By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Forward Radek Dvorak takes a shot on Hurricanes netminder Cam Ward on Monday which the Hurricanes won 3-2 in overtime. Florida has scored only six goals in the last four games (1-2-1). The Panthers now hit the road for three straight games. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
CORAL SPRINGS – Radek Dvorak has a “good feeling.”
A glass half-full kind of guy since he broke into the NHL with the Panthers 13 seasons ago, Dvorak believes things are turning for his team in their chase to secure a playoff berth.
“I have a good feeling that good things are going to happen,” said Dvorak early Tuesday morning before boarding a charter with the rest of the Panthers for a three-game road trip that begins Wednesday in Buffalo.
“One thing we have to do is score more goals.”
Ah, and that’s the rub. A team that has also been suspect of being offensively challenged, the Panthers have managed just six goals in their last four games. It’s no coincidence their 1-2-1 in those four games. They scored only nine goals during their five-game homestand.
Despite the tough times, including a 3-2 overtime loss Monday to Carolina, the Panthers are tied with Montreal for eighth in the Eastern Conference with 81 points and they remained Tuesday afternoon only three points behind the seventh-place Rangers with nine games remaining.
“We’ve known since training camp that’s an area (scoring) we’d have to fight, claw and scratch to get offense,” said coach Peter DeBoer.
Earlier in the season, the Panthers seemed to get big games from different players on different nights to camouflage their offensive weaknesses. But the Panthers have been in a scoring slump.Stephen Weiss
has one goal in his last 10 game, Richard Zednik one in his last nine, Gregory Campbell has been shutout the past 19, Cory Stillman has one (Monday evening) in nine and Jay Bouwmeester scored only his third goal Monday in 23 games.
The good news is in the Panthers last two games – a 3-1 loss to Columbus and Monday’s overtime loss to Carolina – they have played well. Yes, there’s been moments they’ve looked tentative, and, yes, there’s been some bad giveaways. But with a few bounces here and there?
“We’re close,” Dvorak said.
“The last two games we’ve played well enough to win and only been rewarded with one point,” he said. “I feel it’s coming and we just have to stick with it. That’s how winning and losing streaks go. When you’re on a winning streak you win some games you shouldn’t, and when you’re on a losing streak you lose some games you shouldn’t. We have to find a way out of it.
DeBoer isn’t afraid to shake the forward lines, and he did it during Monday’s third period, putting back the Sunrise Express (Weiss, Nathan Horton and David Booth) and putting Michael Frolik, Brett McLean and Rostislav Olesz together.
During Tuesday’s practice, Olesz was playing alongside Weiss and Booth and Frolik was with McLean and Kreps.
“We’re obviously struggling to find the back of the net,” DeBoer said. “We’re putting up shots, creating chances, but we have to score goals. Going into last night we had scored 11 (goals) in the previous six games.”
DeBoer said he’ll go each night with the lines he starts the game with. “But if you’re not scoring or, at the end of 2 periods like last night, we only have one (goal), we’ll shake things up. We’ll continue to shuffle those guys until we find some chemistry.”
Horton, who returned to play a strong game against Carolina after missing the previous six with a finger injury, said the Panthers just need to “keep it simple.”
“Don’t turn the puck over too many times,” he said, “and we’ve all got to shoot more.”
Basically, it’s a return to Panther hockey, according to Dvorak.
“A lot of speed, a good forecheck, tracking back and good goaltending,” he said.
“Guys are lose and they feel good about how we’re playing,” DeBoer said. “They know the results are going to come.”
Hopefully, sooner than later.HORTON, BOYNTON EARN KUDOS
According to DeBoer, Horton, who had a game-high six hits Monday evening, was “the best player on the ice for either team.”
“I thought he was great,” he said. “I said to him this morning, ‘Nine more like that.’ ”
DeBoer was also pleased with defenseman Nick Boynton’s performance, playing his first game after being a healthy scratch in the previous three. “I figured he would play well and he did,” DeBoer said.MILLER A LONGSHOT
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff didn’t rule out the return Wednesday of goalie Ryan Miller, but it’s more likely the Panthers will see Patrick Lalime in goal when they visit HSBC Arena.
While Miller took part in the team’s full practice Monday, his first since suffering a high ankle sprain Feb. 21, Ruff indicated it would be unlikely Miller would return against the Panthers.
“It’s a longshot, a longshot with a chance,” he said.
The Sabres, five points behind the Panthers and Canadiens for the eighth playoff spot, are 3-7-2 without Miller. On Jan. 19, the Sabres were 24-17-5. They’ve since gone 10-13-3 and 1-5-1 in their last seven games.
Despite the fact the Sabres are reeling, they had enough March 12 to beat the Panthers 3-1. Lalime, in goal that evening, is 8-3 lifetime against the Panthers with a 1.99 goals against and .922 save percentage.
Panther goalie Tomas Vokoun is 4-4-1 lifetime against the Sabres with a 2.06 goals against and .927 save percentage. ROCHESTER UPDATE
After being unhappy with a 5-2 loss Friday at Syracuse, Amerks coach Benoit Groulx called a 6:30 a.m. video meeting Saturday back in Rochester and a 7 a.m. practice, according to the Democrat and Chronicle. Obviously, the message was received as the Amerks snapped an eight-game losing streak Sunday with a 2-1 win over Syracuse.
The Amerks, who have nine games remaining in the American Hockey League season, are led in scoring by rookie prospect Michal Repik
, who has 23 points in his last 26 games and leads the club with 18 goals.
Meanwhile, the Amerks will welcome Friday the 45th member of their Hall of Fame in Larry Hillman, who played six seasons in Rochester and helped the Amerks to their first Calder Cup in 1964-64. Hillman played for eight teams in 19 NHL seasons, including the Flyers, Sabres and Maple Leafs.