After the Florida Panthers were held to a single goal in their opening game, they are going to need offensive production from more than just one line.
The Florida Panthers fell victim to the New York Islanders’ trap in Game 1, which got them three times in the regular season. For two periods, the Islanders kept the Panthers to the outside and clogged the neutral zone. Better yet, they closed the passing lane, forcing Florida to take shots from bad angles, making Semyon Varlamov’s life all that much easier.
What we know from this Islanders team is that it only takes two or three goals for them to win because of how disciplined they are defensively. Going into this series, we knew that Florida’s first line (Huberdeau–Barkov–Dadonov) would be closely monitored, and any chances they would receive would be few. Trotz simply doesn’t allow his opponents to have the time and space to dictate play, let alone their star forwards. That’s why if the Panthers are going to have any chance at getting out of this series then they’re going to need to be able to roll out four lines.
But based on Joel Quenneville’s lineup, Florida doesn’t boast enough quality or talent to be able to roll out four lines at any given moment. Outside of the first line, the Cats don’t pose any real threat offensively, and without a legit, No. 2 centerman, the Panthers are relying heavily on their top line to produce.
Quenneville’s Game 1 lineup was underwhelming in so many ways, and with Game 2 approaching in less than 24 hours, Coach Q is definitely going to have to make some changes to spark a lackluster offense.
All of that can start with pushing guys down the lineup to maximize talent. Forwards Aleksi Saarela and Owen Tippett need to be given a chance in the top nine as the Cats search for offense. Saarela can replace Dominic Toninato as the third centerman, pushing Toninato down to the fourth to drive Brian Boyle out of the lineup. Likewise, Tippett could slot onto the third but it would be tough to find him a spot as Brett Connolly currently occupies that spot on the right side while Noel Acciari sits on the second.
Putting Saarela into the lineup and potentially finding Tippett a spot to play in would give the Panthers that extra offensive punch that they have lacked in this series thus far. If they aren’t able to find a home for Tippett, they could slide Lucas Wallmark onto the bottom line (if he’s ready to go), forcing one of Sceviour or Pysyk out of the lineup entirely. It’s unlikely the Cats would scratch Pysyk – would likely drop him back to defense if anything – so it’s far more likely they would scratch Sceviour instead of Pysyk as the latter is preferred up front from Coach Q and staff.
Regardless, Coach Q knows he needs a shakeup if his side wants to win Game 2 and avoid going down two games to none. In a series where the margin for error is small, dropping the first game is not an ideal start while letting the second game go is just putting yourself out of contention. The Cats have no other choice but to come out firing on all cylinders to swing the pendulum in their direction.
For the Panthers, it’s do-or-die at this point. A win resets the series at even, but a loss basically puts them out of contention. It’s up to them to decide their own fate, but if they’re going to be victorious in Game 2, then the offense is going to have to show up – primarily the second and third line.