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Perfect Time For A Fresh Beginning

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Netminder Tomas Vokoun looks to make the stop in the Panthers home game against the Buffalo Sabres on October 26, 2007. (Al Messerschidt - Getty Images/via NHL Images.)
By Dave Joseph for

With the realization they have a chance to make up serious ground in their division over the next several weeks, the Panthers went to work Monday morning on correcting problems and climbing back up the standings.

In the next three weeks, 10 of the Panthers 11 games will be against Southeast Division opponents. It’s a perfect time for the 4-7 Panthers to put aside their muddled start and focus on a fresh beginning.

For the Panthers, it all begins Wednesday night when they  host Southeast-leading Carolina, who bring the NHL’s most potent offense to the BankAtlantic Center.

“We need to work on different areas (of our game),” said GM and coach Jacques Martin, who was quite vocal during part of Monday’s workout at IncredibleIce. “You know, with November coming and a lot of key games in our division, and so many games, we want to take advantage to work on certain parts of our game. That’s what we did this morning.”

After Carolina, the Panthers play back-to-back road games Friday and Saturday at Buffalo and Carolina before playing a home-and-away series Nov. 5-7 with Tampa. Then its two more games against Carolina, two against Atlanta and two against Washington.

Martin said he has been disappointed in the Panther start, which includes third-period losses last week to Buffalo and Nashville.

“But there’s nothing I can do about that,” he said. “What’s important for us now is to get our focus and, after 11 games, to see where we’re at. It’s early. We have 71 games left. We have a chance to remedy (the start) by having better execution.”

Said Nathan Horton: “It’s not the start we wanted, but there’s still a lot of games left. Carolina has been playing real good. We need to win these games and we need to win these points.”

Defenseman Cory Murphy takes the puck up ice as Jerred Smithson plays defense in the Panthers game against the Nashville Predators on October 27 (John Russell - Getty Images via NHL Images.)
Martin said the Panthers biggest problem has been 5-on-5 play.

“Look at (Saturday’s) game (in Nashville),” he said. “Our power play was going. Our specialty teams? We won that part of the game. But 5-on-5 we need to be better. That’s the key for us.

“If you look at our first 10 game segment, most of the starts of our game we have been excellent. We’ve outscored teams in the first period, we’ve outchanced teams. It’s a matter of maintaining and keeping the focus for 60 minutes and playing the same way for 60 minutes.”

And that hasn’t happened judging by the fact the Panthers have been outscored in the third period 17-5. When asked if his team’s third period woes were mental, Martin replied, “I think it is.”

“It’s a matter of being focused, or patient to play the same style as you played in the first period” he added. “It’s something we talked about (Monday) morning.”

Martin, who Saturday switched lines and used Horton and captain Olli Jokinen, said he would continue to look at different line combinations and defensive pairings to see which click.

“I don’t think since the beginning of the year we’ve had a line that has clicked,” he said. “Until we find some chemistry or combination between players, we’ll probably try different (lines).”

Allowing a winning goal with only 12 seconds remaining in regulation Saturday in Nashville, coupled with a poor, third-period performance Friday against the Sabres, was tough to handle for the Panthers. But Martin said he didn’t mind players expressing frustration or anger after the loss in Nashville.

“It’s a game where you have lots of emotions and I think you play with passion and sometimes when you lose you see some frustration,” Martin said. “To me that’s healthy. I don’t have a problem with that. Sometimes there’s some good goals, other times…

“When you look at our team, I think we’ve given up goals. We’ve made it easy (for opponents) because of turnovers and those are the areas we need to be better, especially in the third period.”

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