Cats Recap and Thoughts Before Playoffs

First of all, let me apologize to those of you who live and breath my articles as the real world has caught up with me the past few weeks. Between my 9-5 and a few weddings, I have not been able to provide you the content you so deeply desire.

That being said I want to touch on a few things from Tuesday night’s game against the Ducks as well as a few concerns I have with the Panthers leading in to their hopefully long playoff run.

Comeback Wins:

The Cats have been absolutely killing it with being able to comeback from multi-goal deficits late in games to get the W. Not that the 3-2 win against the Ducks was a huge comeback; however, it was nice seeing the boys tie it up and storm back to win it in OT.

My fear is that once the playoffs start, teams play much tighter defense and you are not getting matched up with a team currently sitting in the bottom 1/3 of the standings.

I am not taking anything away from the victory nor trying to be the Negative Nancy of our group, but when you hit playoffs, the rules are applied a bit looser and the skill guys do not have the same time and space you see in the regular season.

Why do you think it matters so much for the teams to be deep?  For example, how phenomenal did Phil the Thrill play during the Penguins Cup runs? Unreal, right? Because he was the 3rd line center and getting the favorable matchups. Same with Krecji for the B’s.

I am not criticizing the depth of the Panthers by any means as I believe they are one of the most skilled teams top to bottom, but instead my point is that the Cats cannot continue to take shifts/periods/games off and expect to be able to turn it on for a late comeback.

You are no longer playing the Ducks and Sabres, you will be facing Washington, Boston, Toronto, or Tampa!

Playoff Picture:

If the season were to end today, the Cats would face off against Washington and that is the absolute ideal scenario in my opinion.

This season the Cats are 2-1 against Washington including the impossible 4 goal 3rd period comeback.

Furthermore, the Capitals, in my opinion are not built for the playoffs. They have shaky goaltending which has shown at times, just look at last night’s 7-3 loss to the Leafs. Who would the Capitals start in net? Samsonov? Vanecek? Neither of them has been playing great this last stretch of games.

The Capitals are not a defensive minded team and have strayed away from the Barry Trotz systems that previously led them to the Stanley Cup.

This leads me to believe it would turn in to a run-and-gun style of play which favors the Panthers over Washington every day of the week. Especially if Bobrovsky continues with the performance he has put on thus far this season.

Furthermore, it will let Toronto and Tampa face off against each other. Tampa is showing that the loss of Goodrow, Gourde, and Coleman has definitely weakened the team.

While Toronto is notorious for choking in the playoffs, I do believe they will be able to compete and give Tampa a series.

Tampa has Vasi in net who has proven the past 2 years to be the best in the game, especially under big pressure situations. So it should be a victory, even if it is not an easy one.

While Boston is no longer the Big Bad Bruins of yesteryear, you can never take away from the veteran experience and leadership they have. Mix that in with two studs in between the pipes and a solid defensive core, they would not be a fun team to play against in the first round.

This leaves me to believe that Toronto and Tampa could beat each other up and have an extended 6/7 game series allowing the Panthers to have an easier run and not have to go through two of the NHL’s top dogs.

This does make a few bold assumptions:

  1. Cats need to stay ahead of Carolina
  2. Boston needs to stay ahead of Washington
  3. Pittsburgh needs to stay ahead of Washington

Toughness:

Facing Washington will bring up one of my fears that I have talked about all season, toughness.

While the whole world knows that I do not think very highly of Tom Wilson, he can still be a thorn in a team’s side. Especially when they do not have a tough guy to hold him accountable. Just ask the Rangers and look at what he did to Panarin last season.

As mentioned earlier, the rules are viewed a bit looser and the refs let the boys have at it a bit more when the playoffs roll around. Skill guys will not have the same time and space to generate offense.

If the Cats do get matched up against Washington, who is going to hold Wilson accountable? Who is going to make him pay for every last slash, crosscheck, or dirty play that wannabe tough guy does?

And it is not just Wilson, but look at many of the other guys on playoff teams:

  • Reaves – Rangers
  • Maroon & Perry – Tampa
  • Martinook – Carolina
  • Foligno – Boston
  • Simmonds – Toronto

Who do the Panthers have that you would feel 110% confident in saying they will hold guys like that accountable? Who can tell Tommyboy to calm down and punch him in the face? Maybe Chiarot or Gudas? While Lomberg has the heart, he does not have the size or intimidation factor the guys above do.

Defensive Lapses:

Part of my rant on the comeback win is the lackadaisical approach to the defensive zone.

Tuesday night I watched Weegar be part of a fast break rush to try to jump in and make it a 3-v-1. Right after the shot was taken, the Ducks turned the puck up the ice to try to get a fastbreak of their own. Weegar skated back at what I would give a 65% effort.

And I am not singling him out as in their game against NJ, there were multiple goals scored against where the Panthers had 4 defenders standing around their own net with their sticks in the air. No one was covering anybody. Nobody had their man. Nobody had their sticks in the passing lanes. It is all simple defensive zone coverage that you learn at a very young age.

While this regular season the Cats have been able to score their way out of trouble, the playoffs are not regular season. How many times do I have to repeat that? You will not be able to fall 2-3 goals behind and storm back late in the 3rd. The Panthers will need to tighten up their defensive zone and play actual defense.

While they have averaged 4+ goals per game this season, it will not continue if they have hopes to make a deep playoff run.

Do you know the final score of the Tampa Bay NYI Game 7 ECF last year? 1-0 and the only goal was scored off of a bad turnover in the defensive zone.

While Tampa can play the high flying, goal scoring, pretty hockey with the best of them, they also have guys like Hedman who can shut it down and play defense. They have players like Killer who are breaking their legs to block shots.

If you want to win a Cup, you cannot be caught just standing around in your defensive zone or dogging it on the backcheck. You have to play a 200 foot game and be willing to sacrifice your body for the win.

The Panthers need to tighten it up if they want to win the Cup and tonight will be a great start against the Jets. Shutting down guys like Scheifele, Connor, and Wheeler will be a good starting point.

As always Panthers fans, in Zito we trust!

Let’s go Cats!

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