As the New Jersey Devils plummeted hard into dead last in the NHL earlier this year, most of the analysts were shocked. I was no exception, but I did make two observations.
The first was that they weren’t going to stay in that position. And the second was that the Florida Panthers had yet to play them once.
However, with all four match-ups crammed into a month-and-a-half span, you had to figure Florida would catch a team that might finally be waking up. After escaping last weekend at home with an overtime victory, the Panthers were rocked this afternoon, dropping a 5-2 decision to the Devils in New Jersey.
Three things to like about the Panthers right now:
1) The effort level – As has been the case all season long, Florida almost never stops competing. Other announcers notice it; other players notice it. It isn’t enough right now to overcome the gap in talent, but it makes games easier to watch.
2) Seeing the future in net – Even though he gave up a couple of goals, Jacob Markstrom looked decent in his first NHL action. That’s the future right there, ladies and gentlemen.
3) Shawn Matthias’ finish – For a team that is desperate for goal scorers, Matthias’ goal in the second period was the result of a spectacular snipe. Here’s hoping we see more of that.
Three things not to like about the Panthers right now:
1) Special teams – It’s mainly the power play that has plagued the Cats all season, but the penalty kill looked bad today too, going one for three. The Devils announcers said that New Jersey could thank winning the special teams battle for the end result today. They are right.
2) Goaltending in general – There have been years where goaltending is the lone bright spot for Florida, but too many times this year it hasn’t even been a positive. They aren’t getting the big save when it’s necessary, and goalies aren’t stealing games. That needs to change, and quickly.
3) Stuck in limbo – The Panthers are in the familiar spot of being close enough to eighth to almost think playoffs, but close enough to a lottery pick to think about who the top prospect is. It’s probably more annoying to the fan base than it is to the team at this point.
Limbo Stats – Eight points out of eighth, three games in hand; four points away from a lottery pick.