The Florida Panthers have gone on a recent slide. The team has lost its last three by a combined score of 14-4 to the Phoenix Coyotes, Ottawa Senators, and Boston Bruins. It is not the first three game losing streak of the season – in fact, it’s the third – but it still matches the longest streak of the season. The Panthers continue to have a strong hold on first place in the Southeast, but the upcoming home stand is important in order to get back on track. To close out 2011, the Panthers have the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, December 27, the New York Rangers on Friday, December 30, and the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, December 31. Here are the keys to turning things around.
The Panthers are getting so much needed rest. Of course, this is nothing that they are doing on their own initiative, but it’s helping them nonetheless. When the skates are laced against the Maple Leafs, the Panthers will be playing for the first time in four days. There has not been a three day break since December 16, and in the span of nine days, the team plays five games, which included back-to-back nights in Ottawa and in Boston. The four days off between games will definitely help. The only other time this season that the Panthers have played after four days of rest, they followed a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins with a win over the Tampa Bay Lightening. On the other hand, the Panthers are 4-4-1 on the season after at least three days of rest, but they are 3-0-0 in their last three such games. Hopefully, they can continue the success after a nice break.
On the season, the Panthers have allowed 2.61 goals per game, but over the last three games, this statistic has been much worse. In the last three games, the Panthers are allowing 4.66 goals per game, and this poor play has led to a negative goal differential. The Panthers had enjoyed a positive goal differential until the 8-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, which threw that statistic out of whack. Over the last three games, Jose Theodore has started two – one against the Maple Leafs and one against the Bruins. Theodore has struggled while allowing 6 goals on 36 shots in those two games. He also was pulled in the loss to the Bruins after allowing 4 goals on 14 shots. He’ll need to be better, and he has shown to be able to handle the Maple Leafs. In the Panthers 5-1 win over the Leafs on November 8, Theodore saved 38 of 39 shots on goal. He has had tough luck against the Rangers though. In two games so far this season, he has allowed 7 goals on 42 shots, and he was pulled in the Panthers 6-1 loss to the Rangers on December 11. Against the Canadiens, Jacob Markstrom, who is in the minors now, got the win on October 24. The point is that the Panthers will need better goaltending, and this is without question. The Maple Leafs, Rangers, and Canadiens rank 7th, 9th, and 25th in goals per game this season, so the Panthers will have their hands full.
In four games this season against the upcoming opponents – one with the Maple Leafs, two with the Rangers, and one with the Canadiens – the Panthers are 2 for 17 on the power play for a measly 11.8%. This is far below their season average of 18.8%, which ranks 11th in the NHL. The worst of the power play came against the Rangers. In two games, the Panthers scored on 1 of 11 opportunities. The Rangers do have the 7th best penalty kills in the NHL, but the Panthers will need to do better. The Canadiens also have a formidable penalty kill, which ranks third in the league, but the Panthers were 1 of 3 on the power play in the teams’ only other match up this year. In the tight 2-1 win over the Canadiens, that goal definitely helped. The Panthers will definitely want to take advantage of the Maple Leafs’ weak penalty kill unit, which ranks 30th in the league. There is a definite opportunity to get some easier goals.
The Panthers have no reason to panic, but they have a fantastic opportunity to get back in the winner’s column and extend their Southeast Division lead. They’ll benefit from some rest for sure, but they’ll also need better goaltending and power play shifts. It should be an entertaining end to the calendar year.