The law of averages states that things eventually even out; the Florida Panthers better hope that happens soon. Despite playing relatively well, the team still came out of the third week of the 2017-18 National Hockey League campaign with a 1-2-0 record, putting them 3-4-0 on the season, good for sixth in the uber-competitive Atlantic. Add to that the loss of Roberto Luongo, and the Cats really must be wondering when they’ll catch a break.
Florida Panthers’ Week That Was
Panthers Bullied on Broad Street
Florida took the game to the Flyers in the early going, at one point holding an 11-1 shot advantage to start the game – a stretch which included a Philadelphia power play. Michal Neuvirth was absolutely outstanding in the Philly net, as was Roberto Luongo for the Panthers, who soon faced a barrage of Flyer shots that evened the totals after the first period.
The wheels came off in the second, though, as the Cats ceded four goals to the relentless Flyers. I say “ceded,” because the defensive coverage off the rush was utterly atrocious, with three goals the direct result of Florida defenders pushing up and letting guys get behind them, and the other the result of blown coverage by a backchecking forward.
To add insult to injury, Valtteri Filppula’s empty net goal came off a Florida faceoff win, with Nick Bjugstad winning the draw so cleanly it went straight back, all the way down the ice into his own net. The Panthers probably deserved a better fate, but mental lapses and a hot goalie wasted a pretty good effort overall.
Championship Pedigree Strikes Again
As (relatively) even as their first matchup was, the Panthers-Penguins rematch was…less so. Early Florida pressure and a shaky Matt Murray vaulted the Panthers to an early 2-0 lead, but the Cats soon got complacent and the Penguins capitalised.
The Panthers were soon stifled offensively, thanks to Pittsburgh standing their ground at their own blue line, something to which Florida never really adapted. The Panthers also got shredded by the Penguins’ power play, giving up three goals on four opportunities. The Cats took a beating in the shots department, too (48-31), even despite a late-game offensive push. And all this on home ice with the last change, and also while holding a dominant (58 percent) advantage in the faceoff circle.
As much as the first meeting was a tale of Pittsburgh winning a track meet, their 4-3 victory this time around was a clinical deconstruction of the Panthers’ system by the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions.
Panthers Capitalise in Washington
Now, let me say that, yes, I saw the shot totals (42-23 for the Capitals) and yes, I saw the scoring chance numbers on the broadcast. Honestly though, I feel I can count the Caps’ legitimate, Grade-A scoring chances on one hand. Granted, Florida didn’t have many either but, for once, they capitalised when it counted.
There were certainly some scrambly moments around the Panthers’ cage and the goal by Capitals rookie Christian Djoos was a thing of beauty but, overall, the Panthers played a calm, controlled defensive game. Three to four Panthers players were in place to disrupt Washington zone entries and, when the Caps did manage to get set up, the Panthers made sure to keep themselves between the puck and the net, forcing Washington to pile up the shots from bad angles and way outside.
Saturday night in Washington was probably the best defensive effort of Florida’s season – anchored by a rock-solid James Reimer, and the Panthers were rewarded with a 4-1 win against the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners.
Florida Panthers Weekly Takeaways
So, on the bright side, yet again we see that the Florida Panthers are fully capable of hanging with the best teams in the NHL. However, yet again, we also see that poor execution of their system of play can have disastrous consequences.
I hate to keep harping on something that might take until Christmas to get sorted out, but it’s hard to see anything else as the primary driver of the Panthers’ frustrations. Players seem either overly hesitant or overly aggressive, with no one quite sure yet what exactly their responsibility is.
On the bright side, the upside of Bob Boughner’s new system is frequently evident, as well. It’s the reason the Cats have dominated some of the league’s best for long stretches of time. It’s the reason they’re worth the price of admission for Florida fans, and worth a look for fans of other teams on a night off. And it will no doubt be the reason they’ll make noise down the stretch, once they’ve tightened and polished what they’ve only just begun.
Florida Panthers Three Stars of the Week
Be honest: Owen Tippett is your Be-A-Pro, your Create-A-Player. It’s like someone’s used all their attribute points to max out his speed, stickhandling and shot power. I know he only played two of the Panthers’ three games this past week but, man, is he ever fun to watch.
