Hockey

VS

 

Records: Panthers 20-7-4 (44) Hawks 14-13-5 (33)

Puck Drops: 7:00 Both Nights (Tue/Thur)

TV/Radio: NBCSN and WGN 720

You Sure Do Got A Purdy Mouth, Boy: Litter Box Cats

 

Not much has changed for these two teams in the week that’s passed since they last met, other than the Panthers racking up 2 more points and the Hawks attempting to divide by zero. The Swamp Cats split with the Preds, and then lost a one shot against Tampa Bay on Sunday, giving up 3 goals in the 3rd when they’d had them on the ropes in the first two periods. The loss Sunday puts the Panthers 4 points behind the Bolts in the division, back with Carolina.

Sergi Bobrovsky was in net for both losses, as he continues his streak of uneven play. The win came on the shoulders of a 2-0 Chris Driedger shutout of Nashville, which while admittedly not a difficult thing to do, is still more than Bob has been able to accomplish of late. While the numbers between the two tenders continue to drift further apart, Coach Q still seems reluctant to turn the reigns over fully to Driedger, content to let Bob work things out on his own.

On the forward end of things, after I wrote about Aleksander Barkov last week, he proceeded to drop 9 points in 5 games, so at least for once it seems like I knew what I was talking about. 6 of those points came against the Hawks, who seemed completely unwilling or unable to do anything at all to slow him down in the slot, and he absolutely did not miss his chances.

The line centered by Barkov continues to be an unholy terror since Q added what apparently was the missing link in Carter Verhaeghe. The trio of Barkov, Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair has been carrying the play at even strength at over a 63% clip. Add in a total of 19 points over the last 5 starts and you can see why Q is a fan. The speed and creativity that Barkov possesses compliments the North/South games of Duclair and Verhaeghe. Once they’re in your zone, they’re extremely hard to remove, especially when they’re backed up by Mackenzie Weegar and Aaron Ekblad on the blue line.

As for the Hawks, they continue to get beat down by the March schedule, dropping both games in Tampa last week. They couldn’t solve Andrei Vasilevskiy, and much as they’ve done all season the Bolts capitalized on every mistake the Hawks D made. Both Kevin Lankinen and Malcom Subban were given the chance to right the ship, but neither were able to do so, both being aided and abetted by the D in front of them. That brings the March record to an unsightly 2-6-1, and into a standings tie with Columbus, who’s managed to take 2 in a row from Carolina in the last week.

The reason behind the points drought is more of the same, as the Hawks are unable to carry the play for any extended length of time at 5 on 5 (with the 1st two periods last Saturday being the exception, more on that in a bit). When the power play suddenly runs dry and the goaltending has regressed to the mean this is what you get. We’ve spoken at great lengths about where the deficiencies lie with this Hawks team, and with Kevin Lankinen no longer able to paper over the possession issues things become even more glaring in the light of day.

As grim as it seems now, the Hawks are almost out of this Hell Month, and critical games against the Jackets, Stars and Preds await on the other side. We’ve reached the spot in the season where pretty much every point is desperately needed by the Hawks. They’ve allowed their lead to slip to the point where there’s no more margin for error at all, and for a young team like this we will really get to see what they’re made of. There’s definitely a spark there that shows at times what this team could really be.

There was a period in the game against Tampa this past Saturday when the Hawks looked like the possession monsters of old. The advanced stats bear this out, as in the 1st period the Hawks topped the CORSI list with a 58% share, and then went hog wild in the 2nd with a 69.57%. Sadly, Vasilevskiy was up to the task, and the Hawks entered the 3rd down 3-0. It’s something we haven’t seen since the 2nd game in the 1st series against the Jackets where the Hawks ended up with almost a 59% share for the entire game.

There have been flashes this season of the Hawks being able to carry the play for extended periods of time against higher quality teams like Carolina and Tampa. They key here is doing it on the regular against all of them. If a majority of the beat writers are correct, and this young team truly is “buying in” to what Colliton is selling then they’re going to have to show it now. Florida is a solid team from the blue line out, but Bobrovsky has been mediocre at best. If the Hawks can keep the play in their end at all, he’s ripe for the picking. We know that the Hawks D is paper thin, so the forwards absolutely have to convert when they get the chances. Time is running out, show us what you got.

 

Let’s Go Hawks

 

Everything Else

Frank Rekas is the editor of PantherParkway.com. Follow him on Twitter @FrankRekas.

Let’s start with just what “the plan” is in Florida. They fired all the guys they hired to take the team in a more modern and analytic direction after about 12 minutes, and brought back Dale Tallon. But the team doesn’t appear to be any better and in fact there have been a couple bewildering decisions. What’s going on here?

