We are just past the quarter point of the season and the Florida Panthers are dangerously approaching a repeat of last season. Another slow start this year has put pressure on the team and coaching staff to duplicate the efforts of last season’s second half performance, which fell short by one point. To a man, the theme at training camp, and the beginning of this season was in essence, “we cannot afford another slow start. We know what we did last year, and we can’t afford to repeat it”. Yet, here we are again. In danger of missing the post season. A travesty for a team that has so much talent up front, but seemingly not enough in back. Similar to last season.
The Panthers after 29 games sit at a measly 28 points. Are last in the Atlantic Division, 14th in the Eastern Conference, and 7 points out of the final wild card playoff position. They would have to climb over Ottawa, Carolina, the New York Rangers, the Detroit Red Wings, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Montreal Canadiens to grab the second wild card spot. That’s a very tall ask. Is it doable? Yes. Well maybe. Um, yeesh, that’s a lot to ask again isn’t it? But a lot of things have to go right, and a ton of things have to go wrong. Despite having games at hand with some teams, even if the Panthers win those games, it may not be enough.
I’m going to use some information that our own Alex Lopez used on Twitter today in this article, so much of the credit for what’s in here goes to him.
CAN THEY REPEAT LAST SEASON’S SECOND HALF PERFORMANCE AGAIN?
In order to match last season’s point total of 96, the Panthers would need to go on a 30-15-8 run. That’s a 105 point pace to finish out the season. You have an injured Vincent Trocheck out of the lineup, but we have Mike Hoffman essentially in his place. However the Panthers have only won 3 games since Trocheck has been hurt. He may not have started off the season with his best performance, but he chews up ice time, hustles, and creates scoring chances. Now that he’s out with injury many of those minutes are being given to Aleksander Barkov. A repeat of last season is a lot to ask, and insane to think it could happen again. Yet, it looks like it will need to happen. Again.
TOO MUCH ICE TIME
Barkov is averaging 23:09 per game. Connor
McJesus McDavid is second, averaging 22:42, but he doesn’t kill penalties. Barkov plays on both special teams, and those are hard minutes. Barkov who is clearly the best defensive forward the team has is going to be gassed by the All-Star break at this pace.
THE DREADED THIRD PERIOD
Much of the issues this year has been the inability to close out games. Tuesday night in St. Louis, the Panthers played a team that is so frustrated with themselves they’re fighting each other in practice. The Panthers allowed the Blues to score 4 goals in the third period, and lost 4-3. Defensive lapses, mental mistakes, and the inability to take advantage of scoring chances led to the loss. The Blues didn’t play all that well, but played well enough to beat a Panthers team that ended up beating themselves. The Panthers have been outscored 37-22 in the third period this season. Their record going into the third period with the lead is 7-2-3. They’ve missed out on 7 points, which would put them at 35 for the season. Which is exactly why the “at least we got a point” theory isn’t working, and at this point can’t be accepted. On the recent homestand, the losses to Chicago, Tampa and the Rangers are examples of what we’re discussing.
Now, get this, which Alex discovered: The Panthers record of 2-5-1 heading into the third period when tied shows that they’ve only picked up 5 of a possible 16 points. When you combine these two scenarios, the Panthers have picked up 21 of a possible 40 points in games that they’ve either had the lead, or are tied going into the third period. Not good enough.
WE MISS TROCHECK
Back to Trocheck for a minute. He’s 6th on the team in scoring with 14 points, and hasn’t played in 11 games. That speaks volumes for the lack of depth in scoring. Read on……….Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson are tied for 7th with 13 points. Jared McCann who’s been seeing a lot of ice time on the second line is 9th with 11 points and Frank Vatrano and Nick Bjugstad are the only other forwards with 10 or more points. We have a depth problem, which we had last season, but this season it seems worse.
Maybe the overall evaluation of the team wasn’t accurate. When Trocheck and Bjugstad were healthy, the forwards were seemingly better than last season, and that includes the addition of Mike Hoffman who came as advertised. Is also includes Troy Brouwer, who’s been seeing some ice time late in games because Boughner trusts him in those situations. With both Bjugstad and Trocheck now out of the lineup, someone needs to step up, and so far we’re not seeing it. Denis Malgin and Dryden Hunt have been given numerous chances but haven’t delivered.
IT’S TIME TO MAKE SOME MOVES
Anthony Greco who was called up from Springfield gets to make his NHL debut Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild. Greco went to high school in Minnesota and will be on the third line with Juho Lammikko and Dryden Hunt. Boughner indicated today that there could be other moves made to infuse some energy. It may also be time to give Henrik Borgstrom a look. Borgstrom who didn’t have the best training camp, started out on fire in Springfield, has cooled off slightly, but still has 22 points in 23 games played. However at this point, if you’re not going to put him on the second line as center, then maybe we shouldn’t bother. His skill can’t be wasted on the 4th line for sure, and we can probably all agree that he can be an upgrade over Jared McCann who’s ideally built for a third line role. Jayce Hawryluk is another player that could be given an opportunity. With 28 points in 24 games, he’s primed to blow past his 36 point total of last season, which he accumulated in 64 games.
The realization at this point is that right now, the season is going to slip away if the Panthers can’t put a string of wins and points together. It’s not too early to say that either. If there’s going to be a turnaround it needs to happen Thursday night in Minnesota. Not an easy building to play in for a visiting team. The Panthers however need to play with desperation. With fire in their eyes. And with ants in their pants.
THE DEFENCE NEEDS TO CLEAN UP IT’S ACT
I’ll say this much. The inconsistency of play on the blueline has contributed tremendously to this seasons problems. At times players like Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad have shown flashes of brilliance, as has Mike Matheson. However, those moments have been overshadowed by the combined units brain cramps coming at the most inopportune times. Turnovers, bad penalties, being out of position, and unaware of who’s on the ice have given each defender a moment of disappointment and sometimes embarrassment. It appears at times they’re playing as individuals and not as pairs. The Panthers want their defenders to join the rush and be more offensively involved, yet they haven’t figured out when not to, and that’s what’s costing them. And just for the heck of it, a little physicality wouldn’t hurt to be shown. By someone. Anyone.
The slow starts to games, and the appearance of playing not to lose must stop. Most of the roster has been been here long enough to have learned the system. If things don’t start moving in the right direction, there’s going to have to be some decisions made, and some of those decisions may not be popular. Yet the organEYEzation must be completely honest with itself, and figure out a way save this season. The Panthers can ill afford to miss the playoffs and it looks as though it could happen. However, they need to find out if their youth is ready to play at this level. The fact that some of the players aren’t contributing enough begs the organization to do something now.
There’s a lot of hockey left to be played, but the Panthers have again painted themselves in a corner. Giving a few of the youthful players a look to see if they can be difference makers will tell everyone a lot. Bring up Borgstrom and Hawryluk. Give them and Greco till the All-Star break. If by then things haven’t changed, then the team will know what needs to happen. And popular or not, moves will need to be made.
Thanks for reading.
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