Six weeks ago, this very writer posted a column on this very website with a very big declaration: it as time to take the Florida Panthers - who at the time were tied for having the best record in the National Hockey League - serious as a Stanley Cup contender.
While many fans of the team aren’t jumping off the bandwagon just yet, there are some in Sunrise and beyond who are looking for the panic button after the third losing streak of at least three games this season.
“I think you get in these little stretches during the season, you need to realize how hard it is to win in this league,” interim head coach Andrew Burnette said after Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. “Every little puck counts, every little play counts.”
Unlike the first two streaks where the Cats found themselves losing close games, Florida was clearly outplayed in each of the last three games and outscored 16-10 over the span - a sign of help being needed in one specific area.
“I think we battled hard, we played a good game but obviously not [our] best game. We didn’t do the right things for 60 minutes,” Florida forward and captain Aleksander Barkov said Saturday. “We had some bad plays in that game that cost us a few goals and a few momentum changes.”
One of the areas of concern is in the net, where goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been solid at times (and does technically have a 2.58 goals allowed per game average), but has given up a combined nine goals in his last two starts.
Florida’s other two options in goal? Well, Jonas Johansson gave up five goals in his first start with the Panthers (a 6-3 loss to Columbus last Thursday) and Spencer Knight, who is currently playing with the team’s minor league affiliate in Charlotte. It makes some wonder if a move will be made before the March 21st trade deadline.
Now, there is still plenty of reasons for fans to come off the ledge. At the moment, Florida has the second-best record in the Eastern Conference while sitting just one point out of the top spot. After each of the previous two losing streaks, the Panthers won four in a row - and they play two of the East’s five worst teams over the next three games.
But, if change is going to take place it can’t wait. It must start this coming Thursday.
“We have a very competitive team. We just want to win," forward Anton Lundell said. "Of course, it’s a little frustrating, but something we get energy from. I’m sure we are going to come into next game with a fresh mind.”
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