Richard Zednik scored a power play goal in the second period against the Ottawa Senators. He has one of the Panthers seven man advantage goals in the last five games. (AP Photo/Steve Mitchell)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
The sun rises, the sun sets. The tide comes in, the tide goes out. The power play is hot, the power play is cold.
Every year, on every team, the power play is scrutinized, examined, and held responsible during certain times of the season for a team’s success and its failure.
The Panthers are no different.
The team’s power play, currently ranked 24th, has struggled throughout the year and, during some stretches, has struggled mightily. The Panthers went through a 3-for-49 stretch in February and 1-for-18 and 2-for-24 stretches in March.
But in their 5-2 victory Tuesday against the Senators, a victory that kept them squarely in the playoff hunt with five games remaining, the Panthers scored two power play goals for the third consecutive game, marking only the second time this season the Panthers have two or more power play goals on consecutive nights. In their last five games, the Panthers have scored seven power play goals (one on an empty net).
Panthers coach Peter DeBoer called the power play a “work in progress all year.” Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, second on the team in power play goals with nine, admits, “It’s hasn’t been very good all year.”
“But if ever there was a time to pick it up…”
It’s right here, right now, with five games remaining and a point out of the playoff spot.
So what’s the reason for the Panthers recent success with the man advantage?
“It’s getting the puck to the net, attacking some seams where before maybe we were standing on the outside a little bit,” DeBoer said. “I think (assistant coach) Jimmy Hulton did a real good job working on it.”
Hulton said you can equate the power play to a hitter in baseball.
“When a baseball player gets on a roll it seems like everything they hit falls in for a base hit,” he said. “When you’re in a slump, you can hit a line drive and they seem to be right at people. I think a lot of that is the same on the power play.”
So do prevent those slumps?
“You’ve got to get chances,” Nathan Horton said. “You’re not going to score without pucks to the net. And you have to have traffic because any goalie in the NHL, if he sees it, is going to stop it.”
Those simple rules aren’t suddenly new to the Panthers.
“All season we’ve been stressing the same fundamentals in terms of movement away from the puck, shot mentality, and traffic in front of the net,” Hulton said. “That hasn’t changed. We’re really not going a lot differently. The mantra has remained the same, virtually unchanged, throughout the season. It’s just, to me, it looks like we have a lot more confidence on that unit, and that comes with success. And I think the biggest difference is some of our top-notch players, like (Cory) Stillman, Horton and (Stephen) Weiss have really ramped their game up in the last 10 games and, not coincidentally, the power play results have been there.”
And so have the wins. The Panthers are on a three-game winning streak. In all three games, they’ve scored two power play goals.
“It’s finally coming around,” said defenseman Bryan McCabe after scoring one of those two goals in Tuesday’s victory over Ottawa. “It’s a good time to get it going, this time of year. It sparked the team, got a positive vibe around the bench.”
DeBoer is happy with the recent success of the power play.
“We’re attacking the net, we’re finding a way to get goals in the paint area, the dirty goals…we’re getting some bounces, too,” he said.
But he’s also cautious about getting too excited.
“We’ve been here before,” he said. “You have to be careful. It’s just like winning and losing streaks. Sometimes another slump is right around the corner. You just hope it’s a little ways off.” FROLIK A 20-GOAL GUY
When Michael Frolik scored into an empty net Tuesday night, he became the third Panther rookie to score 20 or more goals. Mark Parrish did it in 1998-99 with 24 goals, and Kristian Huselius did it with 23 in 2001-02.
Frolik is seventh in the league in rookie scoring with 41 points. He’s tied for fifth in goals (20), 10th in assists (21), and tied for eighth in power play points (11).
“It’s a great accomplishment,” said DeBoer of Frolik’s feat. “To score 20 goals in the NHL at any point in your career is an accomplishment. To do it at age 20 I think is something special. And it’s not a fluke. He’ll be doing that for a lot of years for a long, long time.” PANTHERS TO LIKELY FACE HEDBERG FRIDAY
The Thrashers, who visit BankAtlantic Center Friday evening, will likely be without goalie Kari Lehtonen, who has an upper body injury and did not practice during Wednesday morning’s skate.
The Thrashers, who play host to Buffalo this evening, will go in goal with Johan Hedberg, who has won three consecutive decisions and is 11-10-3 this season with a 3.62 goals against and .880 save percentage.
Thrashers coach John Anderson said Wednesday morning Lehtonen will not be in uniform tonight and likely won’t be available this weekend.
DeBoer described the Thrashers as a “lot like Ottawa,” having gone 7-3 in their last 10 games before tonight’s against the Sabres.
“These are dangerous teams,” he added. “They can really put a lot of pressure on you. When you don’t have anything to lose like that you can throw caution to the wind. They’re hard teams to prepare for that way because they’re willing to give up chances to create chances. You don’t want to get into a pond hockey game with a team (like that) at this time of year.”
The Rangers and Canadiens are idle. A loss to Atlanta tonight would be devastating to the Sabres, who are five points behind the Panthers with seven games remaining. The Penguins, who play host tonight to the Devils, are sixth in the Eastern Conference, just three points ahead of the Panthers.
The Panthers held a short, 20 minute practice Wednesday at IncredibleIce. DeBoer said the Panthers came out of Tuesday’s victory in good shape. “Nobody on the radar screen wouldn’t be available for Friday,” he said…DeBoer said some of the next two weeks will be about energy and injury management. “It’s nice coming to the rink when you’re winning,” he said. “You wrestle all the time whether you should take a day off or not. Guys like being around the rink when you’re winning some games. It was a good feeling.”…The combined record of the four opponents the Panthers will face in their final five games of the regular season: 160-112-31. The Penguins, Capitals and Flyers all have winning records. The Thrashers, who the Panthers play Friday as well as April 9, have the only losing record (32-38-6)…