Panthers Playoff Demise a Result of Special Teams & Missing Stars

The Florida Panthers entered the postseason on top of the NHL with the Presidents’ Trophy and an Atlantic Division title. In addition, they won their first playoff series since June of 1996 against the Washington Capitals 4-2. Unfortunately, they exited the second round in the worst possible way, as they were swept by their cross-state rivals in the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Blame can be sent up and down the lineup, including the curse of the trophy, but their two biggest flaws were their lack of execution on special teams and their stars inability to step up when the lights shone the brightest. As a result, they have to think about how it went wrong all summer long.

Panthers’ Special Teams Were Anything But Special

Through the playoffs, the Panthers had 26 power play opportunities and capitalized on only one of them, a goal by Sam Reinhart in Game 3. This was shocking considering they were the fifth-best power play in the NHL at the end of the regular season. When it came to their penalty killing, it wasn’t that much better as they allowed at least one power play goal in all but two games in the playoffs.

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In the playoffs, good teams make use of the chances they’re given on the man advantage. For the Cats, going one for 26 a man up throughout your entire postseason is the definition of unacceptable if they wanted to make the deep playoff run they were hoping for all season long.

Barkov & Huberdeau Went Ghost in the Second Round

Throughout the entire regular season, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau were electric almost every time they touched the puck. For Huberdeau, his season was Hart Trophy worthy as he amassed 115 points (30 goals, 85 assists), which led the team in scoring and was second in the league overall. In addition, he became the first Panther player to have a 100-point season.

Jonathan Huberdeau Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the case of Barkov, he showed why he was one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL, as led the team in goals with 39. In addition, he was tied for second in the league in short-handed goals with four. As a result, he was once again nominated for the Selke Trophy.

But in the playoffs, it felt as if they weren’t even playing on some nights. For Huberdeau, he only had five points (one goal, four assists) through 10 playoff games and only tallied two points in the second round. By weight of comparison, in his last playoff series against the Lightning in 2021, he had 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in only six games.

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Barkov had a similar situation, as he tallied seven points (two goals, five assists) and was third on the team in overall playoff points. However, he only managed to get one measly point in the series against Tampa, a power play assist. Much like his teammate in Huberdeau, he also had a great playoff series last year as he had seven points (one goal, six assists) in just six games in 2021. After signing a $10 million per year deal this past offseason, this is a horrible look. “Barky” would typically lead the team by example, but he was a passenger all series long against the Bolts.

What Now?

With the heartbreaking way the season ended, the Panthers are currently in a tough position after going all-in on this past trade deadline and free agency. Forwards Claude Giroux and Mason Marchment will be unrestricted free agents (UFA) this July and they’re currently in cap hell as they’ll be taking an over $6 million dead cap hit from the buyout of Keith Yandle’s contract. In addition, it is still unknown if interim head coach Andrew Brunette will return behind the bench next season.

As a result, they may look to shore up cap space to stay competitive in the Atlantic Division while also looking at potential coaching options. General manager Bill Zito stepped up massively last offseason and trade deadline to provide the talent and staff to get the team in the position they’re in now. With this one coming up, fans should have confidence in him that he’ll get the team the help it needs to hopefully repeat the same season in 2022-23, but with more playoff success.