It’s been a rough go for the Panthers as of late. With the team struggling to play or produce on a consistent basis, the decision was made to fire head coach Gerard Gallant at the end of November, and not much has changed since then.
The Panthers have won just twice in 8 games under interim head coach Tom Rowe – and only once in regulation – while averaging 1.62 regulation goals-for. Tuesday night’s loss to the Wild was the culmination of a lot of pent-up frustration for the Panthers and fans.
Dylan McIlrath dropped his gloves on two different occasions, the power play went 0-for-5, there was an overall lack of attention to detail, and chances in close on Devan Dubnyk- who has been spectacular as of late – were nowhere to be found.
“We outshot them, I get it, but our shots were from the outside, we didn’t have enough guys going to the net,” said It’s just part of the game we’re gonna have to continually work on.”
That’s been the theme for the Panthers for most of the season. They’ve been out-attempting their opponents at even strength on most nights and are up there with some of the league’s best team in shot attempt percentages. However, they’re not winning the scoring chance battle or getting shots on net from places other than the perimeter of the offensive zone, making it easy to defend for the opposition and easy to save for the goaltenders.
Currently, the Panthers have the fewest high-danger goals-for (meaning goals on shots from around the slot and crease) in the NHL with 19 and have the worst shooting percentage from high-danger areas at 8.76 percent. Traffic in front of the net has been severely lacking for the Panthers, and we’ve seen tons of plays go to the wayside as a result of over-passing and not putting the puck on net from in tight.
Although Kyle Rau had a goal called back for being offsides on Tuesday, the puck was able to find its way to the back of the net because Paul Thompson was at in front of Dubnyk and preventing him from seeing the shot.
Dylan McIlrath’s shot late in the 3rd was looking like it was going for the corner boards before hitting off legs at the top of the crease and rebounding behind Dubnyk; it’s these types of goals that the Panthers haven’t been able to get on a consistent basis. Considering they’re 8-0-2 when scoring 3 or more goals in regulation, they’ll need to work harder to get to the dirty areas to reach that mark, especially when not much else is working.
“We’re losing because we’re scoring, in many games, 2 goals a game,” said Panthers co-owner Doug Cifu. “And when you score 2 goals a game in this league, you don’t win. You’ve gotta score 3 or more goals [to win] and we’re just not doing it.”
“That’s what we’re not doing, we get our chances, we’re not putting them in the net,” said Rowe on Wednesday in an appearance on 560 WQAM. “It puts an awful lot of pressure on our goaltending if they’re not perfect and the puck goes in the net, it just kind of makes things a little worse.”
The Panthers’ even strength confidence isn’t helped one bit by the power play which, right now, has a league-worst success rate of 12.6 percent. Since their inception at the start of the 1993-94 season, the Panthers own the worst power play in the league, and it continues to be the team’s Achille’s heel to this day.
“We need to get [the power play] going, because if it’s going, it gives us energy.” said Rowe. “I think it’ll help our 5-on-5 scoring as well.”
They’ve scored just 4 goals in their last 55 opportunities dating back to November 8th and have scored only twice in the last 28 chances with the man-advantage.
Rowe was blunt about the state of the power play after its dismal performance against the Wild and made it clear that it needs to turn around quick if the Panthers have any hopes of making the playoffs, or in the short-term, getting back on track offensively.
“We have the personnel here to do it,” said Rowe about improving the power play. “If we’re not gonna get it done with the guys we have, then we gotta find some other people that are gonna come out and execute and play a more simpler power play. We’re getting a little too fancy and we’re not shooting the puck enough, it’s pretty simple.”
Especially over the past few games, both units have had trouble entering the zone cleanly. Speed through the neutral zone is missing for whatever reason and the drop pass at center ice to help set up entries hasn’t been working. Players are attempting through seams when they shouldn’t be, there isn’t enough of an effort to get to loose pucks, and there aren’t enough shots being put towards the net.
Good power plays, which the Panthers have faced over the past couple of weeks in the Blue Jackets, Flyers, and Penguins, show an ability to think and act quickly with the puck. If you’re able to move the puck quickly, it opens up lanes to shoot and makes it tougher on the penalty kill to react. Better puck control down low also opens up the points and the slot for more chances by drawing the opposition towards the front of the net.
If the Panthers had a league-average power play around 18 percent, it would give them 5 to 6 more goals than they have now, and that would’ve been a difference-maker in the standings.
Although the Panthers are decently removed from an off-season that saw several changes to the roster, all of the core players that had a quantifiable impact on the team’s performance are back. However, just being back has proven to not be nearly enough as just about all of them have been in season-long slumps for the most part and are experiencing shooting percentage regression after career years.
Not only that, but as a team, their PDO, which is shooting percentage added to save percentage, is the 3rd-lowest in the league at 0.979, suggesting the Panthers have been pretty unlucky so far this season. It’s a stat that typically regresses up or down to 1.000 over the course of a season or many seasons, so the hope is things will start to change soon.
“I think they’re trying to make plays that aren’t there,” said Rowe. “They’re forcing pucks into areas that there’s strong coverage in. I think when you’re struggling, you just need to simplify it. Make 2 or 3 passes on the power play and then get it to the net. Create as many odd-man opportunities down around the net as you can.”
“Once they start going in, we’ll be ok, but again, we’ve been saying this for the past 5, 6, 7 games. At the end of the day, we just need to start shooting the puck more.”
The Panthers will look to bounce back against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night in the first game of a back-to-back set. The Jets have lost each their last 4 games while scoring 2 or fewer goals in 4 of the last 5 and not playing since Sunday when the fell to the Oilers 3-2. Mark Scheifele has scored 3 goals in his last 6 games while Patrik Laine leads the team with 17 but just 1 since Decemeber 4th. The Jets have allowed a power play goal in each of their last 3 games.
“We need to bring it back to just being simple,” said Jonathan Marchessault, who leads the Panthers with 10 goals. “I think back-to-back games are hard on the body, and when we know we gotta keep it simple, that’s where we have more success, and that’s what we need to do. It’s big for us right now.”
“I know they have a couple Finnish guys,” said Aleksander Barkov on Wednesday. “Patrik Laine is from the same hometown as me. I know they have a pretty good group of guys there: good forwards, good defensemen, good goalies, so we need to do our best if we want to win.”