The Florida Panthers struggled to gain any traction during the fourth week of the 2017-18 National Hockey League season. Yes, they came away with a record of 1-1-1, which is not at all disastrous. However, they had two real opportunities to take advantage of divisional foes they should probably beat, and only came away with a point.
Nevertheless, the team is, offensively at least, firing on all cylinders heading into this week, in which they play three games in the friendly confines of the BB&T Center to finish off a five-game homestand.
Florida Panthers’ Week That Was
Panthers Habitually Sloppy
The Cats rolled into Montreal with all the cards: the Canadiens were struggling to do anything right, and Florida was coming off their best game of the season. And what did the Panthers do? They blew it.
After a terrific start necessitating some all-world saves from Carey Price (who robbed Aleksander Barkov blind on two occasions), Keith Yandle rifled one home early in the second to give the Cats the lead.
It was all downhill from there. After giving up four goals in the second period to the Philadelphia Flyers the week previous, the Panthers allowed three goals in 1:35 in the second against the Habs. The Canadiens added two more in the third to take the game 5-1.
The Canadiens didn’t exactly deserve the win; yes, Carey Price finally looked like Carey Price, but the Panthers served up most of Montreal’s goals on a silver platter, putting in a shockingly poor defensive effort. Were it not for James Reimer, the score would have been much worse. But even then, behind the current iteration of this defense, a save or two would not go amiss.
The Panthers had a glorious opportunity to walk away with two points from a floundering divisional rival. Instead, they walked away with their tails between their legs.
Anaheim’s Wounded Ducks
This time, the Panthers took advantage of what was handed to them: Anaheim was missing literally half their defense corps, and it showed. The Cats pumped eight goals past the Ducks’ goaltenders, who were utterly hung out to dry by the team in front of them.
Owen Tippett scored his first NHL goal and Radim Vrbata had a hat trick in the Panthers’ 8-3 win, but the game was not without irritants for Panthers fans, most notably, the defensive sloppiness. Some can, no doubt, be attributed to score effects, but the game was not quite as one-sided as the score would suggest. The Ducks had the Panthers on the run in their own zone on a number of occasions, but James Reimer was up to the task.
I also felt the Cats were trying to play a little too much hero ball, particularly on zone entries. Everything went in for them against the Ducks, but it won’t always be that easy.
Enough raining on their parade; it’s a five-goal victory on home ice. Not a bad way to start the weekend.
Motown Blues in Sunrise
To close out their week, the Cats lost 3-2 in a shootout to the visiting Detroit Red Wings. The Wings’ speed was evident early and often, and probably explains why they are very much in contention in the Eastern Conference, after the majority of prognosticators had them on the first bus to Tanksville.
But as mind-blowingly good as this game was for long stretches, with two fast, talented teams playing river hockey, the real story of the game was the goaltending duel between Jimmy Howard and James Reimer. Howard was absolutely phenomenal, particularly during his team’s six penalty kills, and stopped all three shots in the shootout. Reimer had one get by him in the shootout to ice the game for the Wings, but put in an entry for Save of the Year during regulation time.
The Panthers looked good against the Red Wings, and carried the play for much of the tilt. They put a lot of pucks to the net and created some Grade-A chances for themselves, but just could not convert often enough to bury the Wings. Detroit was opportunistic in taking advantage of Florida’s structural breakdowns, and no doubt left South Florida grateful they’d hung on to Howard this summer, as he was really the only reason the game was close.
Florida Panthers Weekly Takeaways
If the Panthers can ever put together a tidy week or two in their own zone, they’ll vault themselves into contention in the East. However, until that happens, we’ll have to be content with a highly entertaining team whose on-ice results are a coin flip, every single night.
Florida Panthers Three Stars of the Week
Top Guns a-Blazing
The Panthers’ top line of Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov and Jonathan Huberdeau was absolutely spectacular. After some early struggles to find twine (read: utterly refusing the shoot the puck), the line notched a combined five goals and 12 points, and could have had several more, were it not for some damned fine goaltending by Carey Price and Jimmy Howard.
Jaromir Jagr gave the line a puck-possessing flavour, allowing them to use their size and stickhandling to wear out the opposition. Replacing Jagr with Dadonov has turned the line into less a cycle-based concoction, and more one of sublime speed. They look good on paper, too, generating 60 percent of total shot attempts when they’re on the ice together. Just stomping the competition.
Panthers’ Team Play
The Panthers are certainly gelling offensively, but are also building a solid identity on the ice. This past week saw both Alex Petrovic (against the Ducks’ Nick Ritchie) and Aaron Ekblad (against the Wings’ Justin Abdelkader) jump to the defense of teammates victimised by reckless play. Michael Haley, too, got into the act, with a spirited tilt versus Josh Manson of the Ducks. This camaraderie is heartening to see, especially for a squad that’s had so much turnover in personnel.
Keith Yandle’s had a very quiet start to the season. Yes, he provided a nice drop pass to Brendan Gallagher to set up the latter’s goal Tuesday night but, by and large, he’s been the offensively inclined, defensively sound top-pairing rearguard the Panthers envisioned after signing him to a seven-year deal worth $6.35 million per season. Thus far, anyway.
On a more interesting note: for the month of October, he’s been using a rose gold stick to raise awareness of breast cancer, a stick he used to rip one by Carey Price Tuesday night. Very cool.
Introducing the Rose Gold Super Tacks 2.0 in support of breast cancer awareness. Keith Yandle will be using it tonight. pic.twitter.com/CRxJOSCpZj
— CCM Hockey (@CCMHockey) October 14, 2017
Florida Panthers Causes for Concern
Well, when I say “causes,” there’s really only one:
Defensive Zone Coverage
The Florida Panthers’ defensive zone coverage has all the integrity of a politician selling used cars. Good gracious, it’s bad.
Everyone is so focussed on the puck they seem to have no idea of what’s going on around them. Whether it’s a product of the Cats’ new system or their (relative) youth – or both, aren’t these the fundamentals you grow up learning?
Opposition teams are making it look easy out there.
Florida Panthers’ Sweet Goal Song
It’s good to hear from Jimmy Eat World; the Panthers use Sweetness as their goal song.
Anaheim Ducks Favoured, but Not Favourites
The Anaheim Ducks have been Western Conference Stanley Cup contenders for what seems like forever. But does anyone really want them to win? They remind me a little of the highly competitive Vancouver Canucks of a few years back. Yes, they were a fantastic team, but was anyone outside British Columbia really cheering for them? Some teams are just unlikable.
What took the Red Wings so long to re-sign Andreas Athanasiou? The dude’s freakin’ electric, and was literally the only player on the Wings that stood out Saturday night. He’s very clearly Detroit’s best player (I say, after watching him for a grand total of 15 minutes and 14 seconds).
Everyone knows about his blinding speed, but the fact he’s six-foot-two makes it all the more terrifying. Think of him as Michael Grabner (or, since we’re talking about the Red Wings, Darren Helm – who makes $2.5 million more than Athanasiou, despite the latter eclipsing Helm’s career-high in goals in only his second season), only without having to fall ass-backwards onto the scoresheet.
Have fun with that next contract negotiation, Detroit. You played yourself.
Florida Panthers’ Week Ahead
Monday: Tampa Bay Lightning – Home (9-2-1)
Thursday: Columbus Blue Jackets – Home (7-4-0)
Saturday: New York Rangers – Home (3-7-2)
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.