Wear and tear of long road trip catches up with Panthers in loss to Oilers
SUNRISE, Fla. — The doors to the Florida Panthers dressing room remained shut for an extended period of time after a disappointing 3-2 shootout loss to the lowly Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night.
The loss, which came just a week after Florida’s decisive victory in Edmonton, pushed the Panthers’ losing skid to three games — their longest such streak since early November.
"A game we need to win," Panthers captain Willie Mitchell said after the closed-door postgame meeting. "We didn’t work hard enough. As a player you owe it to your teammate to leave it all out there. I don’t deny our want to win as a team; we just weren’t nearly good enough in all aspects.
"Not a mature enough game by us tonight."
For the majority of Saturday night, the Panthers certainly looked their age. Not as individual players, but as a team. Passes were sailing wide and assignments were being missed. Communication was shaky and a slew of cringe-worthy turnovers were the result.
Heading into the third period up 2-1, it was a Florida turnover at center ice on the power play that led to Oilers forward Matt Hendricks’ short-handed tally to tie the game and eventually send it overtime.
"We had a real bad game again tonight, got outworked in every aspect of the game," said Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant. "[Roberto Luongo] bailed us out to get that one point. We were definitely not good enough."
You should never look at any game as an easy win in the NHL, but it’s teams like Edmonton, who entered Saturday night’s contest riding a franchise-record 14-game road losing streak, that the Panthers need to show they can dispatch consistently if they hope to remain relevant in a crowded Eastern Conference playoff picture.
So what went wrong for the Panthers on Saturday night in game they were expected to run away with?
Well, coming off a season-high six-game road trip through Western Canada, Gallant believes that perhaps the wear and tear of life on the road finally caught up to his team.
"I don’t make excuses, but I think our team looked really tired tonight from that long trip and I think, today, it really hit them hard," said Gallant.
Playing on tired legs, one of the Panthers season-long woes was amplified as the team failed to convert on three separate power-play opportunities with the game tied in the third period.
"It’s frustrating, there’s no doubt," Gallant said of the power play. "The players are getting frustrated, but you just keep working, your work hard, your work hard at practice, talk to the guys and hopefully it’ll get better."
As it stands now, the Panthers 13.2 percent conversion rate on the power play is good enough for 29th in the league. Their 2.3 goals per 60 minutes at even strength, however, places them 14th in the league, which makes their special teams ineptitude even harder to understand.
"We seem to lose battles (on the power play), 5-on-5 we don’t lose battles," said Gallant. "When we get the 5-on-4 it seems like we"re in our position standing there, and when there’s a loose (puck) battle we don’t give the same effort."
Earning a point in defeat, the Panthers did gained some ground on Boston in the playoff race after the Bruins fell to Columbus on Saturday.
Still, the Panthers know that they can ill afford to be leaving points on the table.
"We definitely wanted these points at home," said Panthers center Nick Bjugstad. "We beat ourselves. We need to score on the power play and giving up a short-handed goal is huge. That kind of put us away for a little bit. It wasn’t good.”
Playing host to Vancouver on Monday, the Panthers will get their final opportunity before the All-Star break to prove that they can be better.