The fifth week of the National Hockey League season was another disappointing one for the Florida Panthers, who played 0-2-1 hockey to finish up a five-game homestand. At 4-7-2 through 13 games, they’d better get this thing turned around soon if they want a shot at the playoffs.
Florida Panthers’ Week That Was
Lightning Shock Panthers into Submission
When you score five goals against the top-ranked team in the NHL, you can generally expect a pat on the back for a job well done. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Bolts scored more, winning 8-5 in Sunrise Monday evening.
The Cats chased the Lightning around the ice, looking like the Washington Generals as the Bolts skated circles around them. Florida gave up preventable goal after preventable goal, while managing a pitiful 23 shots of their own. The top line of Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov and Jonathan Huberdeau continued to shine, but they were let down spectacularly by the rest of their squad.
Blue Jackets Sting Panthers
Despite the 7-3 score, the Panthers were able to go shot for shot with the Blue Jackets, right up until the wheels came off late in the second. Vincent Trocheck tied the game at 8:43 but, just 28 seconds later, the Jackets’ Oliver Bjorkstrand put Columbus ahead again.
The goal resulted in the pulling, for the second straight game, of goaltender James Reimer in favour of newcomer Antti Niemi. It also seemed to deflate the Panthers, who never really recovered the competitive fire they’d shown up until that point. Columbus would add three more markers to further suck the life out of the floundering Panthers.
Rangers Come Through in Clutch
The Cats actually started rather well in this one, fending off the advances of a hungry New York Rangers team eager to make up ground following a disappointing start to the campaign. After a tight-checking first period, in which the Panthers made good use of their highly aggressive forecheck but were unable to capitalise, Florida’s energetic fourth line slid home two goals in the second. Unfortunately, on both occasions, the Rangers were able to answer back and quell the momentum, courtesy a pair of seeing-eye point shots. New York gradually took over the game from there, finishing with a 44-34 shot advantage. Though the Panthers did manage to tie the game at four late in the third period, Kevin Shattenkirk ended the game in overtime on an odd-man rush.
Florida Panthers Weekly Takeaways
If this past week taught us anything, it’s that the Florida Panthers have no idea how to play defense. They scored 12 goals in three games; any team that averages four goals per game should expect to win, nine times out of 10. The Panthers did not win once, coming away with only a single point from the trio of matchups – all three of which took place on home ice, I might add.
The cause? Well, despite the bountiful scoring, they allowed 20 – yes, two-zero – goals in those three games. And it’s not as if the goaltending was particularly poor; yes, when you give up eight, seven and five goals, you’d like it if your goalie had helped you out a bit. But this isn’t on James Reimer or Roberto Luongo (or even newly acquired Antti Niemi, for that matter. Poor guy’s probably wondering what he’s got himself into.). This is on the Panthers’ players – and the system in which they play. Utterly unacceptable.
Florida Panthers Three Stars of the Week
Florida Panthers Back at Full Strength
Hooray for health! Colton Sceviour, Connor Brickley, Jared McCann and Roberto Luongo all returned to the Florida lineup Saturday night, and all made their presence felt.
Sceviour, not noted for his scoring, chipped in two goals against the Rangers as part of a very solid game by his line.
Brickley and McCann did not register on the scoresheet, but their presence boosted the efficacy of the Panthers’ third line. Though the Cats still had little trouble scoring with the pair out of the lineup, their return provides the offense with another dangerous scoring line, giving opposition teams three bona fide offensive units to contend with.
Luongo had a very solid game in his return (stopping 39 of 44 shots), though he might have liked some of those five goals allowed back (a point shot or two, perhaps). Regardless, he looked calm and energetic in the Panthers’ cage, and showed no ill effects from his freak hand injury.
A fully healthy lineup is never a bad thing. That said, you’re honestly going to sit there and tell me Owen Tippett deserves to be the odd man out?
Florida Panthers’ Fourth Line
As mentioned, Colton Sceviour potted two goals Saturday night in his return. Derek MacKenzie and Micheal Haley drew the assists on both tallies, an unexpected offensive outburst from Panthers’ fourth line.
The Cats’ scoring depth shouldn’t be a problem, assuming their forward corps stays healthy. But it’s always nice to get contributions from unforeseen sources, such as this speedy trio.
