Sunday, March 31, 2013
Matthias Leads the Prowling Cats
Bill Lindsay works as a colour commentator for the Florida Panthers. His partner is Steve Goldstein, and they complement each other quite nicely. Lindsay takes a fair amount of good-natured ribbing from Goldstein, and laughs it off easily. Lindsay played for the Panthers in the team’s inaugural seasons, and has been around the NHL many years. He knows the game well, and is able to communicate his knowledge to his audience.
He makes no bones about the fact that Shawn Matthias is having a banner season. Following last night’s overtime victory over the New Jersey Devils, Lindsay summed it up perfectly; “Shawn Matthias can’t wait to get to the rink and lace up his skates”. Game in and game out, the puck continues to follow Matthias, and he has learned what to do with it.
He scored both of the Panthers’ goals in regulation time last night giving him 14 for the year, the last in the dying seconds, after Florida had lifted their goalie for an extra attacker. Lindsay noted in his post-game remarks that Matthias is now being used on the power play, killing penalties, participating in shoot-outs, and playing on a regular shift with Jonathan Huberdeau and Peter Mueller.
Following the recent victory over the Sabres, Matthias expressed his satifaction: “This was a great team win.” When I asked him about the opportunity to notch his first hat trick in the NHL, he commented, “It would have been nice to get a third goal, but Miller had my number in the overtime.”
Huberdeau is on the short list to win the Calder Trophy. He credits his linemates with much of his recent success. He leads the league in several categories, and logs more ice time than all other rookies. His 12 goals in his first 25 games in the league place him in good company. Four other active players have accomplished a similar feat: Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin, and Teemu Selanne. Not too shabby, at all.
Mueller has come into the spotlight recently, because of the way he works with the other two forwards. They are all superb skaters, and regroup quickly in their own zone. They storm the opposition zone, quite often in a 3 on 2 situation, to their advantage. For Panther fans, a breath of fresh air as the season winds down.
They are all big guys: all over six feet and close to 200 pounds. Matthias has become difficult to move from the front of the net, and has added to his point totals by filling the space. For the past couple of weeks, the trio has supplied much of the offense for the Panthers.
It has been a difficult year for the Cats. They had an excellent playoff last season, the first in several years. The lockout seemed to have affected the momentum the team had generated at the end of the season past. But the biggest factor affecting the team this year has been the number of injuries. The Panthers have amassed the largest number of games lost due to injury of all of the teams in the NHL.
The coaching staff has had to make readjustments throughout the year, offensively and on defense, because of the trips to the sick bay. Ed Jovanovski has missed most of this season, and is currently on the shelf with a “lower body” injury. Mike Weaver, another fine blue-liner, has missed the past 16 games. The Cats also dearly miss the services of forwards Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss, now gone for the season. There are several other players who have spent time watching the games, due to injury. It was an expectation, I believe, due to the shortened season, and the lack of preparation in training camp.
The Panthers were also counting on veteran Alex Kovalev to provide leadership, especially to the rookies. That experiment failed dismally, as Kovalev recently decided to hang up the blades, after determining he could no longer cut the mustard in the league.
Rob Ray supplies the colour for the Sabres. He had high praise for Matthias when we spoke during an intermission. "He's really stepped up his game. Good to see."
Stirling's Rob Ray
There are a dozen games remaining for the Panthers. With such a young team, and the potential for good draft picks, there is a bright future for the team.