Loss of Mezei could be big for Panthers
Much of the reason the Florida Panthers sit tied for 8th in the Eastern Conference playoff race can be attributed to their improved defensive play under new coach Jacques Martin.
The Panthers allowed 2.70 goals against per game in 2003-04, which placed them 22nd in the league. This season, they've allowed 2.75 goals against — a number that ranks 10th in the NHL this year.
I said in my season preview that Florida lacked enough defensive depth to make the playoffs, something I still believe despite the strong play so far from their young blue line.
That depth took a hit today, when it was announced that 6-foot-5, 235 pound Branislav Mezei would miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. A clean, hard hit from the Rangers' rookie sparkplug, Ryan Hollweg, on Wednesday night was the culprit.
Now, that may not sound like much of a loss to the casual hockey fan, but Mezei was fourth in icetime on the Panthers and was regularly lining up beside Mike Van Ryn at even strength. He also brought some much-needed size and physical play to the team and was tops in plus-minus among Florida defencemen (and second on the team to only sophomore standout Nathan Horton).
A blue line that was already squeezed is going to be pushed even harder.