The line, when together, has been reasonably effective, hemming the opposition in their own zone at times and not being a total defensive liability. If they can continue to chip in on offense, they’ll be an ideal fourth line for the modern NHL.
Monday Nov. 6, 2017
The best thing about the last seven days? Monday has arrived and the Panthers can put the embarrassing week that was behind them. They have three very winnable games coming up: the Carolina Hurricanes have underachieved thus far, mostly on account of the fact they still can’t score goals. This bodes well for the Panthers, who wouldn’t know defense if it smacked them in the face. The Buffalo Sabres are enduring yet another dreadful season, and are the only team worse than Florida in the Eastern Conference. And the New Jersey Devils aren’t really for real, are they?
Florida Panthers Causes for Concern
Florida Panthers Penalty Kill
The Panthers have been trying out a new penalty kill system in 2017-18. It ranks 30th.
Yes, yes, they do have four shorthanded goals, tied for fourth in the league. But still. A big issue is the lack of pressure they put on the point-men. The Cats tend to have three defenders down low and only one up high.
The majority of teams either have two players stationed at the top of the zone on the power play, or else have one up high and two on the half-boards (roughly at the top of the faceoff circles) for an umbrella setup. This means that, though the Cats might have man-to-man coverage down low, they are woefully outnumbered up high.
This configuration, combined with the aggressiveness the coaching staff desires, allows opposing teams to essentially play catch in front of the one beleaguered penalty killer tasked with chasing them about. The power play team thus has a very easy time setting up high-percentage shots from the point area.
The Panthers allowed five goals on 12 opportunities last week, meaning they only killed off 58 percent of their penalties. Of these five goals, four were a direct result of a wide-open point-man, one of whom was Steven Stamkos, you know, the 60-goal scorer.
The Rangers added another such goal, though it came just after the expiry of a penalty.
I understand what the Panthers are trying to do: clog up the middle of the ice to defend against plays off the cycle, and dare opposing teams to try and get their point shots through. Sounds good in theory, but it’s been a complete failure on the ice.
The Panthers ranked second in penalty kill percentage last season. Why the change?
Florida Panthers Caught Unaware
The woeful penalty kill is certainly an issue, but another huge problem contributing to the dreadful defensive results has been their defensive zone awareness – or, rather, the lack thereof.
Take the game against the Lightning, for example. On Brayden Point’s goal to open the scoring, Mark Pysyk was left alone in front of the Panthers’ net to defend against three Lightning players, as the rest of his teammates had flown the zone early.
Or, how about Tampa Bay’s fourth goal, where Ondrej Palat capitalised on four Panthers doing who knows what at their own blue line, leaving only Jamie McGinn to defend against the Tampa attack.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I like Jamie McGinn. But is he really your best bet to play defense? And alone, at that?
No, of course not. But the Panthers have had this issue all year long. They let guys get behind them and then forget all about them. Don’t get ahead of yourselves, boys.
NHL Players’ Radio Silence
Keith Yandle was mic’d up Saturday night, something which is always amusing. Not so much for what the players say, but for what they do say that we aren’t allowed to hear.
There was a goal celebration shown on the broadcast that was nearly entirely silent. Presumably, there was some sort of problem with the mic. It couldn’t possibly be because of salty language now, could it? Foul-mouthed hockey players? Well, I never!
Henrik Lundqvist: King or Despot?
Is it just me, or does Henrik Lundqvist blame one of his defensemen for nearly every single goal against? It seems that, as his skills begin to decline, he is lashing out more and more at his teammates.
Now, let’s not pretend the Rangers’ defense corps has ever really been that strong during King Henrik’s tenure in the Big Apple. And I do understand his frustration, especially when the clock is ticking for him to win a Stanley Cup.
But come on, man.
If it’s this obvious to people watching on television, what must he be doing that we don’t see?
Florida Panthers’ Week Ahead
Tuesday: Carolina Hurricanes – Away (4-5-3)
Friday: Buffalo Sabres – Away (4-8-2)
Saturday: New Jersey Devils – Away (9-3-1)
Peter Ferrell covers the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs, with a side of jersey and logo (over)analysis, for The Hockey Writers.