VanMurph's View: Mid-Season Thoughts
Monday, 01.26.2009 / 12:35 PM ET / Blogs
|Murphy and Vanessa Burch|
Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.
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With the All-Star break concluding, I think now is a good time to stand back and objectively look at the first half of the season. Let’s see what went right, what went wrong, and what’s ahead.
Despite going into the break on a three game skid, we still managed to earn 13 of 18 points through the first 21 days of 2009, posting a record of 5-1-3. We’re one point out of a playoff spot with two games in hand on the eighth place team, and one game in hand on the seventh place team. Basically, we control our own destiny. By most accounts, that’s a great way for a hungry team to come out of the festivities in Montreal, and it’s a terrific launching point for the second half of the season. It’s a situation similar to the ones we generally find ourselves faced with in the final weeks of the season, not the final months. There are 75 days left in the regular season, and the second half holds a lot of promise. They could very well be the most exciting 75 days Panthers fans have experienced in a decade.
Even with the cheerful note on which we’ve begun the new year, I know there are many of you who feel the way I do when you reflect back on the first half of the season. Some of the losses didn’t sit very well; especially when we saw plenty of golden opportunities for much needed points slip through our fingers. Probably harder still, is knowing that with the second half getting underway, we’re playing some pretty tough opponents over the course of the remaining two and half months. The tone for the rest of the season needs to be set in the next 60 minutes of hockey we’ll witness from the Panthers. Our guys are going to have to come out on Tuesday night at home against Philly with guns-a-blazin’. Those two points are very important. Because there are still a lot of games left with tough opponents like Boston, Washington, and Carolina, I think we need to get our confidence level up (and get things started off on a favorable note) by sending the Flyers out of here empty-handed.
Several things went right for us in the first half of the season. Our guys bounced back from numerous injuries to key players, and the help we received from Shawn Matthias, Michal Repik, Tanner Glass, and Kendal McArdle was pretty important, and seemed to spark the team when we needed it the most. As we fight for a playoff spot, let us not forget that just a few months ago we had the worst record in the Eastern Conference, and if it weren’t for the grit of our lineup and the steadfastness of our coach, our season could’ve easily gone down the drain in November.
Here are just a few of the positives I noted in the first half of the season:
- David Booth: Considering he missed a few games with an injury, and yet he still leads the team in goals and points, shows you what a gamer he is. The guy’s just a winner. He’s the very heart of this team, no question about it. He goes out every night and plays like a champion. He loathes dumping the puck in (preferring instead to just drive right through the defense and poke it toward the net) and he gets involved in nearly every battle along the boards and in the corners. I don’t see a single area of Booth’s game that needs tweaking. I’m hoping he doesn’t change a thing. Just keep going out there every night like the Energizer Bunny, and maintain the level of enthusiasm exactly where it is. (Maxed out!)
- Keith Ballard: How much time you got? I could write about this guy all day. In short, you’ve gotta love a player who comes in and, sight-unseen, signs a 6 year deal to play for a hockey club that’s had very little success of late. Then he goes out every single shift and plays with intensity and passion. #2 hits ‘em hard, and hits ‘em often. Then, just to mix it up a little, he’ll skate the puck from coast to coast and rip off a shot, and maybe even get his own rebound. His ability to pinch-in from the point and contribute offensively is exciting to watch, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table in the second half.
- Gregory Campbell: Again, how much do you want to hear? I’ve been a fan of Greg’s for quite a while, and it’s mostly because I’m an admirer of grit. I’m a fan of hard-nosed hockey, and #11 is the best example on this team of that type of game. Mix it up a little in the corners, stand in front of the net and take some abuse, stick a fist in somebody’s nose occasionally, and just for good measure, assist on a bunch of goals, and poke in a few yourself. Soupy is definitely coming into his own, and it’s a pleasure to watch him out there.
- Ville Peltonen: Along with Gregory Campbell and Radek Dvorak, Ville is part of the most exciting line the Panthers have consistently put out on the ice this season. He leads the team in +/- and can regularly be found roughing it up along the boards and generating scoring opportunities. And, since I’m such a fan of grit, did I mention that in the game where the Tampa cheap-shot artist (Evgeny Artyukhin) injured Ville’s knee, he was playing WITH A BROKEN FOOT?
- The Penalty Kill: 12th in the league, with an 82.3% success ratio. I have a lot of confidence in our penalty kill, and it’s an area of our game with which I’m completely satisfied. (The best memory from my Canada trip is of Kamil Kreps on the short-handed breakaway scoring on Mikka Kiprusoff in Calgary)
- Goaltending: Tomas Vokoun and Craig Anderson have had some outstanding games through the first 46. For quite a while, Andy led the league in Save Percentage, and he’s still tied for 2nd with a .930. In order for the Panthers to continue their march up the standings and into the playoffs, T-Vo and Andy are going to have to continue their efforts from the first half.
