So often this year, the Panthers have relied on Kris Versteeg to be the catalyst for their offense, a spark-plug forward on both sides of the ice. Much of the time, he has filled that role very well. Recently, however, he hasn’t been able to, and it has been detrimental to the offense as a result.
After his return from his nine-game stint of being scratched with an injury, the Panthers have played eight games. Their record has been a quite average 3-2-3, mostly against non-playoff teams. And in those eight games, the Panthers have scored only 13 goals, haven’t scored more than two goals in a single game in that stretch either. And in those eight games, Versteeg could only muster up one assist, on a meaningless goal in Columbus.
So what is the deal with the man who at one point this season was near the top of the league in goals scored? It would be easy to say that Versteeg is merely trying to get back into the swing of things after a fairly lengthy injury, but things seem more complex than that.
For one, the man has been a turnover machine. This has been most apparent when Versteeg has went one-on-one with a defenseman. The stick-handling that usually was Versteeg’s go-to ability has been lost somehow: pucks are rolling off his stick, or are carried to far away from his body, allowing defenders to poke the puck away easily. It seems like Versteeg has been losing almost every battle in the offensive zone, even when he is control of the puck.
Even his passing is off compared to how he has performed for most of the year. Plays in the offensive zone have been doomed by Versteeg’s sometimes errant passes, as they have either been intercepted by the opposition or thrown well clear of their intended targets. He seems to have trouble anticipating his teammates’ next move, which realistically could be a result of post-injury rust. But of course, he needs to rectify those issues if he plans on being a key offensive contributor for the rest of the way.
But all is not lost for Mr. Versteeg. In the Blue Jackets game, Versteeg might have been the lone bright spot in the Panthers’ offense. He was buzzing around the net, shooting like a madman, and skating well. He was impressive enough for Bill Lindsay to say that Kris Versteeg would score a goal that night (which almost certainly jinxed him). The bottom line, however, is that Versteeg and the rest of the Panthers team could not put the puck in the net enough, so in my book Versteeg is still mired in a pretty miserable slump.
The crux of the matter is this – the Panthers need Kris Versteeg to score if they want to hold back the Washington Capitals for the division crown. The Panthers have stumbled against teams that they shouldn’t have, but the Cats still hold a two-point lead over the Caps with a game in hand. The Panthers offense is due to explode, and I’m waiting for Kris Versteeg to light the match.
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