Panthers: Style Matters as Florida Misses Playoffs

With a 6-1 trouncing at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, the Florida Panthers found themselves eliminated from playoff contention.

It’s not overly surprising. The Panthers are 33-32-12, fifth in the Atlantic Division. They’re seven points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres but a dozen behind the Habs, putting them in a nearly untenable situation.

That it was bound to happen is noted for stats watchers, who see that Florida’s weakest team is awful when it comes to giving away the puck. They’re terrible in overall defensive zone giveaways, second only to Montreal somehow, and that’s led to a lot of opportunities for their opponents. This kind of lax defensive zone coverage isn’t the stuff playoff teams are made of, except maybe in the case of the Canadiens.

The Tuesday rout further exposed Jack Capuano and Bob Boughner’s faults. Moving the defence into the offensive zone to produce isn’t a bad strategy in an up-tempo league, but you have to ensure you can backcheck and eradicate pricey turnovers.

The coverage gaps have been apparent to anyone who’s watched Florida on even a passing level.

When the Panthers are on offence, things get interesting. They lead the league in giveaways in the offensive zone, just ahead of the Boston Bruins. That hasn’t stopped them from coming up with opportunities, though, as Florida is fourth overall as of press time in total shots on goal.

What’s more, Florida is adept at applying pressure in the offensive zone. Advanced metrics suggest that they force a lot of offensive zone turnovers, almost as many as the Bruins and Capitals.

This suggests a high-tempo, high-risk brand of hockey that exposes weaknesses more than it stresses the positives. And that’s likely why this article’s about the Panthers missing the playoffs rather than attending the big dance.

Florida hasn’t had much trouble with goal-scoring, finishing in the top 10 overall in total biscuits in the basket.

But it goes right back to that risk-versus-reward thing and those defensive zone collapses, which is where the dagger strikes. The Panthers have scored but have been scored against more, tilting the differential to an intolerable grade. Think the Chicago Blackhawks, who’re in a similar boat with 246 goals for at press time. They, too, have skidded defensively and are getting scored against a lot.

In fact, of the NHL’s top 10 scoring teams, only the Panthers and Blackhawks have allowed more goals against than they’ve scored themselves.

What’s the answer? In order to succeed over the long haul, the Panthers are going to have to give up something they love and turn into a more accountable hockey club.

And if that can happen, we may see two Florida teams in the post-season next year.

(Photo credit: NHL)

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