The second week of the 2017-18 National Hockey League season is in the books, and the Florida Panthers, just like in week one, played seven days worth of .500 hockey. Well, when I say seven days, I mean two games worth, for the Panthers, once again, only played twice. Only the Carolina Hurricanes (three) have played fewer games than the Panthers’ four.
Florida Panthers’ Week That Was
Caterwauling Defeats the Blues
The Cats took advantage of a sloppy St. Louis Blues team, defeating them 5-2 last Thursday night. The Blues actually outshot the Panthers 39-38, but many of these shots came on St. Louis power plays against a very porous Panthers penalty kill.
Thankfully for the Cats, goaltender Roberto Luongo had a spectacular outing, holding the Blues at bay until the Panthers returned to even strength, where they utterly dominated. And the penalty kill did provide them with a goal, as Colton Sceviour’s aggression turned the puck over, enabling Vincent Trocheck to swoop in and score his second of the season.
Penguins Freeze Out Cats
Saturday night was not all right for fighting after all, as fans were treated to a track meet between the Panthers and host Pittsburgh Penguins. You might think that running and gunning with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions would be a bad idea…and you would be right.
The Penguins, like the Blues, picked apart the mindlessly aggressive defensive zone coverage of the Panthers, only the Pens were able to convert on the resulting opportunities. A furious Panthers comeback late in the third, spurred on by some fine goaltending from James Reimer, fell just short, with the Cats losing 4-3, despite outshooting Pittsburgh 46-33.
Florida Panthers Weekly Takeaways
Despite their defense bending considerably under the weight of some prime competition, the Panthers held their own for most of the two games. If nothing else, they got a first-hand demonstration against the Penguins of how well their new system will work when it’s properly polished.
The style of play Bob Boughner has brought to South Florida seems very similar to that which has yielded two Stanley Cups in two seasons for Pittsburgh. The Penguins, too, can be very aggressive in the defensive zone – and on the penalty kill, preferring to spend as little time there as possible. The Panthers could learn from the rigid discipline instilled within the Pens’ system, ensuring that pursuit of the puck does not create liabilities elsewhere in the defensive zone.
Related: Florida Panthers First Impressions
Florida Panthers Three Stars of the Week
Third Star: Connor Brickley
Connor Brickley continues to earn his keep, with two assists against the Blues (including a brilliant cross-ice pass against the flow of play to set up Ian McCoshen’s first NHL goal.
The slow-developing 25-year-old has distinguished himself on Florida’s most impressive line thus far this season, skating alongside the energetic Jared McCann and the resurgent Nick Bjugstad.
Second Star: Roberto Luongo
After stinking up the joint in the season-opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Luongo had a phenomenal outing against the Blues. As with the game against the Bolts, the Panthers’ dominance meant Luongo was left dormant for extended periods of time.
However, unlike in Tampa Bay, Luongo was able to cope with the inactivity, performing admirably when finally called upon. He was the Panthers’ best penalty killer, and made up for a variety of Florida gaffes, including some cringeworthy turnovers and the Tyke-era problem of too many teammates converging on too few opposition players. The game against the Blues was probably the worst of the Panthers’ four thus far, but Luongo made it look the best.
First Star: Aaron Ekblad
After a worrisome start, Ekblad seems to be settling in. This past week saw him play a much quieter game on defense, and look much more poised and assertive with the puck in his own zone.
The offense has already arrived, with Ekblad scoring twice in two games by jumping in off the right point, once on a one-timer and once with a bar-down howitzer. He also came within inches of tying the game against the Pens, ringing one off the post late in the third.
Even with his struggles in the first couple games, Ekblad has been on the ice for just three even-strength goals against, and the Cats have absolutely dominated when he takes a shift, holding a 69-45 (plus-24) advantage in shot attempts with Ekblad in play. Yes, yes, small sample size and all that, but impressive nonetheless.
Florida Panthers Causes for Concern
Sceviour was beaned in the head by Patric Hornqvist late in Saturday night’s game, leaving the ice and not returning.
Now, I like Hornqvist, but it was a bad hit. I wish I could show it to you, but I can’t find a league-approved piece of media showing the incident. Oh, you hadn’t heard? The NHL is cracking down on videos and GIFs that are not league-approved. Instead of, you know, cracking down on headshots.
In an ideal world, Hornqvist would be receiving a call from the NHL Department of Player Safety, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
Penalty Kill Defensive Zone Coverage in General
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say the Blues and Penguins ice two of the more talented power plays in the NHL. I wrote last week about the drawbacks to the Panthers’ all-out aggression on defense. These two games further highlighted the need to harness that aggression, lest teams more experienced and or more skilled pick them apart, as did Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
The Blues had seven (!!!) shots on their first power play – and experienced similar results on the man-advantage as the game went on, and the Penguins got two goals from last year’s Rocket Richard Trophy winner – and perennial best player on Planet Earth – Sidney Crosby, who was left wide open on both occasions (one goal came on the power play and one at even strength).
It’s also worth noting that, against the Blues, Vladimir Sobotka was also inexplicably left wide open for a chance on goal but, you know, it’s Vladimir Sobotka and not Sidney Crosby, so it turned out a little better.
Shoot the Puck!
Florida’s top line needs to shoot more. Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov and Jonathan Huberdeau look like the Harlem Globetrotters out there but, all too often, choose to pass up an open look and dish to a teammate. For goodness’ sake, Huberdeau’s initial instinct when he received the puck in the slot against the Penguins was to find someone else to give it to. He couldn’t, so he decided to be boring and score a goal.
These guys are the top line for a reason: they’re the three best offensive players in the Panthers lineup. But there’s only one puck, y’know? At some point, someone’s gotta be selfish (if you can call scoring goals “selfish”) and put it in. Too cute out there, boys. Too cute.
Has anyone else noticed that the stickers on the Panthers players’ helmets are of the old logo? Icethetics reported when the Panthers’ uniform overhaul was unveiled that a streamlined version of the old, Leaping Panther crest was part of the redesign. So maybe it’s still considered part of the branding suite?
While we’re on the topic of helmets, how many concussions are caused (or, at the very least, contributed to) by the insistence of hockey players – really, of all athletes in helmeted sports – to bump heads to celebrate goals and wins? It seems like a pretty easy thing to do away with.
If Sceviour can’t go Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, will we see the NHL debut of Owen Tippett? The man-sized (six-foot-one, 200-pound) 18-year-old has been a healthy scratch the first four games for the Panthers.
Florida Panthers’ Week Ahead
Tuesday: Philadelphia Flyers (3-2-0) – Away
Friday: Pittsburgh Penguins (3-2-1) – Home
Saturday: Washington Capitals (3-2-1)– Away
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.