|Panthers Blogger Cliff Peeke |
Cliff Peeke, a Panther season ticket holder since Day One, is back blogging on FloridaPanthers.com for another season, giving the point of view on the Cats from a serious, die-hard fan’s perspective.
A Michigan native who’s played hockey (admittedly average at best) most of his life, Cliff grew up watching Red Wings games at the old Olympia Stadium. His allegiance changed to the Panthers the moment it was announced South Florida would have a team.
Cliff has played in adult leagues at IncredibleIce and his oldest son (age 25) plays there as well. His youngest son (age 9) is a member of the Jr. Panthers ’98 Squirt Travel Team.Peeke's Points Archive
The Panthers rank #5 of the fifteen Eastern Conference teams in a very important statistic… Goals Against Average/Game. Excluding empty net goals, we are at 2.65 GAA/game through 32 games. We are only .05 from the #2 slot (Montreal). Boston is #1 at 2.33 GAA/game and it’s no surprise they are #1 in the Conference as well. The top four teams in this category rank in the top six in the conference standings.
What made me think of this? I was just talking to a neighbor about yesterday’s thrilling 3-0 victory over the Avalanche. He has “average” hockey knowledge but did make the comment that the Panthers defense was the key to the victory. And I couldn’t agree with him more. Here’s what I saw… an almost flawless effort by the defense (that was also one of Bouwmeester’s better games), outstanding goaltending by Tomas Vokoun (especially in the third period) and super back-checking by all of our forwards. But what I really liked in the game was the effectiveness of our “first pass” out of our zone. We are so much more improved in that area from the beginning of the season and it’s a drastic improvement from last season. Granted, we have stretches where we seem to be chasing… but when we collect the puck it’s head-manned quite well. From there we are able to better utilize our speed.
We are not going to be a high scoring team. Personally, I don’t care. Our point leader is a defenseman (Bouwmeester), but we distribute the scoring and it seems there’s a new hero with each game. But I love a strong defense… and we certainly have one. And consider that our defensive accomplishments have come without Bryan Allen (I/R). The defense we have now, in front of the best one-two goalie tandem in the league will have a lot to say about us gaining a favorable position in the top eight.
And that’s why I’ve been a fan of General Manager Jacques Martin. Go ahead and check on my articles from the pre-season… I said it then… he did a great job assembling this defensive corp. And I was one of the few that liked the return we got from the Jokinen trade to Phoenix. Ballard and Boynton have really strengthened our blueline, and if I’m not mistaken, we also received a second round draft pick… Colby Robak
… projected to have been mid-first round and “a smooth skating defenseman with a lot of upside”. Ballard and Boynton’s combined points are 20… while Jokinen is at 21 (by the way, 6 of Jokinen’s 10 goals have been on special teams).
If we continue getting strong goaltending from Vokoun and Anderson, if our defense just plays the same, and if we utilize our speed up front to create three goals a game… we are going to win enough to make the playoffs. Martin seems to know… success starts in the net and works its way out through the defense and to the forwards. And while all that’s going on… it makes a low scoring game like last night a very exciting home victory.
But we have to keep pace and pursuing the Capitals should be our goal. Tomorrow’s game should be entertaining especially with Belak back in town and Tarnasky and Vokoun going up against their old team. Every game now is huge… we can’t afford a letdown. Let’s get a good, loud crowd to the stadium and gain another two points.
One last comment… when it was announced at the arena yesterday that the Jets lost to Seattle… wasn’t it great to hear the cheering?