SUNRISE — It was New Year’s Eve, but Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice did not appear to be in any sort of a festive mood Saturday afternoon.
In fact, his disposition did not seem to change from the night before when his team was handled in a 4-0 loss at Carolina.
When asked what it would take for his team to break through against the New York Rangers, Maurice was short and to the point.
“We’ll have to work a hell of a lot harder than we did in Carolina,’’ Maurice said.
Rarely does a team hold a full practice following a back-to-back, but the Panthers did just that on Saturday with Maurice and his coaches barking orders as they ran the team through drills which included work on the penalty kill.
The Panthers have talked about how much fun they have coming to work over the years, enjoying practices as much as their games.
There were no smiles, no joking around on Saturday afternoon.
”You shouldn’t be coming to the rink in a good mood today,’’ Maurice said. “You don’t sleep, you don’t … you can get beat but get beat when you play hard.
“You play your ass off and then you move to the next one because you’re a confident group and know how you’re going to play. Play like that and you can’t bring any joy or confidence to the rink.”
After giving up three goals to the Hurricanes less than 24 hours prior, Maurice’s demeanor and decision to not only follow through with a scheduled practice but put in some serious work in that skate was warranted.
Florida’s special teams were awful in Raleigh, going 0-for-6 on the power play with just four shots on goal.
The penalty kill gave up three goals on Carolina’s five chances with its fourth goal of the night coming seconds after Anton Lundell exited the box.
”You come back like we did today and try to be better than we were against New York,” Aaron Ekblad said.
“It’s as simple as that. We have to continue to work on things that has made us good in stretches, find a way to do those things and do them faster, do them harder and execute better.”
It was an ugly night all around for the Panthers and, in the position the team currently stands, Maurice was not about to sugarcoat anything.
As bad as the special teams were, so was the entire showing by the Panthers — who were shutout in a regular season game for the first time since 2021.
In looking at the standings, the Panthers should be a desperate team. They definitely were not Friday night in Raleigh.
“I did not separate any part of that game — power play, penalty kill or 5-on-5,” Maurice said. “We did not play anywhere near hard enough to win a game in this league. It is a great opportunity for us to break away from a style of game we seem to like to play.
“We have to play a lot harder in the NHL to win hockey games in the NHL. Every game, every shift. That’s it.”
The Panthers rang in the New Year out of the playoff standings for the first time since 2019 as what would be Bob Boughner’s final season coaching the team.
That Florida team was 17-15-6 on New Year’s Day — with its 40 points through 38 games outpacing this one (16-17-4, 36).
Florida spent its final day of 2022 a way out of the playoff race and will need a serious push in the final 45 games to make up that real estate.
Those things have been written about the Panthers in the past, just not lately.
It is not a fond memory for some.
”Obviously we have been in this position before — years ago — and we’re trying to build something here,” said Ekblad, who is in his ninth season with the Panthers and has been to the postseason four times. “It is never easy and that’s the way of the NHL. It’s never easy. There’s a lot of parity in this league and if you make one or two mistakes, it will cost you.
”This is not for lack of effort. We’re trying to work our hardest every night, hold each other accountable and continuing a way to stay positive is the way of the room. It is impossible to be positive. This is the greatest league in the world and we get paid a lot of money to be able to do what we do and what we love. The challenge is playing the game and being consistent on a daily basis.”
Last season, Washington took the final wild card spot with 100 points and looking at this year’s standings, it will probably take at least that to make it in.
With 45 games left, the Panthers would likely have to get 64 of their available 90 points remaining. That basically means winning two of every three games.
For a team which has yet to win three consecutive games this season, the task appears daunting.
The players see the standings every day and know exactly where they stand. They have already left a lot of points on the table but there is nothing they can do about that now.
It is much easier to take things a step at a time instead of looking up at the mountain ahead.
The Panthers can take a step forward today when the New York Rangers come to Sunrise.
It is going to take a collection of small steps to get the Panthers where they want to be. They are not going to be able to make up all this lost ground in a week or even two.
“The good thing about the NHL is there are so many games, you can just move on and worry about tomorrow,” Sam Bennett said. “We have to move on from those games although we are not happy with how we performed and we need to use that as fuel. Really, you have to move on and worry about New York. You just need to go a game at a time and we still have all the belief in the world that we can go on a roll here.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
NEW YORK RANGERS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Sunday, 5 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: Rangers won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Rangers lead 57-32-8, 6 ties