.
“You win three games in a row, two for that matter, and you could be fifth again,” Campbell said.
The good news? The Panthers have a game in hand on the seventh-place Rangers and two games in hand on eighth-place Carolina and fifth-place Pittsburgh. The bad news? The Panthers have taken just two of six points in the past three games and badly need to stop their longest losing streak since Dec. 29-31.
The Panthers could only take single points out of games against Pittsburgh and Tampa last week despite having two goals leads in the third period. Sandwiched between those games was a loss in Buffalo. The Panthers have a shot to turn things around, however, with their next four games all at BankAtlantic Center.
Panther coach Peter DeBoer remained calm Monday and said the three losses didn’t represent a trend with his team.
“I don’t think it’s a trend,” he said. “I don’t think we’re doing anything differently than we did earlier in the year. But there’s no doubt we have to find a way to close out games…We still feel comfortable playing in those situations and, hopefully, our confidence isn’t rattled by it and we’ll be able to handle it well down the stretch, because it’s critical down the stretch.”
Vokoun believes some bad bounces and bad luck have had a hand in the team’s recent losses.
“We had some good fortune before and we’re just on the bad side of that these last couple games,” he said. “You look at the last few games, three goals out of six we’re bad luck…off guys skates or deflections. Stuff like that…sometimes it’s the way it is. Like I said, we won some games with good fortune early when pucks didn’t go in but instead hit the post.
“I don’t think we’ve played that bad. I think we played fairly well (against Buffalo and Tampa). There’s certain things we have to clean up. We took some penalties we didn’t have to take, but that’s going to happen. It certainly hasn’t been from lack of trying.
“It’s going to turn around.”
DeBoer said over the last week the Panthers just haven’t “gotten that bounce.”
“I don’t think it’s anything bigger than that,” he added. “I don’t think it’s something I’m concerned about.”
“I don’t think we can make excuses this time of year,” he began. “Having said that, this is the part of the season we’re you’re going to have ups and downs. Obviously, we can’t let it go too far, but we’re right in this thing.
“I think the lesson learned here is if we don’t stick with what made us successful, we’re going to lose games. For us, the good part is we control that. We control how we prepare ourselves and how we play and it’s not about what other teams are doing this time of year. It’s about how we’re competing. If we do that, we’ll get some wins.”
The Panthers three-game skid coincides with the absence of Nathan Horton (finger) and Bryan McCabe (orbital bone). Horton is expected to be out through this four-game homestand, but McCabe will return Tuesday evening against the Capitals wearing a cage to protect his face.
McCabe’s presence can’t be overlooked. The Panthers have won only four of 13 games without McCabe in the lineup.
The Panthers will need to be at their best against the Capitals, who will play Monday evening in Atlanta. The Capitals are 5-5-1 in the second of back-to-back games this season. They went into Monday’s game 12-3-2 in their last 17 road games.
“I don’t think anybody thought it was going to be easy and we were going to get in without any bumps,” Vokoun said. “Everyone goes through this. We just have to play our system, play hard, and win games.”POTHIER BACK WITH ‘CAPS
Defenseman Brian Pothier, who has missed 14 months and 111 games, is back with the Capitals. Pothier hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion Jan. 8, 2008 in Boston on a legal hit delivered by Milan Lucic. Pothier, who has sustained four documented concussions in his seven-year NHL career, was called up after completing a four-game conditioning stint with the Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League.KEEPING UP WITH OVECHKIN
The Capitals are 38-4-2 in the last 44 games when Ovechkin scores a goal. They’re 21-0-1 in his last 22 multiple-goal games…He went into Monday’s game against Atlanta needing one goal for his third, 50-goal season…Finally, adding to the legend, D.C., rapper Wale (pronounced ‘Wah-lay) name drops Ovechkin in ‘Back in the Go-Go.’ Also mentioned? Eric Lindros and Richard Zednik…
CATS TO FACE VARLAMOV?
Goalie Jose Theodore
was expected to be in goal tonight at Philips Arena when the Caps play the Thrashers, which means the Panthers could see backup Simeon Varlamov.
A former first-round pick (23rd overall) of the Caps in the 2006 Entry Draft, Varlamov has played only two NHL games. He stopped 32 of 33 shots Dec. 13 to beat the Canadiens 2-1, and stopped 29 of 31 shots Dec. 18 when beating the Blues 4-2. His victory against the Canadiens marked the first time a goalie had won his debut in Montreal in 30 years.
Tomas Vokoun is 6-8 in his career against the Capitals with a 2.22 goals against and .932 save percentage…Stillman has 11 goals and 22 assists in 35 games against the Caps…The Panthers spent time Monday working on their power play, which is 26th in the league and has converted on only 8 of 68 chances since Feb. 5…The Panthers are 18-9-6 at BankAtlantic…With two assists Saturday against Tampa, Stephen Weiss
set a career-high in points (50) and leads the team in scoring…