Cat Bites: Lack of effort, wins have Panthers at critical point

You could almost envision Florida Panthers coach Kevin Dineen re-enacting a locker room scene from “Slap Shot.”

“Get out there on the ice and let ’em know you’re there,” player coach Reggie Dunlop, played by Paul Newman, tells his squad between periods. “Get that stick in their side. Let ’em know you’re there! Get that lumber in his teeth. Let ’em know you’re there!”

Except in Florida’s 4-0 loss to the St. Louis Blues Friday night, few could tell if the Panthers were there beyond going through the motions.

“We’re at the point now that it is not about skill for this group anymore,” Dineen said. “It’s about us trying to find the guys who are going to give us the best effort.”

GM Dale Tallon appeared visibly frustrated in the press box following the contest. Dineen’s post-game comments were nothing short of blunt.

Tomas Kopecky sat in his stall long after the locker room cleared out, exasperated by the result.

“Unless you outwork the other guy, regardless of who you are playing against, you cannot win on talent,” Kopecky said. “The battle level has to be much higher. If we start winning with 50-50 pucks, I’m telling you, we’re going to win  hockey games. We need to start paying attention to the little details, and winning those little battles, myself included.”

Dineen is respectful of his locker room in that he refuses to single out individual players for poor performances. But it spoke volumes Friday when he highlighted the effort of just three players — not even by name, rather by number — in criticizing the poor performance of his squad.

“Tonight we probably had three competitive players — 17, 18, 43 were our most competitive guys,” Dineen said. “That’s not enough to drag the whole group along. If we can’t get everybody to compete harder than we did tonight, then we’ll just stumble along, we’ll get our wins here and there.”

Although changes to the lineup Saturday resulted in a more competitive, physical showing against the Washington Capitals, Florida only picked up one point in the 3-2 shootout loss.

The Panthers remain seven points out of an Eastern Conference wild card slot and 11 points out of the top 3 in the Atlantic Division.

For a team that has not won a game in two weeks, that is a significant amount of ground to make up. Florida is reaching a critical point in its season.

Dineen has gone already utilized line changes, reduced ice time and benching as punishment. Calling up youngsters from San Antonio, Florida’s American Hockey League affiliate, could be an option, especially with a number of them having gained NHL experience last season.

Conference bottom dwellers Philadelphia and Buffalo are already shaking things up. The Flyers fired their coach three games into the season, while the Sabres traded four-time 30-goal scorer Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders.

How long can the Panthers stick with the status quo before some kind of move — a player placed on waivers, a prospect called up, a trade — takes place? Or will the message Dineen has sent to his players all season finally sink in?

“You’re playing in the best league in the world and you’re absolutely privileged to be in this league,” Dineen said. “There’s no entitlement.”

Game-used collectible

What is the going rate for an NHL player’s tooth these days?

New York Islanders forward John Tavares yanked a tooth on the bench earlier this season, as did Pittsburgh Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis.

Add Krys Barch to the list of amateur dentists.

Saturday night against the Washington Capitals, Barch dislodged one of his loose choppers while sitting in the penalty box. Only after doing so, he offered it as a souvenir to a Capitals fan sitting alongside the penalty box.

Scott Norton, Barch’s agent, showed a little concern about the tough guy’s decision to part with his tooth so easily, suggesting the unique memorabilia could fetch a bit more on the Internet.

On the farm

San Antonio Rampage coach Peter Horachek has found a solid combination in Vincent Trochek, Panthers free-agent signee Bobby Butler and 2009 fourth-rounder Garrett Wilson.

Trochek, in his first pro season, has averaged a little more than a point per game in his first nine contests. Florida’s third-round pick in 2011 leads the San Antonio in goals (5) and points (11). He shares the team lead in assists with Greg Rallo.

Wilson, who split time between the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones and Rampage last season, has picked up two goals and four assists in his last three games for San Antonio.

Goaltender Michael Houser, meanwhile, improved to 3-0 and boasts as a 2.33 goals-against average and .917 save percentage for the Rampage.

— On the college front, 2013 second-round pick Ian McCoshen contributed a unique highlight reel save to help preserve Boston College’s 3-3 tie with Minnesota on Oct. 25. The freshman defenseman charged the crease and flung a loose puck out of the air with his glove before it fell into the net.

Looking ahead

Florida take on the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday before heading out on a three-game road trip. The Panthers face the Boston Bruins Thursday evening, then face back-to-back contests with the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers over the weekend.

The Cats return to Florida for one game against the surging Anaheim Ducks the following Tuesday before heading out on a 10-day five-game trip that takes them to Minnesota, Colorado and through western Canada.