Having won five of their last seven games, the Florida Panthers have been one of the hottest teams during the month of November.
Of the many things the Florida Panthers are doing correctly during the stretch, the most notable is the improvement of their power play.
However, when taking a deeper look, I’m led to believe that their power play is performing over their heads, and we should expect the Panthers to return to Earth sooner than later.
Power Play Overview
After starting the season 0-13 on the man advantage, the team has seemingly found their groove. With 17, the Cats are tied for the fifth most goals while a man up and are converting nearly 24% of their chances.
Defensemen Keith Yandle has also been unstoppable while running the point. Three of his four goals this season have come from the power play as well as six of his 12 assists.
With all the numbers trending in the right direction, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the possible weaknesses in their power play.
Although being successful, the Panthers tend to shoot further away from the net and see a larger percentage of shots from their defensemen; trends that are typically seen in power play units ranked toward the bottom of the league.
Shooting From Afar
When viewing the heat maps of the Panthers’ shots on the power play, it’s evident that the bulk of them come from the top, right circle and from the point.
The majority also tend to come from 30 feet or further on the ice. What’s also alarming is the sheer lack of shot volume happening in front of the goaltender, also known as the high-quality scoring areas.
If you compare Florida’s average distance of 30 feet to the top three power-play units in the league (Winnipeg, Boston, and Colorado), you can see that the Panthers are consistently taking shots from further away, as all three have a significantly higher shot volume as they get closer to the net.
The maps show that Winnipeg forces pressure from just about anywhere, Boston dominates the center of the ice and the left circle, and Colorado gets quality chances on the bottom half of both sides of the faceoff circles.
These shot locations are what allow all of these teams to convert around 30% of their power play opportunities.
It’s not the amount of scoring chances a team gets that makes them dangerous, it’s the amount of high quality scoring chances that create top-notch offense.
As common sense will tell you, shooting from further distances makes it less likely to convert chances into goals. However, so far this season, that is exactly where the Panthers have expected their power play goals to come from.
Not only do the Panthers shoot from further away than most teams, but those shots also come from defensemen at a higher frequency than other teams.
Although the Panthers are blessed with offensive-minded defensemen such as Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle, using your defensemen as the cornerstone to your power play is not a successful plan for most teams.
According to The Athletic’s Tyler Dellow, the Panthers rank sixth in highest shot percentage by defensemen during the power play.
To drive home the consistent, worrying theme that I have about the Panthers’ power play: the further away you are from the net, the less likely you are to score. With the Panthers relying heavily on defensemen for a successful power play, you can expect this hot streak to cool off.
As previously mentioned, Keith Yandle is on a rampage. He’s currently on pace for an 82-point season and has dominated his time on the power play.
As much as we would like, there is no way we can expect Yandle to continue this madness as his highest previous point total was 59 back in 2010-11.
In regards to Aaron Ekblad, yes, he’s scored a power-play goal in his last three games; however, he has struggled mightily on the man advantage, not only this year but since he entered the league. In over 600+ minutes in the NHL, Ekblad ranks at the very bottom of primary points per hour.
Although the Panthers are currently finding success from long distance shots, this is not something that can be maintained. Even the San Jose Sharks – who run a power play with Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns – are toward the bottom of the league in conversion percentage.
To add, Yandle is playing way over his head and I would expect him to regress back toward his average point total, and with Ekblad struggling over the course of his career on the power play, we shouldn’t expect him to take the reins when Yandle inevitable cools off.
The Florida Panthers have clearly found momentum with their power play unit. The concern is that they are getting lucky bounces and eventually these long distance shots will miss the net as they do for most teams.
Maybe I’m a pessimist who has just gotten so used to the Panthers’ woes that I’m waiting for their demise.
Although that’s very possible, the distance at which the Panthers shoot and how involved the defensemen are in scoring is typically a recipe for disaster.