It seemed as if the Panthers had finally turned over a new leaf in the first period on Tuesday as they held their own and went punch for punch with a very talented Lightning squad – literally. After Lighting forward B.J. Crombeen delivered a questionable knee to Panthers’ Captain Ed Jovanovski, defenseman Keaton Ellerby dropped the gloves and retaliated.
A few punches and 17 penalty minutes later, Ellerby made his way to the dressing room and would not return to action until midway through the second period after serving his time in the box. Although Ellerby’s actions led to a Martin St. Louis power play goal for the Lightning, it was still refreshing to see the Panthers finally stand up for themselves after being manhandled the previous four games.
After the Martin St. Louis goal, forward Peter Mueller tallied the only meaningful goal for the Panthers, but the elation was short lived as the Lightning pulled away from the Cats soon thereafter. Pardon the pun, but Mueller has most definitively been the Cat’s meow during this recent streak of offensive struggles, scoring goals in the past two contests.
Even though the Panthers’ Tomas Fleischmann was able to add another goal in the third period when the game was already out of hand, the Panthers are still being outscored 22-4 since their opening night victory. Overall, the Panthers offense did look slightly improved, although they were unable to capitalize on their scoring chances as Lightning goaltender Anders Lindback stood tall all game. Lindback stopped 26 of the Panthers’ 28 shots on the evening, including a dangerous Scottie Upshall breakaway in the first period.
However, even during such a streak of horrid play, Mueller isn’t the only Panther deserving of praise. Rookie forward Drew Shore continued his impressive play at the NHL level on Tuesday, only a day after competing in the AHL All-Star Game. While Shore has yet to tally his first NHL point, he has been doing everything else necessary to help the Panthers win. Against the Lightning, Shore led the team with three takeaways and played well on the defensive end for most of the evening. Between his faceoff prowess (66.7%) and overall presence on the ice, it is fair to say that Shore may even be outplaying rookie Jonathan Huberdeau at this point.
As much as we can pick apart the Panthers’ offensive troubles, the fact is that their current problems start and end with their defense. On Tuesday night, the Lightning were able to maneuver through the Panthers’ zone with ease and looked as if they were running passing drills against a hapless Panthers’ defense. Team “Captain” Ed Jovanovski was once again a non factor as he only saw 12:32 TOI even though the team played with only five defenseman for most of the evening. On the other end of the spectrum, workhorse Brian Campbell had an astounding 29:44 TOI as he did his best to cover for Ellerby’s absence and the overall porous play of his defensive unit. I keep harping on Jovanovski’s captaincy, but when he is a consistent no-show on the ice every game while playing minimal minutes, it’s hard not to gripe.
Overall, it doesn’t look like the Panthers will be able to accomplish much with what they have right now. Even with the eventual return of Marcel Goc and Erik Gudbranson from injury, the team still feels like anything but a contender. General Manager Dale Tallon should be working the phones in the coming days trying to make a move to improve this team before they become irrelevant. The Panthers have been lucky to have solid attendance numbers through the first few home games this season, but if the team continues their dreadful play you can most certainly expect those numbers to slip.
The Panthers’ next opportunity to end their losing streak will be at home against the Winnipeg Jets at 7:30 p.m. on FOX SPORTS Florida.
- Once again, George Parros had limited ice time in the Panthers’ loss to the Lightning on Tuesday. Considering how much he is being used by Coach Kevin Dineen, it is possible that Parros could inevitably become a healthy scratch as forwards Stephen Weiss and Marcel Goc return from injury.
- Forward Kris Versteeg played just over 15 minutes in his return to the Panthers’ lineup, but did not record a point. The full impact of Versteeg’s return most likely won’t be felt until Stephen Weiss returns from injury and the Panthers’ original top line is reunited.
- In case you didn’t feel bad enough, the Panthers are now last in the league in goals per game (1.67) and goals allowed per game (4.00).
Follow Jameson on Twitter @JamesonCoop