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Florida Panthers Eager for Changes After Rough Start On Roadtrip

Following a terrible start to their Pacific road trip, the Florida Panthers must change to right the ship. The current formula has proven time and time again that it can be dismantled on any given night. And on two consecutive outings, the Panthers opponents have done just that. An opponent’s shut-out sets off the alarms in the coaching department. If it happens twice in as many games then a wake-up call is due for the entire roster and staff.

Nightmare in the Northwest

Every team is likely to drop crucial points throughout an 82-game season, however, Florida has done it in a fashion no one ever wants to witness. Not only did the Cats fall 4-o on back-to-back games at Seattle and Vancouver, they had their fans back at home losing sleep and on high-caffeine doses just to stay off the board. When visiting Seattle, the Kraken entered the game carrying an 8-game losing streak. Of course, streaks have expiration dates and the Kraken would ultimately get back in the win column. But Florida had Seattle looking like the red-hot team from last year’s first round of Playoffs.

Whereas, during the Panthers visit to Vancouver everybody was well aware of the Canucks progress and evolution, both on and off the ice. Nevertheless, one would have expected the Cats to come out game-ready and with a fire lit under them. Neither was the case, although the Panthers created good chances over the first minutes of play. Fundamental errors were committed which should have no place and they turned out to be costly. The Panthers tend to be cautious and take a conservative approach when playing the puck out of their zone, however, teams may have caught up to their antics. The Panthers need to change certain aspects of their game to keep their level of competitiveness. The NHL is based on a “learn and adapt” strategy in which teams need more than one trick up their sleeve and the Panthers seem to be running short in that category, lately.

Back-to-back at Alberta

The trip does not get any lighter for the Panthers. On Sunday night they will face off against one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now. What should be a grueling matchup against the Edmonton Oilers will be followed up by an encounter with old friends, Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, and the Calgary Flames. Historically, both Alberta hockey clubs have been troublesome for  South Florida’s franchise. This visit to the Boreal region of the NHL will be an index point in Florida’s season. For better or for worse.

There is always a poetic halo when the Cats visit the Oilers and Flames. The team that plays just miles shy from beautiful beaches and paradisiac sights stays over at the coldest region. Now, ever since the memorable late-night trade on July the 22nd 2022 every Panthers and Flames encounter means much more. By now everybody knows the story by heart. Tkachuk out-performed Huberdeau at his old workplace and took the Panthers on a magical postseason run. But that is the past, in the present Tkachuk has struggled to score goals in bunches as he did with such ease last season. And the Panthers definitely feel that impact on their play. Is it mere luck or can the Florida Panthers change something to bring Matthew Tkachuk back to his not-so-old self?

Florida Panthers changes to Power Play: Aggressiveness

It is no secret that Special Teams can make or break any team. Right now the Panthers are paying the full price of bad play on the man advantage. When digging deep into the team’s stats sheets, the points totals by their defencemen may come up as a shock. Oliver Ekman-Larsson leads the defence in points with Niko Mikkola trailing just 3 tallies behind. Even on a big screen, the Panthers fans would have to scroll down a bit in order to find Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour. Despite their much-reduced games played totals, their play since return has been far from ideal. Those numbers can help tell the story of the Cats diminished Power Play production.

Last season Montour set a new franchise record for points by a defenceman, with most of the share coming from his contributions on the PP. This season is far from a repeat of such a feat. And this is by no means a problem limited to only the defenceman. The whole unit is lacking explosiveness, aside from Sam Reinhart who has been the most consistent skater (maybe even the only consistent skater).

Tkachuk makes a living feeding off from ricochets and bouncing pucks in front of the net. Right now the Power Play is not reliable enough to grant him such situations. In order for him to get back to his A-level the team needs to shoot more from the slot and blueline, instead of looking for the clean look in close. The Panthers tend to run a triangle-shaped trio between Aleksander Barkov, Sam Reinhart, and Matthew Tkachuk which can turn out to be predictable for opposing defenses. Of course, when the three stars are clicking it can make up for highlight reel goals.

Make it Easy on the Goaltending

Being a goaltender in the NHL is one of the hardest jobs in the sports business. Stopping pucks flying at over 80 mph while glancing through a mask and traffic of 6-foot players in front. The task is understated often, unrightfully so. However, every now and then teams add up to the difficulty and hand their goalies even tougher missions. The Panthers have done that in the last couple of games. Although responsibility cannot be taken away fully from Sergei Bobrovsky, he was left out to dry on many occasions.

There is no need to state the obvious. Ryan Lomberg should not run the risk he did when stickhandling the puck inside his own d-zone which led to the Canucks opening goal. Dakota Joshua cannot be left wide open in front of the crease. Needless to say, Bobrovsky must never pass the puck to an opponent’s stick tape while away from the net. Those mistakes are what every fan remembers from the goals, but the Florida Panthers changes should go further than that. A thorough evaluation should be made and the respective twitches should be done to the lineup and strategy.

When the team skates out for warmups on Sunday night, Antony Stolarz will most probably be leading the Panthers out. However, the recipe would not change if that is the only adjustment made to the game plan. The Florida Panthers would be running the same recipe responsible for their success and failures. Either Paul Maurice thinks these past two games were a fluke or he believes the losses are a part of the process, no matter how bad they look.

Main Photo: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports


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