Murphy Burch is back for his second season of blogging. He will be sharing his views on the Panthers during the year, along with fellow fan blogger, Cliff Peeke (Peeke's Points).
Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.VanMurph's View Blog Archive
Have you ever told someone you loved them with all of your heart and soul, and they just laughed in your face? Yeah, it feels just like that…Our guys have dropped five in a row for the first time this season, and things aren’t looking too good at the moment.
After coming home from an amazing three game road sweep of the Sabres, Red Wings and Rangers, the Panthers lost all three games in the subsequent home stand and two additional games on the road. This latest series of losses has slowly and steadily wasted any of the good will they had built up with a considerable portion of their dwindling fan base. A fan base, mind you, that has not seen a playoff game in nearly a decade, and one which has walked out of its own building disappointed with the final score eight out of eleven nights so far this season. Losing eight of eleven home games is not exactly the best way to start repairing the damage done by ten years of mediocrity.
As many of you know, the Panthers’ faithful face a unique challenge in the NHL as we are constantly pulling the short straw when it comes to being outnumbered in our own building by the opposing teams’ fans. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we have to walk out of the BankAtlantic Center on a regular basis listening to the victory chants of the opposition. From the perspective of a die-hard Panthers fan, this is getting very old. It’s beyond frustrating, and it’s my opinion that it’s part of the reason our arena is embarrassingly empty night after night. Most people just don’t have the wherewithal to continually subject themselves to the heartbreak that Panthers hockey has become. At this point, I don’t even think $.75 tickets or winning a few games will get people into the building. It’s going to take a protracted stint of victories and a steady climb up the standings to get the casual fan or anyone in the media (other than George Richards and Steve Gorten) interested in the team. And until the media gets its act together and recognizes the fact that we have a fourth professional sport in South Florida, hardly anyone else is going to pay attention. Unfortunately, local TV sportscasters don’t want to include the Panthers, so the only way to force them to do so is to win, and win a lot. Other than in the local newspapers, there was barely a mention of the road sweep, and we are generally relegated to the last five words in the TV sportscasts...But that’s another story in itself.
Having introduced new owners, and with things seemingly ready to turn around for the organization, the Cats came home and built a 2-goal lead against Pittsburgh last Monday night. Then, without much concern for anyone other than the Penguins, the game was disgracefully stolen from the Cats by some of the poorest officiating I’ve seen in quite a while. That game, unfortunately, was only the precursor of what was to come during the remainder of the homestand. The Rangers came to town on Wednesday, and Tomas Vokoun almost single-handedly wrestled a point from them. Even with T-Vo’s stellar effort in net, New York fans went home happy, and Panthers fans went home demoralized yet again. The losses to the defending Stanley Cup champions and the Rags were bad enough, but the worst was saved for Friday night…After opening the game with two goals in less than four minutes, the Cats proceeded to blow three leads and surrendered two points to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yes, I said the Toronto Maple Leafs. The killer instinct our guys showed up with in Buffalo a couple of weeks ago was gone. We relinquished multiple leads to the Leafs and we never really took control of the game. The opportunities were there, but the advantage wasn’t taken, and in the end we left the BankAtlantic Center with our heads down for the third time in five nights. That was the first time in a while that I’d walked out to my car in an angry mood. Not dejected, not disappointed, not crestfallen, but actually angry. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. What should have been a sure-thing win, turned into a humiliating defeat. And as if that wasn’t enough to drive a guy to drinking, nearly everyone above us in the standings picked up at least a point that night, thus widening the gap between our current position and a playoff spot. Now I know it’s we still have nearly three quarters of the season remaining, and that there is plenty of time to get it going, but if we want to sit in an arena with more bodies than empty seats, the Panthers are going to have to dig down and do what it takes to secure as many points as possible. Seeing us mired down in 13th place has a negative effect on everyone, including the guy who’s looking to take his family out for some entertainment. He sees us struggling, and he decides to go to the movies instead…
I’ll preface the following paragraph by stating that I am not, nor have I ever been, a hockey coach, and that I still have a lot of faith in Coach DeBoer…Having made that perfectly clear, it’s my humble opinion that one of the major problems which immediately needs to be addressed is special teams. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, so I’ll just go ahead and admit it: I think our power play is abysmal. I seriously feel that unless something is done right now, it may cost us much more than it already has. We may have scored a pair of power play goals against the Maple Leafs, but in the New York game two nights earlier we managed a meager total of TWO shots on FIVE power plays. If just one of those opportunities had been capitalized upon, we never would’ve faced the overtime and shootout. For most other teams, the one-man advantage is a chance to shift the momentum and pepper the opposing goaltender with shots. But the Panthers’ power play over the previous two seasons has me wishing the NHL allowed us to decline penalties. Rather than energizing the crowd or shifting momentum in our favor, our power play has thus far shown the propensity to suck the life out of the crowd and to shift the momentum to the other team as they hold off our attack and not allow a single shot-on-goal during the entire penalty kill. I don’t know how frustrating it is for the players, but for the fans, watching three guys come over the line as the puck is dumped into the corner only to be flung right back down the ice by the other team is truly the epitome of exasperation…Again, having never been a coach, I don’t know if it’s a system problem, a personnel problem, or a coaching problem, but whatever it is, it needs to be fixed soon. We are near the bottom of the league in both the power play and the penalty kill, and our inability to convert those opportunities is costing us games on a regular basis.
As I said earlier, there is still a lot of hockey to be played. There is still plenty of time for a turnaround. But with three separate stints of four or more losses in a row, a lot of the fans have reached their boiling point very early in the season. The email I’ve received in the last week has shown me that the level of frustration with the inconsistent play has taken its toll on our fan base. People have lost any semblance of faith, and they are just tired of the losing. Ten years is a long time. A very long time…
Thank you to all of you who emailed and sent messages to me on facebook after my last submission. I enjoyed corresponding with each of you. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at: VanMurph@hotmail.com
Thanks for stopping by the blog.
By the way, I’ve intentionally left out any reference to the Ballard/Vokoun incident in last night’s heartbreaking loss in Atlanta. Keith Ballard is a good guy, and the unfortunate episode clearly had an effect of him. It was born out of the frustration of seeing the puck in his own net, and the fact that he hurt his teammate certainly has to be weighing heavily on his conscience. I bet he feels terrible about that split second of his inability to contain his frustration, and I hope the league and/or the organization doesn’t make the situation worse by making a stink about it. Due to websites like YouTube, Ballard will now have to be reminded of this incident for the rest of his life. That, and his own guilt, is enough punishment. I hope T-Vo doesn’t harbor any ill feelings about what happened, and that they are able to quickly put this behind them. Ballard has actually saved T-Vo’s bacon on many occasions, so I hope he forgives him and moves on. I also hope Ballard buys him a Rolex or a bitchin' motorcycle…