"We've got the horses in the room," said Panther captain Derek MacKenzie. "We've got to be better. It starts with me."
Such words are expected from a captain and leader. But in reality it's not true.
MacKenzie plays hard every night and serves his role as a 4th line player well. It's the "scorers" on this team that have gone ice cold.
When you look at the team that got destroyed 5-2 by the Rangers last night, it's hard to believe it's the same group that beat the Predators, Sharks, Ducks, Kings, and Blues in consecutive games on their last big road trip.
It's a slippery slope to walk in deciding why a team that had all the momentum in the world coming home for eight of nine games after that trip are now 1-5-1 over their last seven, killing all the feel good emotions after the western swing.
At that time, there was no reason to think this team wasn't going to climb the Atlantic standings quickly. They were finally healthy and everyone was upbeat.
Then the world came crashing down in a series of bad breaks and disappearing scoring, putting the season in a potentially irrecoverable tailspin.
The anti-Tom Rowe crowd, of which is the majority of Panther Nation, will put the blame almost entirely on him. Logic says that is misguided since it is the same coach and systems that also created the incredible winning streak on the road.
Love for most of the players and hatred for coaching/management easily clouds the judgement of even the most reasonable people sometimes. The blame cannot be entirely on one person, players, or management.
Some will say the defense is too soft, although offensively they are one of the best in the league.
Others will say Erik Gudbranson being shipped away took all the toughness this team needs right now.
There are those that wish Kulikov was still wearing Panther read instead of Pysyk, but that is based clearly on emotion since Pysyk has been a better player and very solid for Florida all season.
The "what if Gallant was still here?" crowd thinks that the former head coach would have this team firmly in the playoffs right now despite it taking 51 games to get healthy as a unit. It's hard to agree with that, but this line of thinking is a direct result of the hatred for Rowe being so intense fans will look to anything to justify their disdain.
At the end of the day, the team has won when they execute the current systems, and lost when they don't. Without question what is being coached works...WHEN EXECUTED.
The Panthers have over 120 shots over the last three games but only four goals to show for it. Yes the number of shots is a result of many harmless David Booth-like shots from the boards, but still. The Panthers simply aren't scoring, even with gaping open nets.
Can the coaching staff be blamed when the players are in position to succeed but are missing nets, hitting posts, or shooting it into the goaltender's logo? Of course not. But that won't stop the masses for blaming Rowe every time an odd man rush fails to convert or a bizarre deflection gets buy Reimer/Luongo.
The good news for the haters is that no organization in its right mind will continue the status quo if the playoffs are missed. The bad news is enduring the reality that the locker room may be lost.
It's not that they lost to a superior team last night, which the Rangers clearly are, but it's HOW they lost. Except for the first five minutes of the game Florida was clearly outplayed even if they lead in shots.
In a game they absolutely needed to come out flying they looked largely flat. Such a performance is absolutely unacceptable at this time of year, and it's not certain any line changes or rah rah sessions are going to change the negative trends surrounding this team.
MacKenzie's quote above is important. The horses are in the room. They have succeeded in the past. They aren't now. Yet the masses want to put the blame on a person not on the ice.
Every player in this locker room knows they are better than their recent results, no matter the systems. Sticks are being held tight right now with the season on the line. There isn't much fun being a Florida Panther player or fan right now.
One way or another there will be a reckoning. The team might go on an unexpected run to secure a playoff spot or flop all the way to the finish, forcing changes the masses are clamoring for in terms of coaching.
But for now it's a bleak, depressing outlook for this year's chances. More questions than answers in March are usually never a good sign.