Let’s be honest: There’s only one team with a comparable streak of consistency in pro sports to the brilliant run of the New England Patriots.
That’s your Florida Panthers.
You can even argue the Panthers’ feat of barely seeing and not advancing in the playoffs for an NHL-high 22 seasons is more confounding than New England winning enough to make everyone sick.
The Panthers are threatening to more than just make it 23 straight years, too. They’re poised to have their most disappointing season ever if they don’t breathe some oxygen into this 2019-20 campaign.
Think of what’s happening here:
They got the coach everyone wanted.
They got the goalie everyone wanted.
They spent north of $90 million last summer in free agency, filled in holes and filled out hope, and talked all summer like the results would be coming in the time it takes water to freeze.
Here are the results: They’ve lost seven of their past nine games since the All-Star break. They’re four points and a logjam of teams from making the playoffs entering Sunday’s play — a low bar, considering if you just put on skates, you’re halfway there.
The Panthers’ star coach, Joel Quenneville, stood outside the locker room Saturday night and pronounced his team guilty of one of the worst sins in sports.
“We don’t play hard enough,” he said after a 4-1 loss to Edmonton.
The second-winningest coach in NHL history said it flatly, directly, like a judge pronouncing a sentence.
“We’re too easy to play,” he said.
If all this makes you a little sick considering this season’s expectations, step in line. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was sick and missed Saturday’s game.
Maybe the flu is going around?
Or maybe this lethargic effort in contagious. We’ll leave it to the hockey experts to decide if it’s Bobrovsky’s play or the no-show defense of recent years is to blame more for the Panthers giving up the second-most goals in hockey this season.
But what happened to the offense? You didn’t have to grasp the nuances of hockey to understand how the Panthers were being kept afloat.
While their defense has been awful, each game had been a Roman candle of offense. They were scoring the second-most goals in hockey. That’s “were,” as in past tense.
On this post-break slump, they’ve scored the third-fewest goals in hockey. They’ve scored two goals or fewer in these seven losses. They were outscored 10-3 by lowly Philadelphia and an Edmonton team without the league’s best player, Connor McDavid, and four other regulars.
“I think before the All-Star break we had fun,” Aleksander Barkov said. “We played for each other, we battled for each other, we work hard and right now it feels like we’re not first on the pucks, we don’t get there first and all those little things we need to get better at.”
Barkov has one point and one assist in the nine games since the break. This is a time for the captain to save the team. He’s in his seventh year. Same for Vincent Trocheck. Jonathan Huberdeau is in his eighth season. Aaron Ekblad is in his sixth.
It’s fair to ask: If they can’t win this year, will they ever?
General manager Dale Tallon will have something to say with the trade deadline a week away. Tallon marked his 1,000th game as general manager on Saturday — celebrated isn’t the right verb, considering the game.
Tallon is a tough and direct personality. His team looks anything like that. They got outworked again in corners Saturday, beat to the pucks and important spots.
“It’s just not good enough,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t have the puck at all. We had the puck, we’d give it away or we’d lose it, we didn’t support it. We lose the puck battles. They control the game and we’re chasing it all game.”
This story needs some good news so here it is: There’s 24 games left. They start a Western road trip that’s tough geographically more than the measure of opponents. They could win three of five games — they should, if they want to go anywhere.
Then they return home to play Toronto, which currently holds the final playoff spot. Toronto, by the way, is the team with the second-longest streak without advancing in the NHL playoffs. It’s 14 years. Kids’ stuff to the Panthers’ 22 years.
There’s a road back to relevance yet this year for the Panthers, though. The sun is setting on the Patriots’ run of dynastic consistency. Can it, finally, set on the Panthers’ consistent awfulness, too?
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)