The circus came to town Monday night.
The Ottawa Senators, the closest thing the NHL has to the Indianapolis Colts, brought its show to the BankAtlantic Center carrying the league's best record, its finest collection of talent and the game's most explosive line.
"The best team in the league," is how Panthers coach Jacques Martin described the Senators during the morning's skate.
And the Senators did nothing to dissuade their old coach.
The difference between the best team in the league Monday evening and the Panthers was big and wide. Think Moose Jaw to Miramar. Peterborough to Plantation.
After playing the Senators even through the first 20 minutes, the Panthers simply couldn't keep up and left the ice with their tongues dragging after a 6-3 loss.
"Unbelievable," said forward Martin Gelinas. "They have a lot of skill. They play as a team. And two of their best defensemen (all-stars Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden) didn't even play tonight."
Exposing opponent's flaws
Yes, the Senators are this good and Monday evening was "an example of what a top team can do," Martin said. It can score when it wants, without two of its best players, and expose an opponent's every flaw.
The Senators seem to have no faults, especially offensively. They've scored four or more goals in 20 of their 25 games and have outscored the opposition 115-52 thanks in large part to their top line of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza.
Senators' coach Bryan Murray has compared that combination to a line of Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Glenn Anderson in 1980s Edmonton. He may not be wrong.
Consider the best line in hockey came into Monday's game with 123 points while their 50 goals were only 16 fewer than the Panther team.
Really, how pathetic is that? Kind of makes you pine for the good old days and a sharpshooter like Andrei Lomakin.
But it wasn't Alfredsson, Spezza and Heatley that killed the Panthers. They accounted for one goal. Seems the Senators are so deep that they can call up a rookie like Brandon Bochenski and watch him score three against Roberto Luongo. "Considering I didn't have three goals in my career . . . it was great," he said.
For the Senators, it all seems so easy. "Everything is going well," Alfredsson said. "We're ready before every game. We play with a lot of excitement. We pay attention to details."
The same can't be said for the Panthers. After winning three of the past five and trying to win their third consecutive game for the first time, the Panthers crashed and burned.
Blame it on the freak play of Bochenski, or the Senators' second goal to tie the score (it bounced off Mike Van Ryn's skate) or the Panthers' losing focus and getting flagged for four penalties in a 16-minute span of the second and third periods.
But, really, the Panthers weren't embarrassed Monday evening. Rather the Senators simply showed the major shortcoming of the team constructed by General Manager Mike Keenan.
Excepting Jay Bouwmeester, Lukas Krajicek and Van Ryn, Martin is playing short.
Eric Cairns played less than five minutes over the second and third periods and Alexei Semenov played less than four in the second period.
Is there any question why this team is folding in the third period and being outscored by a nearly 2-1 margin?
"That's an area that we're trying to find some answers," Martin said. "It's trying to find some help for our younger kids."
Until that happens, until Martin can look down his bench at six competent defensemen, the Panthers will continue to take the pratfalls when the circus comes to town.
In other NHL action: NY Rangers 3, Minnesota 1; Phoenix 5, Atlanta 2.