Image credit Matthew Lee Lotshaw @UnderdogGraphix
Almost 30 games into the 2018-19 season it appears the Florida Panthers are repeating last year’s script.
A furious finish to that campaign gave the Cats hope. Too many squandered opportunities gave them reality. They would be home for the playoffs.
This year expectations were high. The top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Mike Hoffman have been excellent. So has Evgenii Davodov and Keith Yandle. The loss of Vincent Trocheck hurt. Tough overtime results have left points on the ice, Florida is tied for the most overtime losses in the NHL with six.
Now the losses are a little more severe.
#FlaPanthers End Road Trip With 5-1 Loss in Minnesota
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) December 14, 2018
How do they fix it?
With 11 of their next 15 games on the road, the climb out of the Atlantic Division cellar will be difficult.
Four straight losses entering Toronto Saturday cannot leave a good taste in the mouths of this proud team. There is too much talent at the top of this roster, too many veterans to accept this situation as fact.
There are several unique statistics which have slanted against Florida, one of which is the disparity in shorthanded goals allowed. On the year the Panthers have allowed seven shorthanded goals, while tallying none of their own. Only Pittsburgh has given up more and they are struggling near the bottom of the Atlantic as well.
Stop the Puck
In goal is an uncharacteristically underperforming duo of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer. Florida ranks second to last with an .885 save percentage (SV%) and fifth worst in goals-against-average (GAA) at 3.57 .
Luongo has dealt with injuries and has missed extended time in two instances already this season. When healthy he has had his moments, but the numbers show some of his struggles. His 3.04 GAA and .903 SV% are both worse than his career averages. The defense in front of him has been up and down, but the fact is at age 39 Luongo may be slowing down just a little.
Reimer has filled in somewhat admirably but is also playing below his typical standard. On the year Reimer is just 5-7-3 with a 3.47 GAA and a SV% of just .889. These figures are quite worse than he career averages of 2.82 GAA and .913 SV% respectively. His two games in December so far have been a disaster, Reimer is 0-1-1 with a robust 4.88 GAA and an abysmal .846 SV%.
Win the Close Ones
As we mentioned above the Cats have lost six games in overtime. A lot of those were heartbreakers where the team led late. Focus has wained at times in late game situations. The puck gets stuck in the defensive zone. Guys are tired and line changes aren’t as crisp. If the Panthers can clean up some of these late game lapses they can turn it around.
We’ve documented Florida’s high shot output on numerous occasions, and this dynamic team can get it going quick. They need to keep drawing penalties and get the power play involved, without allowing shorthanded tries the other way. The fight they show is consistent, this team cares and plays hard for coach Bob Boughner.
If the Panthers can get improved play in net, better late game situational play, and cash in on more shot attempts, they can make another second half push like last year. Florida returns home to the BB&T Center Saturday to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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