The Florida Panthers are good at one thing: Being consistently inconsistent.  When Dale Tallon came to town in 2010 he had his “Blueprint” which was going to steer the Panthers in a winning direction.  Within two years the Panthers won the Atlantic Division and went to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.  It’s been said they they may have peaked too early, or that a lot of players had career seasons that year and it was just luck.  Regardless, that was as fun of a season as South Florida had seen in years.  But good things in South Florida don’t last forever and that season was followed by the lockout year, and then the wheels fell off in 2013-2014 and Kevin Dineen was fired because, why not?  It must have been his fault.  It was a roster that was put together with duct tape and staples.  Nothing went right other than re-acquiring Roberto Luongo at the trade deadline.  With new ownership in place, changes were going to be made and they were, starting with a new head coach Gerard Gallant.  The team improved by 25 points in Gallants’ first season behind the bench, followed by another division championship and playoff birth in 2015-2016. THAT’S when the demolition began.  The executives lead by what some of us call the Army Math Team and Pentagon Trading LLC decided that even though the team had it’s best season ever, they needed to make changes cause of analytics.  I’m personally not a fan of Corsi and Fenwick, but I do know that it’s a part of hockey.  They don’t measure however things like character, hockey sense and leadership.  After that season, the Panthers traded fan favorite and an up and coming leader in defenceman Erik Gudbranson.  This pissed off Gallant to no end, but he dealt with it. Until he was fired.  Replaced by then General Manager Tom Rowe, who is about as qualified for either of those positions as any one of us is.  We could likely have done better.  The 2016-2017 season was a dumpster fire.  Now to the present, where Dale Tallon is back in as the General Manager left to fix the mess that Rowe left behind.  The Tom Rowe experience in my mind has set the organization back at least two to three years.  The defense is young and inexperienced, except for Keith Yandle who doesn’t play much defense.  If you can stop the top line from scoring, you pretty much have the game won, and they aren’t tough to play against.  Beyond all this, things are great.  We’ve been told to be patient, which I responded with this,
On the plus side, Vincent Trocheck is over a point-per-game and on his way to a career year. Any difference in his game for this or riding the percentages a bit?
Trocheck is one of those special players.  He’s not big by NHL standards, but he plays like he is.  Never takes a shift off and is probably the real heart and soul of the team.  As one of my favorite former NHL coaches would have said, he’s gone through the “maturation process” and he’s producing like he should.  He’s on pace for a career year at a point per game clip so far, and if he had any decent wingers to play with, who knows how much he’d produce.  But he needs help.  This pace that he’s on can’t last with the linemates that he’s been given.  Hopefully that changes cause Vinny is a good kid that deserves better.  It’s been fun watching him progress and develop into the player he is today.  He has a very bright future, but will that future be here?
We tend to separate NHL coaches and GMs on a binary scale, either Idiot or Not An Idiot and that’s it. What is Bob Boughner?  
Well I’m not fond of his attire, something I joke about on Twitter and have offered to take him shopping.  That being said, it’s 21 games into the season, and he doesn’t really have much to work with.  While it’s too early to say he’s one or the other, he’s made some questionable moves for sure, and insists on keeping Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad together as the number one defensive pair.  Do you remember when the Hawks had Doug Smolek and Brad Brown on defense?  Dirk Graham was the coach for the Hawks that year and we know what happened to him. For a coach that played defense during his career, Boughner hasn’t been much of an influence.  He needs a better roster, and there are a few players that need to look in the mirror.  Otherwise Boughner is trying to get blood out of a rock.  There are some nights he looks like he’s in over his head.  Learning on the job isn’t fun, especially in South Florida.
Jared McCann has some pretty impressive underlying numbers so far. Did the Cats steal this kid from the Canucks?
I think it’s too early to tell on this one.  Last season he clearly wasn’t ready, and this year, up until his recent injury he looked much better.  He’s been back for a couple games, but he’s also suffering from a mixed bag of linemates.  To be honest, I’d like to reverse the trade.  Gudbranson brings more to the table, despite his poor analytics, than McCann.  The Panthers need Gudbranson’s heart, soul, and toughness.  Let’s see a full season of McCann before we pass judgement on his value.
What’s it going to take for the Panthers not to just spasm a playoff berth every so often, but to be a consistent playoff team to build a platform to something more?
They need to stop with all the changes and decide on a direction, other than a consistent swirl down a drain, only to come up for air once every few seasons.  It’s hard to attract players and coaches to an organization when there’s so much change and a history of turmoil.  Yes, it’s sunny South Florida where there’s no state income tax, but honestly, why do you think so many over 35 year old free agents like it here?  No media attention, South Beach, perfect weather during the season, and a great place to retire. Which some players have done while still under contract.  But there’s no pressure to win.  Mediocrity and complacency are being touted as patience.  With the deal the team has with the arena, they aren’t going anywhere, yet with attendance down again, and the team unable to string together three consecutive wins, it’s depressing.  The owners haven’t been afraid to spend money, that’s not the issue.  It’s how they’ve spent it that’s the concern.  That unfortunately is a much longer discussion. The other issue is that the cupboard is thin.  No one in the minors appears to be ready to step in and contribute.  After having been touted as having a plentiful minor league system just a few seasons ago, there’s nothing.  The fan base deserves and wants more.  Patience is thin.  What’s it going to take?  It’s going to take an attitude that losing isn’t acceptable for starters.  Players will need to be held accountable no matter how much money they’re making.  And it’s going to take a change in culture.  The team has no chemistry and it shows.  They were on the way to respectability just two seasons ago.  But ownership apparently isn’t aware of one of the most common phrases:  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Unfortunately they thought things needed to be fixed and they were wrong.