As of late, the Florida Panthers have shown noticeable strides under their new head coach, finding their rhythm under Joel Quenneville’s system.
We all knew it would take some time for the team to find their footing under this new coaching staff, which was shown by their slow start to kick-off the 2019-20 campaign.
Under any new coach and their staff, it’s always going to take some time for the players to adjust to the fundamentals of their systems. Over the Western Conference road trip and even as recently as their previous win at home to the Detroit Red Wings, the Florida Panthers are starting to play Joel Quenneville hockey, which has them currently sitting in a playoff spot, one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the third spot in the Atlantic – with two games in hand!
Of course, the season is still early and there’s still lots of work to be done, but based on what I’ve seen so far from this group, it’s night and day different than what we saw from Bob Boughner over the past two seasons.
Not only is this roster better on paper, but they’ve been able to translate their talent onto the ice – something we haven’t seen for a good while. The Panthers, by no means, have been consistent, losing some outings in ugly fashion throughout these opening 14 games.
But of course, in Quenneville’s first year with this group, it’s going to be about a learning process, growing from early-season mistakes and adjusting quickly on the fly for the next game.
The defense, while certainly not perfect, has displayed some solid performances in a few games this year. They’ve certainly had their blunders and hiccups, but from what I’ve seen and noticed so far, we’ve never seen this type of organized defense throughout prior seasons. And all of this is backed up by stats as the Panthers give up the least amount of shots in the league, according to Sean Tierney’s model.
His choice in deploying Keith Yandle on the third pairing to drive offense against weaker opponents is smart for defensive purposes, given Yandle’s inefficiency on the back end and need to push up the ice to serve as an extra scoring option.
Mike Matheson, who had a horrid year last season, has already looked better and has shown signs of positive growth. While only playing in nine games due to injury, this small sample size is still made up of some good performances by the 25-year-old. It’s clear that Anton Stralman is not only the right partner for him but is the right mentor to help guide a young defenseman like Matheson back on track.
Many (including myself) didn’t expect Stralman to display the type of defensive showings that we’ve seen so far. Given his age and injury history, it was expected that he would continue to decline steadily, ending up as one of Florida’s worst contracts.
But instead, Quenneville has put Stralman in a position where he can succeed and handle, and playing alongside a young, offensive-minded defenseman in Matheson ensures that Stralman doesn’t have to play excessive minutes while participating in more favorable situations.
With more depth to work with up front, Quenneville has struck the right balance between all four lines, maximizing production from them all. In the past, the Panthers were unable to roll out four lines given the lack of depth that they owned. It resulted in them having to burn out their top two lines – primarily, their first – forcing top guys like Barkov and Trocheck to burden more of the load, especially unnecessary weight.
Now with the proper time management allocated towards their top guys, they’re fully rested and ready to go when needed in the most crucial of moments. It also prevents them from worrying about the need to constantly score, given that others are capable of sharing the scoring load and can be relied upon to step up if one (or any) have an off night offensively.
Between the pipes, Sergei Bobrovsky is starting to show more comfort with his defense core. In the beginning, he was being hung to dry on numerous plays, forced to make ample game-changing saves just to keep the Cats in close games.
As the season started to slowly progress and the D core found ways to tighten up in front of goal, Bobrovsky was faced with fewer shots and high-danger scoring chances, evident by the 20 shots he faced in his first shutout win against Detroit.
It seems like everything is starting to fall into place for this team. Chemistry is being built and is reflecting in the team’s style of play. Coach Q has really sold this group into his formula but has broken it down in a digestible way for each player to comprehend.
It’s only a matter of time before these results translate into playoff wins. Of course, they still have to book their ticket for the Stanley Cup dance, but if the way they’re trending is any indication on whether or not they’ll see playoff action this year, then I can confidently say that the playoffs are certainly within reach for this group – based on the way they’re trending.