While the final month of last season was riveting as the Panthers battled for, and ultimately captured, the first Southeast Division title in franchise history, the final month of this lockout-shortened season offers no such drama.
So with the Panthers sitting last in the NHL standings with 24 points, how will they approach the final 15 games?
Coach Kevin Dineen said Monday they will aim “to keep our competitive level extremely high.”
“I said from Day 1 that I wanted a quality, healthy environment and I don’t think that’s always fun. It’s no fun right now. We’re not having any fun,” Dineen noted. “On the other hand, we’re still making strides to try to make this a place where we’re still making efforts to get better no matter what our situation is.”
Winning would conflict with the Panthers landing a high draft spot and a prospect that could impact the franchise’s future for many years to come, though “that is not even in my thinking,” Dineen said, which is understandable. As much as some fans might want a team to tank for the sake of the future, players and coaches don’t think that way.
“We all have an incredible amount of pride, and I honestly believe in the logo and the team and what we’re trying to accomplish as a group,” Dineen said.
There’s also this problem not going as hard as possible the final month: You don’t want enable a culture of losing.
Especially after the progress made last season.
“It’s not a situation you enjoy being in, but hopefully we want to get some positives going the rest of the season,” said defenseman Brian Campbell. “The biggest thing is that hopefully everybody knows it’s not acceptable, especially with a lot of young guys in our lineup. To be successful, this isn’t acceptable. I don’t care how many injuries we have or what’s going on.
“We’ve played better lately,” Campbell continued. “We need to build on that and keep getting better as a team. We want to work for each other, and also know that the situation we’re in is not right or acceptable for our team. Hopefully guys that are new in the league or been on other teams realize we expect more from our team and organization.”
Losing is new territory for Campbell, he noted Monday, and as you might imagine, “I hate it.” The veteran has been on a playoff team the past seven seasons since the last lockout, winning the Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
“You want coming to the rink to be fun every day, and a lot of times that’s from winning,” he said. “It hasn’t been fun at times [this season], but personally I’m just trying to stay positive and work hard and help this team get where we need to be.”
Campbell said of the Panthers’ struggles this season: “Some nights I don’t think we were working smart enough or working hard enough in some areas compared to other teams. We’ve straightened that out a little bit, but there’s still a ways to go.”
He added, “I hate that it’s been in this organization for too long that, ‘OK, you’re losing games. It doesn’t matter.’ Well it does matter. That tide needs to be changed. That’s the frustrating part. We had such a positive last year and then you go to this.”Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times