With seven games left and their short-term future sealed as playoff watchers, the Panthers’ biggest foe might be the malaise that hits after all is lost.
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has seen some of that psychological letdown recently.
“Human nature plays into that,” Dineen said. “Frustration builds into that. I don’t think there’s been acceptance. I don’t think we’ve been by any means, ‘woe is me,’ but I think there have been times for all of us that the reality is we’re not a playoff team after two months together. That’s no fun for any of us.”
Meanwhile, Tuesday’s foe, the Islanders, sits just inside the playoff gates with their geographic archrivals, the Rangers, right behind them and feeling the breeze from outside. So, while they and New Jersey can list concrete motivation for the Panthers’ games this road trip, the Panthers must find motivation.
First off the shelf: pride.
“It’s a big game for us, too,” Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann said. “We lost to them the last game. We just want to beat the Islanders. Kind of a bad feeling to lose to the Islanders, even though they are in a playoff spot. Last year, we beat them, now we’re losing to them.”
Dineen spoke of still evaluating weak areas and trying to coax consistency out of a lineup that has shown a scarcity of it.
At least he’ll have a full complement of players. Expectant father Peter Mueller, who stayed in South Florida instead of playing in Thursday’s 7-2 loss to Winnipeg, will go with the team on this tour of the New York area trip. As Dineen pointed out, should Mueller’s wife go into labor, a plethora of flights can get him back to South Florida in a few hours whereas Winnipeg to Fort Lauderdale is a day-long trip.
Forward Tomas Kopecky and defenseman Filip Kuba sat out Monday’s practice, leaving the Panthers with a normal game dress count of 12 forwards and six defensemen.
Both, however, will make the trip.
This and That
Monday’s practice was observed by Metallurg 2001 youth hockey team from Magnitogorsk, Russia, in town for the six-team Spring Cup Tournament at Saveology.com Iceplex. Teams from Russia, Slovakia, Orlando and Tampa will join the Jr. Panthers and Junior Everblades.
The Russians and Slovakians also will play each other in a 3 p.m. game April 23 at BB&T Center. The Russian team will be on the ice between periods during that night’s home game against the Rangers. The Slovaks will do the same during the April 25 home game against Toronto.