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The Hole Being Dug by the Florida Panthers Keeps Getting Deeper

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Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers hits Florida’s Colin White in the third period of New York’s 5-3 win in Sunrise on Sunday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

SUNRISE — When asked about the struggles of his Florida Panthers following yet another loss Sunday night, Nick Cousins started doing some math in his head.

“If you look at the standings, everyone knows where we are,” he said. “At the same time, there are still 44 games left, I want to say, so there are still half the games left.”

Yes, the Panthers have plenty of games still in front of them.

But since the team has been singing a similar refrain for the past few months, that number has gotten smaller and smaller.

Florida does have 44 games remaining but is so far out of the playoff race at this point binoculars would be suggested to spot them.

The Panthers are eight points back of the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference following Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Rangers, but have played two more games than the Penguins.

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Florida, the NHL’s best team of the previous regular season, now find themselves sitting in seventh place in the Atlantic Division just above the lottery-bound Canadiens.

Forget about finishing in the top three in the division this year. Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay have those spots wrapped up.

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The Panthers (16-18-4) need to go on a run just to get back to respectable.

While the NHL standings are based on points, it is hard not to notice that the Panthers have lost six more games than they have won.

”We were not happy with the Carolina game and today was a step forward but we’re not happy coming out with zero points,” captain Sasha Barkov said Sunday. “We have to be better. Today was better, but we have to find a way to win games. We battled and it didn’t work out.”

Florida has now lost as many games in regulation (18) as it did over the course of 82 games last season and seem lost in the Everglades.

When the team gets strong goaltending, it cannot score.

When it gets OK goaltending — like Sunday — it does not have enough to run with teams they once blew out of the water.

“It is just a matter of us doing things consistently,’’ Cousins said. “When we play our style of game consistently, we dominate teams 5-on-5. Staying out of the box has been hurting us.”

While the Panthers have some key players no longer on this year’s team, they still should have enough talent to win more than they have.

The Rangers were the better team on Sunday as they got a pair of goals from Mika Zibanejad to take a 2-0 lead midway through the second as the Panthers cut it to a one-goal game a couple of times.

Yet, as has been the case too many times this season, the Panthers were chasing the game from the start.

While coach Paul Maurice called his team out a bit following Friday’s 4-0 loss in Carolina, there was little response — at least from the start — on Sunday.

Those anticipating the Panthers to come out firing on Sunday are still waiting.

Maybe Tuesday will be better.

Of course, the Panthers have already lost to the Coyotes once before this season so who knows.

Maurice sounds like he is done trying to whitewash where the Panthers stand these days.

”We’re not at the ‘keep things up’ phase of our development,’’ Maurice said. “We’re at the ‘deal with all of your problems and get a hell of a lot better’ and harder at it. December was that month for that.

“With all the players out of our lineup, you’re doing a lot of pumping of the tires. They went as hard as they could and we just didn’t have it. January is not that month. I know our schedule is tough, but we have good players out there. We have to get a hell of a lot harder.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

ARIZONA COYOTES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Tuesday, 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
  • This season (Arizona leads 1-0): Coyotes 3, Panthers 1 (Nov. 1)
  • Last season: Florida won 2-0
  • All-time regular season series: Arizona leads 20-16-2, 3 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Friday night at Detroit Red Wings

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