Florida Panthers: Puck Possession and Precision Must be Vital in 2019-20

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 21: Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck against Jason Demers #55 of the Arizona Coyotes at the BB&T Center on March 21, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 21: Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck against Jason Demers #55 of the Arizona Coyotes at the BB&T Center on March 21, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Laziness with the puck and lack of focus in the defensive zone cost the Florida Panthers far too many points last season and needs to be changed starting this year.

Last season, the Florida Panthers were tied for the second-worst takeaway/giveaway ratio, at 0.6 per game, just 0.1 above Los Angeles and Detroit, who were tied for last.

Among teams whose takeaway/giveaway ratio was below 0.7, only 2 out of 10 teams made the playoffs. Those two teams – the New York Islanders and Dallas Stars – had incredible goalies during the season, who were both nominated to win the Vezina Trophy.

Individually, the stats are even worse for the Panthers. Among the top eight players with the most giveaways in the NHL last season, three of them played for Florida.

Keith Yandle’s 110 giveaways landed him 8th highest in the NHL, and with just 27 takeaways, he holds the 2nd worst individual giveaway/takeaway ratio in the NHL.

In the top five, Florida has two, with Aaron Ekblad committing the fourth-most turnovers in the league, and Mike Matheson giving the puck away the most among any NHL player last season, with 135 giveaways in 75 games.

The facts speak for themselves. If none of these issues are fixed come October, the Panthers simply ride their luck to the wild card or are not a playoff team at all.

Playoff teams, like the Islanders, usually take these chances instead of creating them for the other team. In this early season affair, Florida lead 1-0 on NY and have clear control of the puck with their top forward line and top defensive pair of Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson on the ice.

The issue with having as many forward-thinking defensemen like Ekblad and Matheson is that they’re going to be less cautious with the puck to try and create chances. In cases like this one, however, they can completely backfire.

Matheson, in this scenario, tries to feed the puck through to Aleksander Barkov but flubs the pass straight into the path of Anders Lee. With Ekblad too far ahead of the play, the Islanders have a two-on-one opportunity.

Lee slides the puck past Matheson, who is poorly positioned to guard the pass into the slot, straight to Mathew Barzal, who glides in on Roberto Luongo and finds the back of the net. From absolutely nothing, the Islanders score a goal that easily could’ve been prevented by Florida.

Ekblad’s positioning defensively has been called into question multiple times over the last three seasons. Ekblad has the potential to be a lethal weapon from the blue line from Florida, but sometimes gets too over-eager, and risks his defensive partner and teammates during key situations.

Another early season, early game mistake from Florida comes against another to-be playoff team in Columbus. Fresh after a power play expires, Florida have control of the puck, with four men up the ice, and Keith Yandle as the lone defender, trying to start another quick attack.

Yandle, as such a focal point for the Panthers on the power play, has a lot of responsibility with the puck. Yes, he does deliver on the score sheet, with his 53 assists last season ranking him 3rd in the NHL among defensemen, only behind San Jose’s Brent Burns and Washington’s John Carlson.

However, with 110 giveaways, sometimes his play with the puck benefits other teams as well. Here, Yandle is looking for a stretch pass up ice, but the Panthers are amidst a line change, so nobody is able to get the pass where Yandle is looking.

Ekblad has space on the wing to receive a pass from Yandle but is looking across the ice, awaiting Yandle to find somebody else.

Then, Yandle has a quick lapse in concentration, which presents the puck straight to Artemi Panarin, who glides past, clean through on James Reimer. Neither Ekblad nor Yandle can recover, the forwards are too far up the ice, and Panarin, out of nothing, gives Columbus a second goal.

Simply shown in tightly contested games against teams Florida need to beat, puck play like this will not win them games. Having three defensemen on the same team with each having over 100 giveaways is not the recipe for success.

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Some of this can fall on coaching, some of this can fall on the system Florida played in, and some of it can fall on the players having bad moments at the wrong time.

Florida can’t completely take this out of their system, they’re going to give away the puck in games, but they need to do it significantly less.

This is where former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville should come in handy. Under Quenneville, the Blackhawks were very safe with the puck, and Quenneville helped defensemen make simpler reads to limit turnovers.

Under Coach Q, Duncan Keith took a career-high 83 giveaways in 2010 down to just 29 in a matter of two seasons. Dustin Byfuglien’s best seasons in terms of limiting giveaways came with Chicago, averaging around just 24 giveaways per season.

The reason why Florida has not explored trading players like Matheson or Yandle is because they are confident that they can turn it around in a new system. If Coach Q can really sit down and work with them, they just might resolve their issues.

Next. Florida Agree to Terms with Greco and Toninato. dark

For now, limiting giveaways has to be one of the top priorities for Florida as preparation for the new season begins.