The Florida Panthers are the latest team to fall prey to the old adage that the worst thing in a hockey game is a two-goal lead. Not a one — or a three — but a two-goal difference can make the team with the lead sit back, if not outright go to sleep for a while, with the score seemingly under control.
All this, with the trailing team only a fluke goal away from getting within one and having the momentum swing their way.
In a span of virtually a month, from December 23-January 25 – in 12 games out of 16 – the Panthers proved something to themselves and their Prozac-popping fans. They proved how bleak things could become for a team that gets two goals ahead and fail to put away their rivals.
The Panthers clawed their way to most of their points this year, needing overtime or a shootout on a number of occasions. The goals they had been scoring to take leads in games seemed to have disappeared almost as quickly as they came.
It is enough to bring to the harassed minds of Panther fans the instances of losing a three-goal lead against the Buffalo Sabres on December 23, another three-goal advantage in the second period of the Washington Capitals game on January 11 or the most recent head-scratcher of an aborted 2-0 lead mere two minutes before the end of regulation time at home against the Atlanta Thrashers. While the first two games still gave Florida wins (albeit one in extra time), the crucial Thrashers game resulted in an overtime loss.
Why so many mishaps? Apart from losing focus and trying to catch a breath coasting for a while, two reasons come to mind: their inability to score on the power play and the lack of a goal scorer, who could deal the final blow and extend the lead past the immediate comeback range.
It was not until quite recently that Florida could “boast” a double-digit scoring percentage on the power-play, but the current 11,3 % still keeps them dead last in the league. When a team has a moderate lead, a power–play goal can boost the team’s confidence and help put away the chance of a comeback. Conversely, failing to score on a 5-on-4 (or even 5-on-3) increases nervousness and makes teams more prone to be scored against right after the penalty is over.
The Panthers are also missing a sure-fire shooter, not to look too far — one of the Martin St. Louis prowess. A forward who, with a game on the line, will drive to the net with a puck, score the overtime winner or add a defense-splitting breakaway pass to help increase the lead or reply to the opponent’s goal. Why? The game winning goals in five (three in overtime) wins in the misery month in question were defensemen (Jason Garrison, Bryan Allen, Dennis Wideman, Dmitri Kulikov and Mike Weaver).
Even if Florida can and will acquire such a sniper with a backbone at the trade deadline later in February, the price (Tomas Vokoun?) could be steep enough for the fans to think the team is already looking well past this season.
On the back end of this transaction there might be fewer leads to preserve short term, but the Panthers need to make a move as they seem not to be able to get it right with the personnel they have now.