Check out the players on the ice here in Sunrise, Fla., and you irrefutably see talent.
Heck, the Panthers have Ollie Jokinen, probably one of the top 10 or 15 players in the NHL. They have a first-rate goaltender in Tomas Vokoun. Their defence corps, which includes veteran Jay Bouwmeester, isn’t bad.
And, yet, the Panthers have been playing wretched hockey lately, dropping six of seven games as they entered Thursday night’s competition. On Tuesday night, during a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins here, they were downright awful.
They’re baffled by their deficiencies.
“We’re not playing with any spark," said Jokinen, their captain. “I’m running out of answers. I don’t know what to say. Seriously, it’s embarrassing. Our best players have to be better than they’ve been. That’s the first step. After that, the rest of the guys will follow, I guess. You always blame the top guys. It’s fair enough to say we deserve to get blamed.”
The Panthers went into Thursday with 19 wins and 21 losses. And they would have a much worse record were it not for Vokoun’s solid performances.
Acquiring him from the Nashville Predators before this season for three draft picks turned out to be a superb move for the Panthers, but most of his success has come on the road. On the team’s home ice, the Panthers are a mysterious 9-10-2. This, despite the fact that, the past two seasons combined, the Panthers were at their best at home, going a combined 47-23-11.
Injuries have hurt this team.
Defenceman Cory Murphy, signed as a free agent, started out with plenty of promise. A 29-year-old rookie, Murphy stunned NHLers with 11 points in his first 19 games, but he’s been sidelined since then with a shoulder injury.
Defenceman Mike Van Ryn damaged his wrist and may be out the rest of the season.
And two other Panthers, Garth Murray and Noah Welch, injured their shoulders in fights and also are likely done for the season.
“But injuries can’t be used as an excuse,” Vokoun said. “We just have to play better with the players we have.
“Time after time, we talk about things, everybody says the right things, but too much is going wrong.”
Here’s some of what’s going wrong:
• There are strong rumblings about tension between Jokinen and coach Jacques Martin.
• Most of the Florida players have lost confidence in Martin and there's general discontent on this team.
• Nathan Horton has done diddly-squat. He’s supposed to be one the Panthers’ shining stars, but he entered Thursday with only 12 goals in more than half the season. And he scored four goals in the Panthers’ first six games of the season.
• Only three NHL teams had fewer goals than the Panthers in the season’s first half.
Clearly, the Panthers need to complete a deal in which they acquire a bona fide scorer. Granted, there aren’t many snipers around the NHL any more, and they certainly aren’t readily available, but the Panthers desperately need to find the net more often or this already long season will drag on and on.
And Martin will become the team’s ex-coach before next season.