In the NHL, the end goal is to win a Stanley Cup. There are a lot of factors that must be in place for a team to achieve said goal. Some say heart is essential to survive the grueling trek that is the NHL’s playoffs; others say raw-talent will get you there. Whatever the secret ingredient is for success in today’s NHL, one thing that needs to at least somewhat competent is a team’s power play. Without success on the man-advantage, a team is all-but-destined to fall short of the elusive Stanley Cup. For the Florida Panthers, even this year’s playoffs may be a stretch when game 82 rolls around. A team starved for goals with a struggling power play is a recipe for failure. Despite these weak points, their strong defensive play has kept them in the Eastern Conference playoff conversation at the All-Star break. Will they be able to turn man-advantage into the “advantage” it’s supposed to be?
Look At The Numbers
The last time they had a playoff berth, the Panthers power play ranked 7th in the NHL. The 2011-12 season featured a team boasting an impressive 18.5% effectiveness with the extra man, aided
significantly by the play of two particular players. The now former Florida Panthers defenseman Jason Garrison was an absolute machine, utilizing his heavy slap shot that many Panthers fans coined the “Garribomb”. He managed to tickle the twine 9 times on the power play, finishing second in the league in that category for defenders. A lot of his goals came off of one-timers set up by current Florida Panthers d-man Brian Campbell, who himself had an impressive campaign in ’11-12, finishing 3rd in the NHL in power play points. This combo proved lethal for other teams, as the opposition could see the one-timer play to Garrison happening, but there was little they could do to prevent it.
Unfortunately, that off-season Garrison left for his hometown Vancouver Canucks where he signed a lucrative 6-year, $27.6 million deal, leaving the Panthers without a true weapon on their power play going into the 2012-13 season. Although many anticipated the Panthers proficiency with the extra man to decrease without Garrison, they actually improved, finishing the lockout-shortened season with a 20.4% effectiveness that was good for 6th in the NHL. Without a significant personnel turnover, much of the same was expected for the Panthers in the 2013-14 campaign, but it didn’t quite go as planned. They ended the year dead last in the power play column, converting at only a rate of 10% (4% lower than the 29th ranked team). Power play quarterback Brian Campbell managed only 12 points on the man advantage, a far cry from seasons past.
This year is no different. Despite some significant acquisitions in winger Jussi Jokinen and center Dave Bolland, they sit in familiar position in terms of their power play, currently clicking at a rate of 12.8%, second-last only to the Buffalo Sabres. So what is the cause of these struggles over the last couple seasons? Can it simply be allotted to an aging Brian Campbell losing his offensive touch, or is there a deeper-rooted issue?
What Is the Problem?
Near the end of last season when it was clearly evident that the Panthers would not be anywhere near a playoff position, the likes of Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri and Quinton Howden were called up and/or given significant ice time, including some minutes with the extra man. This resulted in a bit of a hot streak for the newcomers and some late-season success on the power play. Their formula was simple,
put big Jimmy Hayes and his 6’6, 221 pound frame in front of the net and take shots. Surprisingly (or maybe not so much), it worked and the Panthers actually scraped to get their power play up to that even 10% where it sat at the end of last season.
This year, we haven’t seen the same methods of approach. Newly hired head coach Gerard Gallant helped run the Canadiens power play last season (which finished 19th last season)and has tried a multitude of different looks. One of the largest glaring issues is a lack of puck control from the team when entering the zone. As opposed to maintaining possession and moving the puck around, often you will see players going for the old “dump-and-chase” system that just doesn’t work. The opposition loads up their blue line to prevent speed from the neutral zone and leave one defender back to simply pick up the dumped in puck and shoot down the ice. This will happen multiple times a power play without too much of an effort to change it up. Watching these poor efforts with the man-advantage go to waste for a team that has 28 one-goal games this season and is second in the NHL in overtime losses is an extremely frustrating practice to take part in.
Can It Improve?
The Panthers were seen as a long shot to make the playoffs coming into this season, but at the All-Star break they sit 7 points out with four games in hand. Not an insurmountable mountain to climb by any means, but without a successful power play, it might as well be Everest. Whether or not Dale Tallon will look to improve personnel to aid the man-advantage remains to be seen, but if playoffs are the goal for the club this season, he may have no other options.