Sometimes, you just need someone to shoot the puck, and Tippett is that someone, posting seven shots on goal (in less than 12 minutes of ice time) in his debut against the Flyers. I can’t wait to see him as a full-time NHLer.
Both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer had wonderful weeks between the pipes for the Panthers. Luongo was hung out to dry against the Flyers, but played reasonably well, all things considered – particularly in the first period, which ended scoreless. He followed that up with an excellent game against the Penguins, at least until he jammed his right hand in a collision with Conor Sheary. Luongo is set to miss at least a week, but Cats fans can take solace in the fact he looked energetic and on top of his game last week. Let’s hope that continues.
As for Reimer, he took the loss in Pittsburgh, despite only allowing one goal on 12 shots in relief of the injured Luongo. The game against the Capitals was the best I’ve seen him this year; Reimer was technically perfect against a barrage of bad-angle shots and held the line on a number of net-front plays. It took Christian Djoos’ spectacular individual effort to dent Reimer’s armour, and the affable Manitoban shut Washington down the rest of the way.
Goaltending was a sore spot for the Panthers early on this season, but Reimer and Luongo seem to be settling in nicely to the 2017-18 campaign.
I think Dadonov has been the Panthers’ most consistent forward thus far this year. Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck are certainly worthy of consideration, but I really like Dadonov’s all-around game. He’s a frequent visitor to the Cats’ own zone, often swooping all the way back to the corner to help his teammates win battles and recover the puck. And on the offensive side of things, he always brings energy and enthusiasm to the Panthers’ attack, often creating something from nothing.
For example, in the game against Pittsburgh, he entered the Penguins zone as his linemates changed, making it a one-on-five situation. Instead of dumping the puck and giving up possession, he danced around the Pens for a bit before casually flipping a backhand pass to an onrushing Barkov. A symphony of creativity, Dadonov does not shy away from the physical game, either, battling through checks and bouncing right back up. I think his pump-fake goal against the Caps says it all.
Florida Panthers Causes for Concern
The Power Play
Despite scoring once against the Flyers and twice against the Capitals, the Panthers’ power play concerns me. In Philadelphia, the game was far out of reach when Jamie McGinn notched his first as a Panther. In Washington, one goal came off the rush and the other off a broken play.
The lack of movement once Florida gets set up is really what concerns me. The Cats have been so good this year at keeping their opponents’ defenses in disarray at even-strength, using a blend of relentless forechecking and liberal activation of defensemen. But, for some reason, all the movement seems to stop on the power play. The little that does occur happens out near the blue line at the top of the umbrella, so far out it’s almost inconsequential.
The Cats had better get moving if they want to succeed with the extra man.
The lack of support Florida’s centres are getting in the faceoff circle is shocking. Philadelphia and Pittsburgh both scored goals that were direct results of Panthers players not providing the support to win – or, at the very least, scramble – a draw.
It looks lackadaisical, to be honest. The Cats have proven they know what to do when they have the puck, but their lack of enthusiasm for gaining possession off the draw is worrisome for an otherwise exciting team with boundless energy.
Good things happen when faceoffs are properly supported; Trocheck backed up Barkov on a shorthanded draw against Pittsburgh, and the Panthers gained possession and ended up getting a chance out of it.
I suppose the silver lining in the Roberto Luongo injury is that it’s not his hip? It’s still a shame, though. The 38-year-old was playing some fantastic hockey, the best I’ve seen since his probably-should-have-been-a-Hart-nominee 2015-16.
James Reimer’s career-high in games played is 43, a number limited not by ability, but by injury. With Luongo out, Harri Sateri has been called up to back up Reimer. This is what I was worried about. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for Luongo.
Has anyone noticed the ADIZERO jerseys, especially the whites, are almost sheer? You can clearly see the fight strap and a good bit of the players’ equipment through the sweaters.
Also interesting is the fact the upper shoulder area is mesh. Because, you know, of all places you need ventilation whilst doing vigorous cardio, it’s your delts. I feel like both Koho and CCM, when they had the contract to outfit the NHL, also had mesh on the jerseys, but under the arms. That at least makes sense.
Florida Panthers’ Week Ahead
Tuesday: Montreal Canadiens – Away (1-6-1)
Thursday: Anaheim Ducks – Home (3-3-1)
Saturday: Detroit Red Wings – Home (4-4-1)
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.