Ever since the Florida Panthers lost their horse on the blueline, Aaron Ekblad, to a horrific leg fracture, they also lost a cornerstone piece to this team’s roster and their power-play dominance. Before Ekblad’s absence, the Panthers’ power play was one of the best in the league. An essential part of the team’s overall game. Yet, with their quarterback out for the rest of the regular season, the Florida Panthers must do something to save their struggling power play.
Florida’s Power Play Lackluster Without Aaron Ekblad
Heading into the weekend, the Panthers find themselves in a very tight race for first place in the Discover Central Division. The Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning are all battling for that top spot. There is no room for error.
Now that the Panthers have less than a quarter of their games remaining, they must face off with both Carolina and Tampa to end the regular season. Over the next 13 games being played, the Panthers have four against Tampa and two against Carolina. In a division where first place may matter more than any other, the only way Florida will succeed is if they can get their power-play back on track.
Leading up to Ekblad’s injury, the team was cruising along at a respectable 23.9 percent. The top power-play in the league, currently, belongs to the Hurricanes at 28.2 percent. The Panthers were right on track with the top teams in the league. Heck, if that were their power-play percentage now, they would be top ten in the league. It would most likely be even higher if Ekblad were still playing, as well. Unfortunately, they do not have Ekblad, and they most likely won’t for the rest of the season. Ever since they lost him on March 28th, the Panthers’ power play has dropped off the face of the earth. Between March 30th and Friday night’s games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Cats find themselves at a brutal 3/30 on the power-play. That is just a ten percent completion rate. You will not win many games with that.
Possible Solutions for the Power Play
With 12 games left, all without Aaron Ekblad, the team must do whatever it takes to get their power play back on track before heading into playoffs. One of the hardest things for anyone to do in the National Hockey League is score goals. You cannot win games if you cannot put the puck in the net, especially if you have a man advantage while doing it.
What are the possible solutions? If somehow the Panthers can make it to the Stanley Cup finals, they could get Ekblad back into the lineup. Yet, that is still several months away, and the Panthers have to find a solution now. Many people have looked to Gustav Forsling as that “offensive defenceman.” With ten points in 31 games, he has played exceptionally well at both ends of the ice, but he is not the offensive threat people believe him to be.
Before the deadline, the Panthers did bring in Brandon Montour to help boost the blueline. As a player who likes to jump up and be involved in the rush, Montour could be a solution. But only time will tell, considering he played in his first game with Florida on Thursday night.
Besides putting five forwards on the ice once Carter Verhaeghe returns from injury, the next best bet for the Cats would be to put MacKenzie Weegar as the quarterback on the power play. Legitimately, he is playing some of his best hockey yet; Weegar is not afraid to shot the puck, has a fantastic vision on the ice, and patience and poise with the puck. If nothing else, it will not hurt to at least give him a shot up there.
The Power Play Will Take You All the Way
Looking back at the past ten Stanley Cup winners, five of those winners finished with a power-play over 20 percent. With that, only three of those teams had a power-play completion percentage below 16 percent. Those teams with a subpar powerplay were Chicago in 2013, Los Angeles in 2012, and Boston in 2011. You could say those teams got lucky or “hot” at the right time. Yet, in comparison, those three teams had a much stronger roster than what the Florida Panthers have on the ice now. At the same time, anything can happen once a team makes it into the playoffs. A team that struggles to play with a lead will not get far without an efficient power-play.
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