An unfamiliar sight for the Panthers. Something I would like to see much, much more of. Phot Credit: Tampa Bay Times

Panthers plagued by shootout struggles

I can’t speak for all Panthers fans, but when I see the clock hit zeroes after five minutes of overtime I’m either a.) yelling profanities, b.) banging my head on the nearest hard object, or c.) turning the TV off.

Generally speaking, since the shootout’s inception in the ’05-’06 season the Florida Panthers have still not quite figured it out yet. This season the Cats are tied with the Kings for the most overtime losses at nine. Of those games, seven were decided by shootouts. Of those seven, the Panthers only skated off victoriously in two. Only Montreal has more shootout losses than the Cats this year, and let’s be serious, that’s not exactly a good selling point.

What’s even more disturbing is that the Panthers have only scored four shootout goals in 22 attempts for an 18.2 percent success rate. To put it lightly, that’s pathetic. I’m no NHL coach, but as an invested fan a few things come to mind that could help.

1. Shooter selection. This is purely on head coach Kevin Dineen. I think it’s fair to say that Stephen Weiss should be an automatic. He’s scored on two of three this season, and his goal against Boston on Monday was a beauty. He did an excellent job of forcing Tuukka Rask out of the crease just in time to get his shot off. Beyond that, nine other players have participated in at least one shootout (and all but the one on Monday have been decided in three frames). The Panthers don’t really have a go-to shootout guy, so I think a bit more thought could go into who is chosen on a particular night. I can’t understand why Marcel Goc has been selected four times. He’s been good for one shootout goal, but as a third-liner I’m not looking for him to be the difference maker. Ironically, Dmitry Kulikov has the second highest shot percentage in shootouts, scoring in one of two. With that said, I’m not sold on Dineen’s decision to give him the go on Monday. He’s a defenseman; his skills are knocking opponents off the puck, forcing turnovers, etc., not capitalizing on breakaways. To me, it also makes sense to go with who’s hot at the time. In the game against Boston on Monday, Shawn Matthias had already scored on a breakaway in regulation. He had also been denied on a breakaway earlier in that game, but if we’re getting technical, 50 percent is not a bad mark for a forward in that situation. Adding even more significance in that scenario is that he was completely amped up, and the momentum alone could’ve been enough to get the job done. Sadly, we’ll never know.

2. Strategy. What aggravates me the most is when shooters wait too long to get their shot off. Using Monday as an example again, Kulikov and Mikael Samuelsson both mishandled the puck and lost control of it before anything could even test Rask. There is absolutely no excuse for that when you’re in all alone. In a one-on-one duel, you have to embrace the unique ability to read the goaltender. In some cases, late shots might be the best option if you’re an agile enough skater to fake him out. However, if the goalie is playing far enough out of the crease, the best bet is usually to blast it past him top shelf. I haven’t seen the puck lifted enough in shootouts this season. If a shooter is dancing in on a netminder when he’s that far out, a poke check or any sort of deflection is far too simple.

3. Practice, obviously. The extra point gained in a shootout win is a big enough deal that improving in them should be a focal point. Again, this is on Dineen, and it’s something that I’ve heard he has been working on more. There is a lot of talent on the current roster and there is no good reason that the Panthers shouldn’t be faring better in the shootout. I don’t doubt that the players would be willing to put in the extra effort, so Dineen needs to make sure this is happening regularly.

A lot of hockey fans disapprove of the shootout and knock it as a poor way to determine a win or a loss. That’s another debacle in itself (check out what our Senior Editor Frank Rekas had to say about them by clicking here). For the sake of sanity, my hope is that the Cats can either win games in 60-65 minutes or decipher the beast that is the shootout. They can only go up from here, right?

Thanks for reading! We welcome your comments.

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