After winning just one of their past six games, the Florida Panthers do not appear to be playing with all that much confidence these days.
With the playoff-bound New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild coming to town this week, that’s probably not a good thing.
Coach Tom Rowe doesn’t buy it.
“They’re pros, right?” Rowe commented. “[The media] makes a big deal about confidence and self-doubt and all this other garbage but they just have to show up and play the right way. If they do that, they have proven time and again they are a real good team.”
Two weeks ago, the Panthers capped off a five-game road winning streak when Vincent Trocheck scored the game-winner in St. Louis in the final seconds — the latest the Panthers had ever scored a game winning goal in their history.
“It felt like we won the Stanley Cup for a minute,” Trocheck said afterward.
It doesn’t feel like that now.
In the weeks since, Florida has gone just 1-4-1 and have won at home once in five tries. Of the 12 points available to the Panthers, Florida got just three.
Yet, on Monday, the Panthers still found themselves just two points out of the playoffs with 18 games left.
“I would be lying if I said we weren’t frustrated,” team captain Derek MacKenzie said. “We may not be playing our best hockey, but we’re doing enough good things to come up with a few more points. ...
“We’re still in it and at this time of year, you can’t ask for more. If we’re going to get in, we’re going to have to beat the best to do it. If we get in, we’re going to deserve it.”
The Panthers know they have a pretty talented bunch yet since going on a scoring spree on the road, Florida has struggled to put the puck in the back of the net.
In six games since getting back from St. Louis (a game with a playoff-like feel in which Florida just scored twice), the Panthers are averaging under two goals per game and haven’t scored four since winning in Anaheim on Feb. 17.
Rowe changed up two of his forward lines citing his team’s struggles to score goals while both teams are at full strength.
Florida hasn’t scored a 5-on-5 goal since Trocheck scored in the first period of a shootout win against Carolina on Feb. 28 — eight regulation (and two overtime) periods ago.
What Rowe hopes is a fix: Swapping centers Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad.
Trocheck would play with newly acquired Thomas Vanek and Jonathan Marchessault with Bjugstad reunited with Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen after that line played so well at the end of last season and into the playoffs.
“We ended well, did a good job in the playoffs,” Bjugstad said. “We need to find ways to score. Last game we had 40-something shots and I, for one, had great chances and just need to bear down on them. When you look back, it’s disappointing. We should have had [Saturday’s] game.”
Said Jokinen: “Last year in the playoffs, we played pretty well together. Bjugstad and Trocheck have some similarities to their game, get through the neutral zone with speed and I think Bjugstad has played very well the past few games. We have to find a way to score more 5-on-5 goals as a team; hopefully we help that out.”
▪ Smith was singled out by Rowe for being out of position on what turned into Dallas’ game-winning goal with 1:07 left on Saturday. Smith said he takes the blame for the loss.
“You have to be professional about it,” Smith said about being called out. “It’s never good, but it happens. I hold myself to be accountable; I had a couple of slip-ups the last game which probably cost us.”
▪ Former Florida captain Olli Jokinen will officially retire as a member of the Panthers on Tuesday. Jokinen played with the Panthers from 2000-08 and is the franchise leader in goals (188) and points (419).
TUESDAY: RANGERS AT PANTHERS
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMYM 990.
Series: New York leads 50-34-6.
Scouting report: The Rangers lost three of four going into Monday’s game at Tampa Bay inclding a 4-1 loss to the visiting Montreal Canadiens. Florida won the previous meeting at Madison Square Garden in a shootout as James Reimer made 33 saves.