After the Canadiens play on Long Island tonight, they fly home to face Chris Higgins and the Florida Panthers in what hockey types like to call an “ambush game.” The Panthers played last night in Ottawa, losing 5-3 (a game in which they trailed 5-1 early in the third), and will be waiting in Montreal for the home team.
Things haven’t been peachy for the Panthers this season. Off the ice, some of their local fans who subscribe to the DISH Network satellite service can’t see their games on TV because of a dispute between DISH and the Fox Regional Sports Networks (“Just gives everyone yet another excuse to watch
the Heat, eh?” wrote George Richards, ruefully blogging for the Miami Herald).
Yes, they must share their market with the NBA Heat, the most hype-driven sports franchise in the known universe.
Their home attendance is still among the lowest in the league, the
product of last making the playoffs when Bill Clinton was president.
Even their AHL affilate Rochester is unhappy. They recently informed the Panthers they would not be renewing their working agreement.
On the ice, they got hosed by the refs in Toronto on Tuesday and, as coach Pete DeBoer told Richards, they didn’t show up ready to play last night in Ottawa until the third period. That’s not a the way they started the season, but since the first four games or so, they’ve been less consistent in the effort department.
Higgins did get his first goal of the year in their too-little-too-late comeback attempt, but Florida has now lost three of four, and is only avoiding the Eastern Conference basement because the Devils are playing even worse.
The good news is this team, in the early stages of a rebuild, starts with a direction — something it lacked in the last few years — in the person of Dale Tallon, who was hired as general manager last spring.
Tallon knows how to cobble together a shattered franchise. He assembled a big chunk of the Blackhawks team that won the Stanley Cup last year, and while he may have had some rough patches when it came to things like salary cap management there, he was wise enough to find good help in Florida when he hired Michael Santos away from Nashville to be his assistant GM.
The bad news is that the Florida fans are weary of rebuilds.
The team that will skate at the Bell Centre on Saturday lacks a proven big finisher. With David Booth out most of the year with post-concussion symptoms and Nathan Horton unhappy, they finished last season with only 208 goals, fewest in the league. With only 21 goals in their eight games, including six in one game against Tampa Bay, they’re not exactly burning up
the scoresheet this season either.
Horton has gone to Boston, Booth — a 30 goal scorer two years ago — is back and contributing, but this is still a team that has yet to display a dynamic offensive side.