For those of you who have watched the Florida Panthers this season, it comes as no surprise that the team has not lived up to expectations.
Although no one thought this team would continue its high-flying scoring pace of last season — which was highest in the NHL in 20 years — or end with the league’s best record again, they certainly should have been better than this.
And yet here we are.
The Panthers went into the Christmas break in a bit of a tailspin.
Florida has now lost three consecutive games for the third time this season and have dropped six of its past eight.
Do not even bother looking at the standings.
Those will not make you feel better.
Although NHL coaches have said over the years that they do not pay attention to the standings, everyone knows that is not true.
Players and coaches all know exactly where they stand, doing quick math in their head in order to figure out what they need to do to stay where they are at — or, in Florida’s case now — what they need to get back into this thing.
”We need to start winning games,” Matthew Tkachuk said on Thursday, before he lashed out following the Panthers’ sleepy 5-1 loss to the Islanders on Friday.
“We have to keep ourselves in the race and we are going to have to go on a run. Unfortunately we are under .500 right now which puts us behind a lot of teams almost halfway through the season. At some point, we need to get on a run to pull ourselves back up. Who knows how long that run needs to be, but we are not in an ideal spot right now. We need wins until we get healthy again.”
Florida won its division last season, spacing itself from the pack as the season went on and ended up leading Toronto by seven points in the Atlantic.
The Panthers figured they were good enough to be in the top three this season despite all of their changes in both personnel and strategy.
That does not appear to be the case barring a minor miracle.
Boston and Toronto look like teams which have already punched tickets to the postseason as the 1-2 teams in the division.
Tampa Bay has a comfortable lead in third with a six-point cushion on Detroit and seven on the Panthers.
Not only that, but the Panthers have played 35 games already — more than anyone else in the Atlantic.
Florida is on pace for 80 points, certainly not good enough for anything aside from a long offseason.
Coach Paul Maurice has often said he is trying to change the Panthers’ style of play that is conducive to postseason hockey — a line critics have pounced on as the team has struggled.
”It is the continual mindset of what will this look in the playoffs,” Maurice said. “That quote is going to be taken out and ‘you have to make the playoffs.‘ Yeah, I get all that. But there is not point in making it without a game you can win with.”
The Panthers expect to have a boost coming out of the break what with the potential return of captain Sasha Barkov and defenseman Radko Gudas from injury.
Florida could also get Anthony Duclair back around the All-Star break.
But things only get tougher once Florida returns this week.
The Panthers have a back-to-back against Montreal and in Carolina starting Thursday and then comes January where nine of 15 are on the road with six of those nine coming against current playoff-holders.
Florida does have a large chunk of their home schedule from February on but will the Panthers be out of it by then?
With their next three first-round picks already traded elsewhere (Montreal, Philadelphia and Calgary own them) and salary cap concerns, no one expected the Panthers to be serious buyers at this year’s trade deadline.
Could they be sellers?
If things continue down this path, they will be, yes.
The Panthers have only won two consecutive games three times this season and have yet to go on any sort of a winning streak.
That does not bode well for a team which considers itself better than their record.
But records are what count.
So do the standings.
Florida will be, realistically, only able to get in with one of the two wild card spots and will be battling with a handful of teams to get it. The Panthers are currently eight points behind Washington for the final spot.
There are plenty of points out there for the Panthers to claim.
But they better hurry up and start getting some of them.
Time waits for no team.
“We have played good enough hockey to win and some of these games have been frustrating,” Tkachuk said.
“Unfortunately we put ourselves in this situation where we have to scoreboard watch this early in the season and it sucks. There is nothing we can do about what happened, we just need to move forward and get on a run here. There are a bunch of us fighting for one or two spots. We need to get going.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
MONTREAL CANADIENS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-1
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 51-38-11, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Dec. 30 at Carolina Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m.