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Hoffman Off to Another Hot Start with Panthers

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Mike Hoffman patrols the right circle like impending doom for the opposition.

In Saturday night's thrilling 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at BB&T Center, the winger potted a pair of goals on the power play from that exact spot, lighting the lamp twice within a span of just 1:26 near the midway point of the second period to break the ice and give the Florida Panthers a 2-0 lead.

Finishing the night with a hat trick, Hoffman is currently tied for third in the NHL with four goals.

"It's the way you want things to go," Hoffman said when asked about his hot start following Monday's practice at the Panthers IceDen. "I've had starts where it's been the other way, and then you start to grip the stick a little bit more and lose a little bit of confidence. It's good for players to start off well. It's good for teams to start off well. I think it can just [have a] snowball effect the rest of the season."

Last season, Hoffman turned an early-season snowball into an avalanche.

Acquired in a trade with San Jose in the summer of 2018 for draft picks, the 29-year-old started off his first tour with the Panthers on an absolute tear. After being held off the scoresheet in his first two games, he went on to register at least one point in each of the next 17 straight contests.

Hoffman's streak, which ran from Oct. 13 through Nov. 21, surpassed Pavel Bure's previous franchise record of 13, set in 1999-00. He also became just the fifth player in NHL history to record a point streak of at least 17 games with a new team -- a spark to a very bright season.

"You put in a lot of work in the summer," said Hoffman, who finished his first season with the Panthers with a career-high 70 points, including a team-leading 36 goals. "Finally once the games start counting, it's nice to get rewarded."

When asked about the work he puts into fine-tuning his lethal shot over the summer, Hoffman said it really boils down to two things: some extra strength training and a whole lot of repetition.

"It's just shooting, really," he said. "Obviously you can do a little bit in the gym to get stronger, which happens over the course of the summer because you're lifting a lot more weights than you do in the season. It's a combination of those two things. After practice, before practice, shooting when you can."

Over the past several seasons, Hoffman has become one of "those guys" on the power play.

Like Alexander Ovechkin in Washington or Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay, he has a very defined role on the man advantage. Doing most of his damage from the right circle, he's the trigger man of Florida's top unit, the primary scoring option and the man all of his teammates are trying to get the puck to.

On Saturday, it was a pair of gorgeous passes from Jonathan Huberdeau that set up his back-to-back scores on the power play.

"He's a big asset," Huberdeau said. "His shot is something else, ya know? When you see him open like that, you try to give it to him. He's going to find a small corner. His shot is hard, but he can place it, too. That's another thing that's really good about it. On the power play, he opens up a lot of things."

So what separates Hoffman's shot from his counterparts?

Is it Accuracy? Strength? Timing?

Drawing a comparison to professional golfers, he believes it's "all about technique."

"It's almost like a golfer," said Hoffman, who coincidentally sank a hole-in-one right before the season started. "It's not always the biggest guys that hit it the furthest. It's the guys that have more technique, more torque and power. Obviously I'm not the biggest guy, so I try and use technique and use the performance of the sticks."

Speaking of the sticks, Hoffman also gives a lot of credit to his equipment.

"The sticks are a big part," said Hoffman, who is currently using a 102-flex, which is a bit stiffer than the league average of around 90. "Nowadays the pop is really good. If you can use your stick to create that kind of whiplash effect, that's how you get a lot of velocity on the shot."

When it comes to executing that technique, