Florida Panthers trying to get back to the basics

Upon their return from a holiday break, the Panthers will focus on goaltending and defense, which fueled their most recent wins.

12/27/2013 12:01 AM

03/14/2014 2:45 PM

In the past few weeks, the Panthers have won seven of their past 10 games. When Florida has won, it has gotten strong defense and good goaltending.

That hasn’t been the case during the three losses.

When the Panthers reconvene after a holiday break, they hope to find that winning formula again.

Tim Thomas, out since injuring his groin on Dec. 12, is expected to be back in net when Florida plays host to the Red Wings on Saturday night in Sunrise.

Florida already has returned Jacob Markstrom to its AHL team in San Antonio. Scott Clemmensen won four of his five starts filling in for Thomas.

“Clemmensen had the opportunity to step in and was really solid,” coach Peter Horachek said. “His confidence has gone up. When goalies sit for a while, it's difficult to step back in. Clemm has been doing it for a long time, is the consummate pro. He’s definitely stepped up and that has been important.”

During Florida’s run of seven wins in eight games Dec. 5-19, the Panthers averaged close to three goals a night while allowing fewer than two.

The Panthers played stout defense during that time, a good example coming when Clemmensen didn’t face an official shot on goal in the final 5 minutes 27 seconds of Florida’s 2-1 win at Montreal on Dec. 15.

Although Montreal was shooting toward the net so much it looked like a Wild West shooting gallery, the pucks weren’t getting past the Florida defense.

“Our play in general changed and I think there was a real bond between them, more trust than was there before,” goalie coach Robb Tallas said.

“Our team has been supporting itself all over the ice.”

In the three losses, Florida scored two goals twice and gave up an average of 5.7.

Florida has been outscored 17-5 in the losses to Chicago (Dec. 8), Winnipeg (Dec. 20) and Tampa Bay (Monday).

The defense hasn’t been there for support and Florida’s goalies let in softer-than-usual goals. Although it’s hard to blame Clemmensen for all six of Tampa Bay’s goals, he definitely had a hand in a few of them.

During the winning run, Clemmensen and Thomas weren’t giving up the cheap ones.

“We don't want to give up more than two goals,” Horachek said. “In the games in which we were successful, they were two or less. We were playing a good defensive game. … When you have players who can make offense out of nothing, you have to be there as a group, five guys in every zone.”

Meeting time

Horachek said he spoke a little longer to the team following Monday’s loss expressing disappointment in the way the team was beaten but also expressing enthusiasm for what is ahead.

Horachek didn’t want his team to be too down after consecutive blowout losses at Winnipeg and at home to Tampa Bay, yet didn’t want them coming back from Christmas break with their heads hanging.

Florida has four more games on this homestand and can turn things back in a positive direction in a hurry.

Detroit is here Saturday night, with Montreal, the Rangers and Nashville closing things out.

“I told them to go have a good break; told them how I felt about the game,” Horachek said, adding that his players held their own short meeting after he left the room.

“These guys tried hard, we had a great road trip. I just hoped we finished before the break on a positive note so they could go and be with their families. That’s important. We have four more games on this homestand. That can spur you.”

Said Clemmensen: “To be successful you’ve got to have a bad memory. Hopefully we just use these next few days to kind of recharge a little bit and hopefully that will do us well coming back for four more home games after Christmas.”

• The Panthers will hold their first post-Christmas break practice at noon Friday. The workout at the Coral Springs Iceplex is free and open to the public.

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