I was having a nice conversation with my friends the other night when the dialogue turned to the Florida Panthers, which is bound to happen if I can help it. We talked about recent games, and it became apparent that my crew is a little disappointed with the Panthers’ offense. And it makes sense.
In their past two games against Carolina and Edmonton, the Panthers amassed only one goal in each game. In their last two wins against Buffalo and Philadelphia, they only mustered 17 and 13 shots in those games, respectively. As the playoffs approach, the Panthers need to get into their offensive groove, and be more consistent with it once they get it. As great as their defense and goaltending has been in the past few weeks, the offense needs to be there too if the Panthers want to do something in the playoffs.
So I decided to put in my two cents. I have created a three-fold way for the Panthers to start scoring more goals, starting with:
1. Don’t throw away chances on the rush. How many times this year has a Panthers forward gone on the rush this year, only to throw a lazy shot at the net or have the shot tipped up into the protective netting by a defenseman’s stick? It’s happened a few times in almost every game. Not that there’s anything wrong with trying to get a faceoff down in the opponent’s zone, because the strategy is sound when you want to change lines. Get a stoppage in play, whether by throwing the puck right into the goalie’s gut or having shot shot get tipped away. Then switch to the Weiss line and see if they can win a faceoff and get a few good chances.
But is does wear a little thin on me, especially when the line is fresh, that a player would just nonchalantly shoot the puck with no serious intention of scoring. Often times these scenarios involve a Panthers forward going one-on-one with a defenseman, with the nobody behind but the goalie and the other d-man away from the puck. Players like Shawn Matthias and John Madden have the speed to get around a defender, and they could also put a few fancy moves out there if they were so inclined. I don’t care how the players want to make a move, but I feel like they should. Rush into the zone trying to score. Put the defense on their heels and make the goalie uncomfortable. Shoot for open space in the net. Just don’t waste these offensive chances. Teams like Vancouver, Chicago, and Boston won’t give up these chances; they’ll try to create a solid offensive chance before giving up on the play. The Panthers should do the same thing.
2. Be better passers when in the offensive zone. Alright, now we’re in the offensive zone and we’re set up, and we’re looking to score. But with all the traffic there’s no shot available from the point, and the pressure is increasing. Dumping the puck behind the net is a viable option, but how many times in one shift can you do that expecting to score? In the game against the Oilers, that was exactly the Panthers’ conundrum. Traffic in between the point shot and the net took away the big shots of Erik Gudbranson and Jason Garrison on many occasions, and the offense looked out of ideas once the point was taken away.
The Oilers played great defense all night, so it had to take some exceptional plays to create a good chance for the Panthers. The Garrison goal was a great play set up by Tomas Fleischmann, and the Kris Versteeg breakaway in overtime was single-handedly created by Stephen Weiss‘ stellar pass. Those were great, and call me spoiled, but I could have used a few more passes like those from the Panthers. The issue that night was not the number of shots, but it was the quality of chances. The chances we generated were not enough to beat Devan Dubnyk that night: he looked comfortable all game long, and his big frame allowed him to stop most shots easily. What the Panthers needed to do was be better circulating the puck around the zone. Make the passes crisp and quick from stick to stick. Force the goalie to shift from one post to the other, not knowing when or where the shot will come. It takes skill and chemistry, but the Panthers have shown they have enough of that.
3. Hit the net from the point. As difficult as it has been for the Panthers to generate offense in this last week-and-a-half, they’ve always been able to have that puck in a defenseman’s stick in the top of the zone. That has been a constant all year long: the offensive success of the Panthers has depended mostly on the guys at the point. There’s no problem there, and I like having the puck there with the whole ice to work with. What I don’t like is when the shots from there miss the net entirely.
This is a problem with pretty much every guy on the blue line; the Panthers have something set up, there’s a man in front of the net, the defenseman has a lane to shoot, and the puck goes five feet wide of the twine. To quote a former Panther color man, Mr. Denis Potvin:
The best pass in hockey is a shot on goal.
This man made a living on Long Island doing exactly that – putting shots on net – and I wish there was a little more consistency from our point-men on that front. Players with a tremendous shot like Jason Garrison and Erik Gudbranson need to have that puck on net no matter what: the sheer power from their shot destroys equipment and could sneak into the net even after a save is made. Even if that isn’t the case, grinders like Sean Bergenheim and Kris Versteeg will be waiting to deposit the rebound. If the Panthers want to be serious about scoring goals, they can’t give up these chances from the point.
I’m no expert on the mechanisms and nuances of hockey, but I’m pretty confident that if the Panthers can utilize these points, they won’t have win 2-1 games anymore with only 15 shots on goal, or whatnot. They can start winning 4-1 and 4-2 games, with the offense clicking just in time for the playoffs.
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