- Coach Peter DeBoer: I saved the most significant positive for last… Folks, you may not realize it yet, but this coach is destined for greatness. Having been involved in sports throughout my life, I have played for dozens of coaches. Some better than others, but all of the good ones had an innate leadership quality that made them successful. Besides being good with the X’s and O’s, an effective coach has to be able to garner the respect of his players, and instill in them a desire to want to play well for him. Now I don’t have any inside information about the Panthers, I just regularly attend practices, morning skates, and games, like some of you do. And it’s my opinion that Coach DeBoer’s players want to play well, not just for themselves and their teammates, but also for him. He’s the type of coach who seems to get the most from his players by using a mixture of confidence, tough love, and respect.
One of my favorite things about watching Coach DeBoer conduct a practice or manage a game is hearing his rapport with the team. It’s evident from observing their interactions that the players hold him in high esteem, and it’s equally evident that he cares for each member of the team. If you listen closely during a game, you can hear him shouting commands at the players using their nicknames; “Soupy, Stewie, Weisser”, etc. It’s an endearing trait, and one that helps build bonds between coaches and players. Another thing that’s evident when watching practice or listening to interviews is that the players respect and admire Coach DeBoer. As I stated in an earlier blog entry, when Pete’s mapping out a drill or a play on the whiteboard at center ice, all eyes are on the tip of his pen. No one’s gazing up into the stands, or looking down at the ice. They’re all intently listening to what’s being said. To me, that is a clear indication that our guys want to learn what Coach DeBoer is teaching, and they believe that success is to be had if they pay attention and execute his system.
A couple of games ago, I saw three kids holding up a sign in section 119. The message on their sign, and their enthusiasm in displaying it, sum up my feelings perfectly. I didn’t get their names, but I got a photo of their sign for you:
Well, what honest review would be complete without the counterbalance of the positives? So in the interest of fairness, and to keep from sounding like Pollyanna, here are a few of the negatives I noticed during the first half of the season:
- The Power Play: Our inability to put the puck in the net with the man advantage (sometimes two-man advantage) was part of the reason we dropped several games in the first half of the season. Not too long ago, however, the Power Play Unit began to improve, and I’m eager to see how well our guys perform in the remainder of the season.
- Games Against Weaker Opponents: Looking back on a few games from the first half, I see several that could have helped our players mentally, and could potentially have turned the season around if we had come away with a victory. But losing some of those games seemed to have the opposite effect on the confidence level of the team. The games against Atlanta, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tampa (Home and Away), and the New York Islanders are all games the Panthers should’ve won. We are better than those teams, period. Championship teams generally put away the lesser opponents on their schedule. We didn’t consistently do that during the first half. Had we not given up valuable points to the aforementioned teams, our record would be somewhere close to Washington’s. This inability to close the deal with weaker opponents is something I believe will have to change going forward. But just to be clear, I know that every team has bad nights. Detroit and Boston have lost to Toronto, San Jose and Detroit have lost to Nashville, and the list goes on. But we have to consistently beat the teams that are behind us in the standings if we are going to be successful.
- Shootouts: Shootouts are a confidence thing. You’re either confident, or you’re not. Our guys haven’t been very confident on either side of the puck after overtime this season. We’re 2-6 in shootouts through the first 46 games; win just half of the 6 games we lost, and we’re tied for 7th place with games in hand on next 3 lowest teams. My opinion is that once we put a few shootouts in the win column, our guys will muster up the confidence necessary to consistently perform well in them.
- Not Playing 60 minutes of NHL-caliber hockey: Well, that one pretty much speaks for itself. It seemed like there were a lot of nights where the Panthers would take 20 minutes off, and it’d cost them the game. In countless games we’d be up by a goal or two, only to lose the game in regulation. In the second half, I’m hoping for a concerted effort from all 20 guys to give 100 percent night-in and night-out. It’s a lot easier as a fan to accept a loss if you see your team playing well from the opening face-off to the closing horn. The losses after which I go to bed thinking to myself, “What happened in the 2nd period?” are the ones that keep me up at night.
These are just a few of my positives and negatives from the first half of the season. I’m sure there are others on both sides of the equation that many of you are thinking about right now. All things considered, I like where we are, and I like what’s happening with the Panthers. I like our personnel, and I really like our coach. As I said in my last entry: “I have faith in Coach DeBoer, his system, and the 20 guys he sends out on the ice each night. I firmly believe we have the ability to march up the Eastern Conference standings in the second half of this season”. We have a relatively healthy team, not as much travel as in the first half of the season, and a group of guys with 46 games worth of Coach DeBoer’s system under their belts. I believe we’re headed in the right direction.
Thanks for stopping by the blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed this entry. Unless something else comes up in the meantime, my next entry is going to deal with something that has really begun to get under my skin in past couple of years: The local media’s coverage (or almost complete lack thereof) of our sport in general, and our Panthers in particular.
If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at: VanMurph@hotmail.com
Thank you to everyone who emailed me after the last blog entry. It was a pleasure to correspond with each of you.
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