For many reasons, the forwards of the Florida Panthers have received a sudden burst on offense. Arguably, the main spark was surged by a change-up front by the coaching staff. Now separated for the first time, Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck are producing more than ever.
Early in the 2017-2018 regular season, the offensive depth and scoring was an issue for the Florida Panthers. The offense was mainly centered around the first line, consisting of forwards like Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Evgeni Dadonov. Through the first few months of the season, they were considered as one of the most dynamic, exciting, 200-foot lines in the National Hockey League.
As the season continued to progress, the rest of the league started to hear of the talent held on the first line for the Cats. They started their best defensive pairs against them, analyzed their highlights more closely, which ultimately started to limit the success they had earlier in the year. Since Vincent Trocheck was the only other Panther producing big offensive numbers outside the first line, the coaching staff knew they had to make a change-up front.
A date with the Washington Capitals came around on February 22nd, 2018, the first game to start a long homestand for Florida, which also was the first game at BB&T Center since the tragedy of the Stoneman Douglas shooting occurred. For this game, something was different from other games previously played in the season; star forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau had been split up for the first time since they had been drafted.
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This was a bold move by the coaching staff led by head coach Bob Boughner, but it resulted in what this team has lacked all year: offensive depth. Many positive effects have resulted due to this one mini adjustment, including developing other players on the roster who are outside of the core. Not only did the change-up front boost the offensive production, but it also inserted the Panthers right back into the playoff race.
With this adjustment, other players such as Nick Bjugstad and Denis Malgin have finally found their stride. For Bjugstad, ever since he had his big career-year consisting of 24 goals, the organization has done everything to try to help him find his stride once again. Now that he has moved on a line with Barkov and Dadonov, Bjugstad has already passed his career-high in points and shots, and for the first time in his NHL career, he’s a plus 2.
For Malgin, it seems as if he has finally found not only a spot in the majors, but a style in his game. Now playing with Huberdeau and Trocheck on the second line, he has piled up the points with career-high’s in basically every category. He’s made this possible by changing his game style, which would be finding openings in the slot, to retrieve a pass from either Huberdeau or Trocheck, who could both set him up. Additionally, with moving Malgin up to the second line with those two, that respective line has become a speedster line, boasting speed down the middle and on the wings.
With the offense all fired up, the team has played complete, full sixty minute games, putting them in a position for a run at the postseason. Since they made the switch up front, the Cats are 15-5-2, putting them 4 points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the eighth and final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, with one game in hand.
The offense for the Florida Panthers has been fun to watch for the past few months, all due to a risky decision made by head coach Bob Boughner to split up two of Florida’s star forwards. While they’ve played together through almost their entire careers, the two franchise players separating may not only be an offensive problem solver for now, but also for the postseason if the Panthers can make it.