By Doug Johnson
The Swedish Machine, doin’ his thing with the Florida Cats
You know that scene in the Star Wars movie? The first one…or, the fourth one which was actually the first? The one that was good?
Luke and Han are blasting away at all the awful spaceships that are swarming around outside, and Luke is missing and missing and just shooting impotently away, pew pew pew, until he actually gets one? The one that was headed directly toward him in a straight line at about 10 miles an hour? And he’s so happy and Han says “Don’t get cocky, kid”?
Oh, I can hear you all now, sighing “There goes Doug who knows nothing about hockey and is just a huge wet blanket and shut up.” I mean, those very few of you who actually read these things. Hey, I’m super fantastic happy about how the Caps are playing these days, and I loved seeing Nick “Swedish Machine Never Smiles” Backstrom get a hattie in regular season. And we’re playing the Florida Panthers tonight, who aren’t 1/2 the team Tampa is, or us probably, so there’s no need to worry, right?
Call me Eeyore, but I just can’t get too comfortable with this team. As awesome as they are, I’ve just seen too many times great play slide suddenly into crap.
Speaking of, I’ll say this about Sunrise, Florida, home of the Cats: at least it’s not Fort Lauderdale. Since starting in the 90’s expansion, Panthers management have done just about everything they could to alienate their fans… sorta like another professional sports team that’s become a tire fire since being acquired by a certain weasel, which needs not be named. Even down to the location of BB&T arena where we play tonight, which is located literally ACROSS THE STREET from the marshy, anaconda-filled Everglades. Nice move, Panthers.
To learn more about some of the moves we might expect to see in play tonight, we spoke with Todd Little, a big Cats fan and staff writer over at Litter Box Cats. (You can also read my brilliant insights to Todd’s questions here, thanks for asking.)
First, when did you start closely following hockey in general and the Panthers specifically, and what’s the best part of being a Cats fan?
I started following hockey all the way back in 1977. I was born in Miami and have lived most of my life in South Florida, but as kid I lived in Birmingham, AL for a couple of years while the WHA was around and I started following the Bulls. I moved back here before the “merger” between the leagues and adopted the Edmonton Oilers (smart move) as my new team (it had to be one of the four former WHA teams) and followed them until the Panthers were born.
I’ve been a Panther fan since day one. I was at the uniform unveiling, had season tickets in the early days at the Miami Arena, etc. The best part of being a Cats fan is having a team literally ten minutes from my house, especially after following a team in Western Canada for many years. Also, writing for Litter Box Cats the last few years has connected to me a lot of great people who share a common interest, so that’s been pretty cool.
I’m lucky to have lived in Detroit and Washington– two cities that idolize their hockey teams. It doesn’t seem so much the case for the Panthers. How closely are they embraced by the community, and what if anything could improve that?
The team is currently not embraced by the community, outside of the diehards. Years of mismanagement and poor product on the ice has eroded whatever goodwill the Panthers once had. Despite the common misconception around North America, there are plenty of hockey fans down here. The new owners need to win back people that were alienated by past regimes, and a couple of playoff appearances in a row would certainly make that task much easier.
Missing the postseason 17 out of 21 seasons is going to turn off the fan base just about anywhere, especially fickle South Florida. In addition to winning more, the team needs to market itself better and the local media needs to step up and do a better job of covering the team as well.
It’s been tough for the Panthers the last several years, although you’re not doing all that poorly so far this season. You got a new coach in Gallant this season– what’s he done to turn the squad around, and is it enough?
A few things that have improved under Gallant are the penalty-killing, effort (although the team still has too many slow starts in the first period), and accountability. Unlike the past few coaches, Gallant has the luxury of sitting players if needed as the Panthers have finally built up the organizational depth.
The Cats seem to be a lot stronger mentally this season and are a tough out almost every night. If Gallant and his assistants can get the power play working at a middle-of-the-pack level, the Cats will make the postseason. If not, the team’s lack of offense might leave them just on the outside looking in come springtime.
We still miss the Flash up here, and I love watching Jokinen and Bjugstad even though I can’t spell their names. That said, you don’t generate a lot of goals for all the shots taken. Is it a talent issue? Chemistry? And isn’t Luongo getting a little past his sell-date?
You miss Flash? You are more than welcome to him, although he is playing better lately. My feeling is that it’s a talent issue. The Panthers are still lacking natural finishers on the wings. Until that improves they are going to struggle to score more than two goals per game.
As for Luongo, he has been excellent this season. Yeah, he’s no spring chicken, meaning that age could catch up to him at anytime I suppose, but right now, he’s been all-star caliber, a huge improvement over the goal-tending last season.
On paper, the Caps and the Cats seem fairly equally matched, but there’s a lot records miss. What do you see as the Panthers principal asset against the Caps, and vice versa?
The Panthers have been pretty relentless this season. Even if they get down by two or three goals they keep coming and try to get at least a point out of every game. What the Capitals have that the Cats don’t are the game-breakers that can strike quickly to pull two points out of tight game or one where they are getting outplayed.
Prediction time: last meeting we squeaked it out in OT, how do you see this game playing out, and who comes out on top?
It will probably play out the same way, with the game-ending in a one-goal decision for the winner. The Cats offense is better this time around, so I’ll go with Florida taking this one by a 3-2 count.
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.