Once again a slow and rather sluggish start to a game and the Panthers fall behind unable to recover. I am not quite sure what causes this team to play with such sluggishness and lack of energy and or desperation. When playing the Devils it's fairly obvious that they try to control the game and keep things settled and then take advantage of a mistake or two and before you know it they have the lead. Then they lull you to sleep for the remainder of the game, and pounce on your next mistake to extend their lead. Meanwhile the opponent scrambles to get back in the game and takes a bad penalty or two or makes a costly turnover and boom, you're pretty much out of it. It's a great game plan and most of the time it works. It also helps to have one of the best if not the best goaltender in Martin Brodeur.
The Panthers struggles are puzzling, yet here's my take on them, and I am open to other suggestions of their struggles.
1) Not enough scoring. Too many role players that while they may work hard, are not the player you can count on to score a goal when needed or when a scoring chance is there for the taking. Greg Campbell is a perfect example. Works hard, but couldn't hit water if he fell off a boat.
2) No sustained forecheck. The Panthers seem to dump the puck in and then get off for a quick line change, leaving no one to pressure the opposition.
3) Lack of toughness and checking. Maybe I am a bit old school, but this is hockey, not ballet. There needs to be more checking and more aggressiveness. Weiss would rather finish his latte than finish a check. He refuses to get his nose dirty. Mezei is a big guy, yet he plays like he's 5'5'. He needs to play with an edge.
4) Traffic in front of the net. The Panthers as many teams, are more successful when someone is in front of the goalie. Scott Mellanby, Ray Shepard, Gary Roberts, all caused problems and scored some important goals playing that way.
5) Not enough veteran leadership, and too many fragile youngsters. When Roberts, Nieuwendyk, Gelinas, Gratton, and Salei were brought in the idea was to change the mentality of the team and teach these young players how to win. For awhile it was working and things were ok, and you would have thought that they learned something from those players. Now that most of them are gone, no one except for Ollie, has stepped up to take charge, and none of the youngsters has emerged as a leader. Giving Weiss the "A" was a terrible idea.
6) Jacques Martin's system is frustrating. If he is such a believer in defense, why is Vokoun leading the league in saves? We give up way too many shots, and while that is not always an indicator of how the game went, we also give up too many scoring chances, and our defenseman are usually out of position which is why they probably lead the league in hooking and holding penalties.
I would love to hear from other Panther fans about what you think is the problem, or how they can get things to be more consistent! Believe me I am a fan, but I am tired of waiting for the wins to come and tired of hearing the promise that we will make the playoffs. Not with this bunch. Something needs to be added.
P.S. Anyone seen Olesz lately? Mark Recchi is looking pretty good!