In the midst of a season that has been an early struggle for the Florida Panthers, the team has shown that they are going to fight until the final horn sounds. Since a 3-0 home ice loss last Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings, the Panthers have taken their opponents to the brink and beyond in all three of their games.
After dropping a 4-3 decision in Nashville Predators and following that with a narrow 3-2 home loss to the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins, the Panthers were finally able to turn their strong efforts into two points tonight at home against the Minnesota Wild. A big part of the reason that the Panthers have been more competitive is an improved performance in penalty kills.
After starting out the season giving up shorthanded goals like Congress gives out earmarks, Florida has cut that number down significantly in the last three games. The Panthers have allowed two goals in their opponents’ last nine power plays over the course of the last three games. Florida now ranks in the top 10 in the NHL in differential between total power play minutes and penalty kill minutes because of its efforts to prevent shorthanded goals.
That improvement on the penalty kill was crucial against the Wild tonight, as the Wild’s best chance to win the game in regulation came late in third period. The Panthers found themselves at a two-man disadvantage, when Scott Gomez was called for holding the stick and Brian Campbell‘s slashing penalty came 0:41 seconds apart. The Panthers overcame the disadvantage and were able to get back to full strength without any damage being done.
Another reason for the late improvement is getting veteran goalkeeper Tim Thomas back on the ice and healthy. Thomas’ play in the last two games wasn’t stellar, but tonight he showed why he was a centerpiece of the Bruins’ last Stanley Cup championship. The Panthers were again out-shot by their opponent, with the Wild getting off 31 chances compared to the Panthers’ 22, and Thomas stopped all but one of them.
While the Panthers continue to develop on the offensive end, they have learned that they can’t sacrifice defense for more scoring chances. If Thomas can continue to play well in the net and the effort level stays high, this Florida team will be competitive in most of their games.
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