The Wagon Keeps on Rolling in South Florida

The Panthers beat the Capitals 5-4 in OT last night to improve to a league best, 9-0-1. While it may not have been the prettiest win of the season, just remember a W is a W.

The Cats got off to a hot start with Barky burying a rebound just 3 minutes in to the game. This would be his first of two for the night and set the tone for the game as the Cats were buzzing all period.

Ekblad hammered home a rebound to make it 2-0 in favor of the good guys. While I am often critical of his defensive style of play, I will give him credit as he is an excellent offensive defenseman. 

And trust me, his defensive lapses ended up costing the Cats as early in the 2nd he and Weegar were caught puck watching in the offensive zone and it lead to Sprong being left all alone. This brain fart ended up gifting Sprong a breakaway on a cold Spencer Knight.

One of the more concerning developments of the game was that Bobrovsky ended up exiting the game in between the 1st and 2nd period with an apparent upper-body injury. Bob was playing phenomenal and stopped all 13 of the shots he faced. I still cannot find the cause of the injury and it is worrisome as he has been on absolute fire and the Panthers are hosting the only other undefeated team, the Carolina Hurricanes, on Saturday.

Fortunately, a few minutes later Montour would score a floater from the blue line that would end Samsonov’s night as the Caps would bring in Vanecek. Barkov would score with about 4 minutes left and give the Panther a false sense of security with a 4-1 lead. 

At this point you can imagine what happens? Panthers get to coast to an easy victory, right?

Wrong!

Two things happened and it really changed my thoughts on the team and what they need to do to be a true Cup contender.

First, they seemed to awaken one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time in Ovi. Ovi seemed to find another gear and was all over the ice. He was playing physical, making big hits, driving the net, and finally wristed one past Spencer Knight almost in a way of saying “welcome to the NHL kid”. I don’t think Knight has ever seen a guy shoot the puck as hard as Ovi did on that twisted wrister. Absolute snipe show.

The next thing that stuck out, the Caps got very physical. The game turned chippy and the Capitals were able to bully the Panthers all over the ice. This did expose one of the lone weaknesses in the Panthers game; toughness.

Wilson was running around like the typical dumbdick he is and the Panthers had no answer for it. Not to mention the fact that Ovi is a barnyard animal who can run guys through the glass on top of being an elite scorer. Don’t forget that the DC crew also has Orlov on the backend who is also a big boy and can lay the body.

As soon as the physical play started, the Panthers seemed to start scrambling and the Caps were able to make a comeback to tie the game. It was almost like the Panthers were hearing footsteps and afraid to get run over.

The Cats were able to hang on and force OT, which actually favors the skill game for the Panthers and took away the Capitals physical advantage. The boys seemed to be like kids playing keep away with the puck for the entire minute and a half of OT, generating opportunity after opportunity. 

Finally, the Panthers were able to finish the game off when Luostarinen banked it past Vanecek off of Dumbdick Wilson’s stick. The funniest part of the goal is that they actually initially gave it to Franky V and he ended up being 3rd star of the game with 0 goals, 0 assists, and +1 because of this mistake by the press. 

As mentioned above, the game last night did expose one of the key weaknesses that could be the difference between a Stanley Cup and a 1st round exit. The Panthers need to add some meat to the team.

Wilson bullied the Panthers, got in their faces, and ran around like the wannabe tough guy he is. Horny and Weegar tried stepping up, but they are not on that same level as some of the big boys. They can tell him to knock it off, but when the gloves drop, Wilson knows he would win that fight.

There is a reason Fat Pat got 3 Cups in a row and the Lightning are back-to-back champions. They have the meat and the physical style of play that is needed for playoffs.

Guys like Maroon add the sense of fear and hold the opposition accountable. You won’t see Wilson running around in Tampa because he knows he will have to answer the bell for his actions and Patty or Perry will come get him. 

The Bolts won the Cup because of their grit with guys like Maroon, Goodrow, and Coleman. They can hit, grind, and give the opposition a shit-your-pants type fear. That is the same reason the Bolts went and got Perry to add to their toughness this offseason.

Also, Tom Wilson is not a true tough guy or enforcer. Sure, he may run around when the opposition is smaller than him; however, when there is someone who can actually give him a decent tilly, he always backs down. Wilson has run away from Ryan Reaves, both when Reaves was in Vegas and now with the Rangers. He also laid on the ice when Matt Martin came knocking to make him answer for his dumbdickery. Bottom line, he is a coward and a bully.

To get back on topic, the biggest shift of the game came when the Caps got physical. The Panthers could not match this style of play and it allowed Barkov and Huberdeau to get knocked down.

The tough question for me is who can the Cats get to add this toughness? Yes, Gudas will be back, but they need more than 1 big defenseman.

Could they pick up Lucic from Calgary? While he is no longer the goal scorer he was years ago, he can still offer that scare factor and keep idiots like Wilson at bay.

Perry would have been a great option, but there is no way that the Bolts make a trade with an in-state and divisional rival.

It would be nice to get Michael Haley back from Ottawa, especially since he was here for a bit before. I am sure he would love to get out of that dumpster fire that is Ottawa!

What about Lemieux? Would LA be willing to part with a guy like him? Although I am not sure he is the heavy weight or tough enough to keep Wilson or Maroon away.

Anyone else? Who would you go after if you were the Cats?

One final note, it was absolutely amazing to see Chase Priskie make his NHL debut for his childhood team in his hometown. Could you imagine what that must feel like? Any NHL debut will be special, but add in the fact that it was your favorite team and your hometown. I don’t think it could get any better than that!

Let’s go Cats! Beat the Canes! In Zito we trust!    

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