The Florida Panthers finally return home after a nightmarish four-game Western Conference road trip that saw them only get away with two of the possible eight points. And if you look at the shot totals from the one game they did win – they were lucky to escape with any points period.
Not that points mean much this late in the season – with ten games left, it is all about next season. Who will be on the roster? Who will get deals, which won’t – who needs more time at San Antonio and who is ready to be a permanent member of the NHL club.
From watching the team on their road trip, I was able to come away with three things –
Beef up the Back End.
Watching the Anaheim Ducks’ game, I realized just how bad the Panthers are missing Erik Gudbranson. Time after time the Ducks were allowed to post up right in front of the net for scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity with absolutely no repercussions.
Don’t let the play of Olli Maatta in Pittsburgh and Hampus Lindholm on Anaheim fool you – developing into a top-four defender takes time, and Gudbranson is still on the right path.
Even with room to grow, Gudbranson is still a physical force and allow opponents hanging out in front of the net go unpunished.
But he can’t do it alone. The Panthers need more players on the blue line that will make their opponents pay for trying to set up in front of their net.
They are built the right way up front
If you look at what the Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Los Angeles Kings have in common – and are a big reason why they are so successful – they have big bodied forwards with a high skill level. The Ducks have Getzlaf and Perry – two of the best power forwards in the game. The Kings have Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown – and the Sharks have Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Brent Burns.
The Panthers have gone a similar route, as Nick Bjugstad is 6’6 – as is Jimmy Hayes. Quinton Howden has blazing speed at 6’3 and Alexsander Barkov is one of the more elite young talents in the league – who also stands at 6’3.
For as important it is to have top-end talent players on your roster, the ability to bang bodies – or at least have the body to endure receiving a heavy dose of body checks – is just as important. The Panthers’ core have the ability to play that way, and as they continue to learn how to – they can start winning the close games they are unable to this year.
Backup Goaltender should be top priority
I know he is signed for another year, but Dan Ellis is not the answer behind Roberto Luongo. 11-goals in two games against any level of competition isn’t something the Panthers can afford to deal with. It is somewhat unfair for Ellis, as he doesn’t have the best of defenses around him but the fact remains – a search needs to be put out to find another backup for Bobby Lu.
Luongo will be 35 by the end of the season, and despite being signed through 2022 – we all know he won’t be playing till then, and if he is he won’t be at the level that his cap hit would suggest.
Giving him as much rest as possible will only extend his career, so the Panthers need a reliable backup that will give them the best chance possible to win – and Ellis isn’t it.
A lot was learned on the team’s most recent road trip, but even more will be learned in their last ten games. Spots on the 2014-2015 team will be on the line here on out, and how a player performs can change how the organization looks at them.