Where Do We Go From Here?

After 40 games of the season we’ve had ample time to see the team that’s been put together by new General Manager Dale Tallon and begin to make somewhat of an evaluation.  Let’s be honest and let’s be realistic.  No sugarcoating and no smart ass answers.  The record after 40 games is 18-20-2 for 38 points.  The Florida Panthers currently are sitting in the 11th spot of the Eastern Conference and 11 points behind the 8th place Montreal Canadiens.

Like the little lad who asked at the Panthers first Live Event at Duffy’s Sports Bar last month, “do you think you’re better than you’re record says”?  The question asked to guests David Booth and Shawn Matthias was answered quickly with a positive yes. That was before this recent three game slide that we’re on with the Washington Capitals coming to the Bank tonight.  In order for the Panthers to make the playoffs they most likely will need at a minimum 88 points which means that they’d have to go 25-17 the rest of the way.  A very tall order to say the least.  That would mean playing at a .600 clip for the remainder of the season, not impossible, but is it probable?

With teams like Atlanta and Tampa Bay vastly improving and  both sitting in the top 8, and teams like New Jersey, Carolina and Buffalo on the outside looking in, you might think that there is a small window of opportunity for the Panthers to take advantage of.  For the most part you can count on one hand how many games that the Panthers were “blown” out of, or just not in.  The most recent was the Pittsburgh Penguins game where they lost 5-2 after handing the bullies of Broadstreet a 5-0 shellacking.

Let’s evaluate the situation with a few interesting points.

The Bad:

* A power play that has easily cost us at least 8-10 points in the standings.  Last in the league at an 8.8% success rate with only 12 goals scored, this has to be the root of our problems.

* 32.5 average shots against per game.  Ranked 24th in the league.  Too much vulcanized rubber coming at anyone, I don’t care how many quality chances come out of it or not.  Although it is an improvement over recent years.

* The inability to hold leads going into the third period.  A symptom that has been going on for far too many seasons.  This number is substantiated by the fact that they rank 27th in the league in winning percentage when leading after two periods.

* David Booth has only 11 goals.  That translates to 22 for the season.  Average, but we were expecting more weren’t we?  30 goals at this point would be a blessing, but he needs to do some dirty work like he did a couple years ago.

* Bad luck.  I’m not one to complain, but the NHL has given the Panthers the shaft on three occasions.  Edmonton, Toronto, and most recently Atlanta.  Six possible points.

The Good:

* The penalty killing unit ranks 8th in the league thanks most likely to Assistant Coach Gord Murphy.

* A 1.13 five on five goals for/goals against ratio which ranks 9th in the league.  This stat is better than the four division rivals.  (If only the power play were better).

* Surprisingly they are third in the league in faceoff percentage, having won 52.6 percent trailing only Vancouver and San Jose respectively.  Marty Reasoner ranks 16th in the NHL with a 55.9 percent success rate, proving his worth.

* The emergence of Mike Santorelli who has scored 11 goals, as he has adapted to full time play as the number two centerman.

* Jason Garrison’s very steady play.  Very minimal mistakes and Pete DeBoer is not afraid to put him in pressure situations.

What needs to happen to have a successful second half?  Or what I’d like to see?

* Improve the power play immediately if not sooner.  Either via trade, osmosis or hypnotism, this part of the game is crucial for success in the second half.  Without it improving, everything else won’t matter.

* Would like to see the team cycle a bit more in the offensive zone and control the play.  Keep the pressure on the oppostion’s defence, therefore spending less time on defence.  If this happens more frequently, the shots against should go down.

* More consistency from Chris Higgins.  He’s playing much better lately, but he’s going to need to find the back of the net more often.  He can, I’m just hoping he does.

* More ice time for Evgeny Dadonov.  I think this kid has shown that he has the skill and the ability to be given more ice time.  At this point he is the most gifted forward we have.  Use him.

* David Booth going on a hot streak.  Booth getting to 30 goals would be a huge boost to the team.  He’ll have to stop taking 45 foot slap and wrist shots though.

* A more aggressive forecheck and some more physical play.  Finish checks and wear teams down by hitting.

* Get the puck deeper into the offensive zone and force the other teams defence to turn their backs.  Goes along with the above.

* Please stop the fancy tic tac toe plays.  Unless we’re up by seven goals with 5 minutes left.  Rarely.  And I mean rarely do these fancy plays turn into goals.  I’ll take a 30 foot slap shot with someone pouncing on a rebound every night.

With 42 games to go, and the trade deadline approaching, there’s work to be done and decisions to be made.  The organization has said they aren’t giving up.  Great.  With a month before the trade deadline, the players on the ice need to make a move.

Thanks for reading.  We welcome your comments, or rants.

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Tags: Chris Higgins Dale Tallon David Booth Evgeny Dadonov Florida Panthers Marty Easoiner Washington Capitals

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