The Florida Panthers look like they left everything back in 2018, including their passion for the jersey.
Florida have lost all five of their games in 2019, falling 4-3 away in Buffalo, a heart-wrenching 4-3 OT loss against Columbus, an embarrassing 5-1 loss at Pittsburgh, as well as another one to a McDavid-led Oilers, while blowing a famous two-goal lead in Calgary, 4-3.
There was so much about the Pittsburgh game (specifically) to be disgusted about, yet another terrible start with terrible defense and lack of a clutch gene to score, which left the Panthers down 4-1 going into the third.
Instead of keeping his top lines going and playing them more to try to push for an early 3rd period goal to keep the game alive, Bob Boughner benched top players Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, and Keith Yandle. This move portrays one thing: the team has given up.
Yes, the game was an absolute self-implosion from the start. The Panthers were, yet again, sluggish, the clear inferior team, and it didn’t look like the Cats would get anything from the game, but this isn’t exactly a natural occurrence, in any sport.
The fact that Boughner went forward and sat these three isn’t a sign of safety for his players, it’s more of a sign of cowardice.
An update on where the Panthers were last Tuesday night: 8 points out of a playoff spot, halfway through the season, every point matters, and three top players get benched.
The problem wasn’t just the benching, over the past two months, the Panthers have been painful to watch, even when winning.
There’s just a lack of desire in the locker room right now, our players make lazy passes, mostly nobody is shoot-first, and the on-ice effort is nothing short of appalling.
To sum this all up, just look at how the Panthers have played in the first period of their last 10 games.
In the first, the team has the most energy, the most desire to get on the ice with their linemates and play some hockey. Not the Panthers, unfortunately. The Cats have been outscored 13-7 in the last 10 first periods, shutout in six of those ten.
This kind of goal is the depressing play that the Panthers faithful have had to watch since the turn of the calendar.
The Panthers giving the puck away in the neutral zone, and it’s just obvious which team is the one playing faster. The Buffalo Sabres snap forwards to try to create a goal and get it as Tage Thompson is left virtually wide open to score past Roberto Luongo.
As the road trip continued, the Panthers have dropped two games in Western Canada by a one goal margin, both looking to be promising spots to win.
The Panthers led first in those two games, the first time since December 22nd against Detroit. In the Edmonton Oilers game Thursday night, Florida held the lead three separate times.
They never trailed across the game, leading 1-0 in the first, 2-1 in the second, and 3-2 with less than 6 minutes to play in the game.
Despite Connor McDavid’s game-tying goal with eight seconds to play, it was Darnell Nurse’s first period goal that falls into this theme of a lack of motivation.
Edmonton are a team fighting for the playoffs, and they showed it all night long. Similar to Thompson’s goal, once Edmonton gain control in the neutral zone, they fly forwards with confidence and urgency to get back into the game.
Meanwhile, the Panthers are a mess in the defensive zone, skating backwards, but with no real ambition to win the puck back, just to stay in position.
Nurse is free in the slot, and while the shot could’ve really been stopped by James Reimer, it goes through the Panthers’ netminder and in the net.
This kind of situation, however, wouldn’t have been given up by Edmonton, they were hungry all night long, while the Panthers were only looking to get by.
Even when McDavid scored, you could see the passion in the Oilers’ captain’s face, as well as his teammates, of how much it meant to them. It’s the kind of passion that’s been missing in the Panthers’ locker room night in and night out.
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For motivation, the problem lies inside the locker room and all throughout the organization. To start, Bob Boughner may not have full control of the locker room right now.
It happens in all sports, players may play down if they aren’t comfortable around a head coach, and once that coach is eliminated from the locker room, they return to their top form.
This problem, however, hasn’t started with this head coach, it’s been a recurring issue stretching from the end of Gerard Gallant’s reign and expanding across Tom Rowe’s entire time as Panthers interim head coach.
However, whose job is it to fix the motivation? Bob Boughner hasn’t done it, but have the players really done enough? The players have been as quiet as ever through this spell, until the other night.
Both Keith Yandle and Jonathan Huberdeau were ejected from Friday’s 4-3 loss to the Calgary Flames arguing a call with time running out in a 3-2 hockey game. This does show some kind of leadership and effort, which hopefully can be a turning point in this Panthers season.
We can all hope that this Huberdeau/Yandle outburst can rekindle the fire to the Panthers’ locker room. With 39 games to play, and only 5 wins out, all it takes is one win to change everything.