The Florida Panthers are hitting the final three games of a nine game home stand tonight as the Boston Bruins roll into South Florida. In what was a very unusual scheduling set up, the nine game homestand hasn’t been as kind to the Panthers as everyone had hoped. With 18 available points, the Panthers have only obtained 6 in the first 6 games as they’ve been anywhere from disappointing to frustrating while accumulating a 3-3-0 record.
Earlier in the season the complaint was that the Panthers were giving up too many goals, which they were. The blame for many was placed mostly on the shoulders of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. That was unfair as team defence needed to “shoulder” some of that blame, but that’s water under the bridge right now. As of late, Bob has been outstanding! In his last four starts his GAA has dropped from 3.48 to 3.14. His save percentage has risen from .884 to .899. He’s given up 5 goals in those 4 games, yet the Panthers are only 2-2.
That’s because now the offence has lost it’s ability to……well……generate offence. I’m not buying the hot goalie theory either. Sometimes you just have to say the other team is collectively playing better than you, and it was noticeable especially against Tampa on Tuesday and the Islanders on Thursday.
Tonight the Panther face a Bruins team that is on a five game losing streak! While they have a 12-1-5 record at home, they’re 8-6-1 on the road. Yet because of their fantastic start to the season, they are still first in the Atlantic Division, leading Buffalo by 8 points, and the Panthers by 11.
Tonight’s game is a big one. I dislike calling games in December must wins, but this one is. Boston is a good team, and the Panthers need to beat a good team. The last good team they beat was Philadelphia by a score of 5-2 way back on November 19th. By good team, I mean one that as of today is in a playoff spot.
Now the Panthers with their recent Jekyl-Hyde behavior find themselves out of a playoff spot, and that needs to be rectified soon because they can’t be chasing teams . Here’s five suggestions on what could help them get out of their funk and back in the hunt for a Stanley Cup. Remember if you’re aiming for just making the playoffs your goal isn’t big enough:
- Shuffle the lines. It’s just time to switch things up a bit and see if a change of scenery can help a couple three players. The lines could look like this, assuming no player movement from Springfield:
I already know what you’re going to say. Is he nuts? Boyle on the second line? Here’s why. Vincent Trocheck hasn’t been doing much scoring wise, and moving him to the third maybe jump starts that line because the bottom six scoring hasn’t been good. Boyle played fairly well when he substituted for Trocheck on the second line when Vinnie was out of the lineup briefly. Also it gives the second line some size and sandpaper against other teams second scoring line. The fourth line is better with Acciari on it, and while he could play on the third, he was brought here to play on the 4th. As for the top line, moving Connolly up ads a little bit of physical presence which is needed. It’s not perfect, but I’d like to see what these combo’s would do because currently if you shut down Huberdeau-Barkov-Daddy, there’s little firepower. Adding Connolly to the top line also gives them a forward with some snarl. They don’t have that now, and I think it would change their dymanic.
2. Split Yandle and Ekblad. Forever. The Yandle-Ekblad pairing has shown to be a defensive liability most every night they’re together. Both are gifted offensively and both are very adept at pushing the play offensively. However when it comes to defence, they’re not good together as they’re both not willing to be physical and while one is slower than the other, the other who isn’t as slow is even less physical. This hurts to write, and I’m sure it hurts to read. Here’s how the pairs should be. Until there’s movement:
3. Stop passing so much. Remember last season when Bob Boughner had a stern discussion with Jonathan Huberdeau telling him to shoot more? Well, it’s time for that discussion again to everyone whose last name isn’t Hoffman, Vatrano or Connolly. Huberdeau, Barkov and sometimes Dadonov are very guilty of trying to make the perfect play, looking for the perfect set up, and playing too “cute”. It’s got to stop, and these players need to be a little more selfish, and a lot more goal hungry. Also Trocheck has to stop trying to carry the puck in by himself 90% of the time when he has it. I don’t care if you dump it in, get pucks deep, and then go get ’em. The infatuation of being nice to your linemates or from trying to do too much by yourself is hurting the scoring chances. One and done on most of your offensive rushes won’t win hockey games.
4. Have a more determined forecheck. I remarked several times about how I liked the style of play shown by the Carolina Hurricanes. They’re fast for one, but they are relentless on the puck. They try to keep you deep in your own zone, forcing mistakes. The Minnesota Wild play a very similar style, as do the New York Islanders. This causes the opposition to have to make quick decisions, and potentially have the puck less because they always have someone right on top of them. Also, these three teams are very good at clogging up the middle of the ice, not giving their opponent much room to move, but when you make a mistake, they pounce on it. The Panthers system is built on puck possession which is also a style I like. What I don’t like is the lack of pressure when they don’t have the puck. At least it’s not very consistent, and when that happens, the opposing teams have too much time to set up.
5. It’s time for a veteran defensive defenceman who brings snarl. The blue line is just too soft. And I mean that in the most respectful way. It’s just not their style, and when the organEYEzation decided to listen to Tom Rowe and go for a blue line that was built on moving the puck and be damned with physicality, this is where the problems began. That was almost four seasons ago, and the Panthers still have not made that work. Now in order to make a trade you need a trade partner, and that’s not easy. Good defencemen are extremely difficult to find, and when they are available you wonder if something is wrong. Drew Doughty isn’t the answer. While his toughness and leadership would be a great addition, his contract has quite the anchor on it. Zach Bogosian wants out of Buffalo. He’s being paid slightly over $5 million per season, and in his 12 year career has only played more than 80 games once. He’s also a UFA at season’s end. Beyond that, I don’t know of any names that could be had for what we need. Yet somewhere there’s a blueliner that can help. The Panthers just need to be willing to part with enough of what the other team wants in order to get him.
Honorable mention: Stay out of the sun, off the beach, away from the golf course, and do not leave Broward County (meaning stay away from South Beach) for the rest of the season whenever you’re in town. Tough to deal with? Too bad. The distractions, and there are many, have been a problem for years. I don’t know if they’re a problem this season, but to make sure, those things need to be off limits. Keep your minds focused on hockey. When you have finished that deep playoff run, you’ll appreciate it.
If this team is going to compete for a Stanley Cup, they’ve got some work to do. Barkov, Huberdeau and Ekblad are heading into their primes. Bob is in his. The window of opportunity will be slammed shut if they can’t get this going.
Let’s start this new attitude with a win tonight.
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