For quite some time, the Florida Panthers struggled mightily trying to find chemistry while under coach Kevin Dineen. With constant line shuffling night after night, there was never that one line the Panthers’ could ever really count on. Watching errant pass after errant pass send the team into a frantic style of chasing the puck around the ice, the Panthers were looking as if the days of having four solid lines were far behind them. Under current Head Coach, Peter Horachek, the Panthers may not have four lines that are dangerous, but have begun to step into the right direction by building chemistry to start anew. Enter Florida’s first line combination of Sean Bergenheim, Aleksander Barkov and Brad Boyes. A line that continues to plague their opponents with a barrage in the offensive zone, with shots, crisp passes and puck possession, while still working hard in their own zone as well.
When looking at this line it certainly has it’s own storylines that make this unit so interesting. Bergenheim returned to action this season after missing last year with an abdominal injury. His commitment to the team and his career were questioned by Dineen and it was unknown what type of condition the 29-year old Finn would be in. A player that looked destined to be another guest in the Dineen doghouse was given a second chance by Horachek. As his ice time has steadily increased, Bergenheim has begun to look as if he has returned to his “Mr. Playoff” days. His hard work on the ice to regain his confidence and rediscover his game have not been in vain. Coach Horachek has even gone on to call Bergenheim “One of his favorite players”. Not bad for a guy who had a question mark hanging over him with his previous coach. In his last five games, Bergenheim has notched five goals, two of which were on Florida’s 30th ranked power play. The Helsinki, Finland native has 12 points (9-3-12) in 27 games this season and is ranked second on the team in goals.
Boyes has made his name in Florida for being a shootout hero, boasting a league best 36 goals all-time in the shootout and scoring five out of eight attempts this season. Boyes’ season has been a back and forth of falling in and out of favor with the coaching staff. His intensity (which maybe he can spell better than Bobby Ryan) has been questioned and his defensive play has been called out as well. The truth is when he is on his game, Boyes is one of Florida’s most effective players. With a team leading 11 goals this season, Boyes is also ranked third in points with 19 (11-8-19) and first on the team in plus/minus with a plus-4 rating. With his performance thus far, Boyes is proving to be one of Tallon’s best signings. Signed out of training camp on a pro-tryout, Boyes rides a one-year contract worth $1 million. In his last three games, Boyes has five points (2-3-5) and is plus-3, showing his skill at both ends of the ice.
The final piece to the puzzle that is Florida’s first line, is arguably the team’s best player this season. The 18-year old, Barkov pulls it all together for the line and has been the rock in Florida’s offense this year. His consistency is incredible for his age. Barkov is far and away the team’s hottest player right now. The Finnish rookie has been on a tear lately, currently riding a five game point streak, worth six points (1-5-6) and ten points (3-7-10) in his last ten games. Barkov’s game goes beyond point production. Barkov is second on the team in takeaways with 22 and is 49.8% in the faceoff circle. Barkov’s team leading 21 points (7-14-21) has fans excited about his future and his potential to be a top player in the league, despite going unnoticed by most media outlets. Barkov is a special player because of his ability to make the players around him better. Bergenheim and Boyes are both playing at the top of their games right now with Barkov centering them. During Scottie Upshall‘s surge in point production during November and early December, it could be assumed that Barkov was the catalyst for that change in Upshall’s game. Since him splitting him up from Barkov, Upshall’s production has waned. With only one assist in his last ten games, Upshall is still playing well defensively but is certainly not the same offensively without Barkov.
The “Killer B Line” is Florida’s top line and recently has proven to be one the league’s top lines as well. Bergenheim, Barkov and Boyes rank fourth in the NHL in even strength goals with eight goals in their last ten games. This resilient trio of forwards are in good company sitting only behind the top lines for the New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks all of which boast at least two All-Stars, while Florida’s line holds zero. In last night’s game against the Nashville Predators, the Killer B’s combined for five points total (2-3-5) in Florida’s 5-4 shootout win, with Barkov earning second star honors for his two assist night over Nashville’s Seth Jones who finished minus-1 with a goal.
With a month full of travel and only three home games remaining in January, the success of this line will be counted on to lead their team back into playoff contention as the Panthers sit nine points out of the wild card. The Panthers match up against the Montreal Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens have fallen to the Panthers twice this season and including their loss to Florida 4-1 on Dec. 29, they’ve allowed 17 goals in their last four games. The Killer B’s will need to swarm the opposition and shake the Habs’ goalie early to make it three in a row against their new division foes.