Ten games into the season and the 2021-22 Florida Panthers are off to their hottest start in franchise history. They are currently sitting at first place in the entire league with 19 team points. The Panthers are continuing their contender status, but is it coming at a price? Even though they are leading the league in Goals For with 41 and the fourth least Goals Against with 21. The Panthers’ special teams, especially the power-play, require a significant overhaul.
2021-22 Florida Panthers Special Teams Must Improve
Heading into this season, the Florida Panthers were deemed one of the better teams in the league offensively. With the addition of Sam Reinhart to the line-up, the team added a guy who has scored a minimum of 20 goals per year after the last few seasons were supposed to be a big bump. Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair were meant to add to that, continuing to improve from last season. And finally, the return of a healthy Aaron Ekblad. It was as if the 2021-22 Florida Panthers were supposed to score on every single power-play they received.
Yet, we sit here ten games into the season, and the power-play is nowhere near that. They are currently tied for 15th in the league with a 21.2 competition percentage. To make matters even worse, the Chicago Blackhawks (31st), Ottawa Senators (29th), Nashville Predators (20th), and the Anaheim Ducks (16th) all have power-play percentages better than the Panthers. Now, it is hard to bash the team when they are one of the top teams in the league. Regardless of how unsuccessful the power-play is, they win games, which matters at the end of the day. But can they sustain this?
Yes, it is early in the season. Very early. They have turned things around after the past few games, but their play on the man advantage is still lacking. Hockey is a game of mistakes. It does not matter what level you are at or who you play against. Hockey is a game of mistakes, and whichever teams make the least amount of them usually wins. When the Panthers are averaging 3.3 power-plays a game and only have .70 power-play goals for per game, something is not right.
If this were the Montreal Canadiens or the Arizona Coyotes, it would be one thing, but it is not. The Panthers have the personnel to get the job done. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, if it isn’t working properly, you should probably fix it.
The Panthers have a total of 21 power-play points. This is not terrible but should be way better all things considered. According to Daily Faceoff, right now their first unit consists of Aleksander Barkov, Ekblad, Patric Hornqvist, Reinhart, and Jonathan Huberdeau. Their second unit is Mason Marchment, Verhaeghe, Frank Vatrano, Gustav Forsling, and Brandon Montour. There is nothing necessarily wrong with these groups on paper. When they get onto the ice, it is a much different story. They try to do too much with the puck and get too fancy. It may be time to switch up the units.
Aleksander Barkov Aaron Ekblad
For the first power-play unit. It may be time to let Huberdeau run the quarterback position. Arguably one of the best passers in the league. Huberdeau is a playmaker through and through. Allowing him to facilitate the puck with these guys may be the best option. Place Barkov and Ekblad on their one-time sides, which is how Ekblad dominated last season. Then follow up with Bennett in the slot and Hornqvist screening in front of the net.
Carter Verhaeghe Sam Reinhart
Mason Marchment/ Joe Thronton
Moving to the second unit, the Panthers need to give their “offensive defenseman” the opportunity to run the power-play. Placing Verhaeghe and Reinhart on their one-time sides as well, the two of them can have a field day taking shots at the net. Taking advantage of Duclairs speed and quick release, placing in the slot could have a Brayden Point effect like it does for the Tampa Bay Lightning (ripping one-timers from the slot.) Lastly, placing Thronton or Marchments big bodies in front of the net to dig away for rebounds are recover lose pucks will be a nice complement.
Florida’s Penalty Kill
On the other hand, the Florida Panthers penalty kill has been fantastic. Led by new Selke candidate Jonathan Huberdeau, the ‘Cats’ power-play has stood tall in front of the opposition. Currently sitting at eighth in the league at 86.8 percent. The Panthers’ penalty kill has gone underappreciated with everything that surrounds the team.
Averaging 8:42 worth of penalty minutes per game, the Panthers have answered the call. With the help from young guys in Anton Lundell and Eetu Luostarinen, they have had no real issue shutting down power-play chances coming from the Colorado Avalanche, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, and many more.
At the end of the day, we are only ten games into the season. A LOT can happen over the next few months. The Panthers can find their mojo and start scoring more and then their penalty kill could struggle. While they have time to work out the bugs in the system. The season will come and go faster than we think, and the Panthers will need their special teams at an all-time high come April and into May.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images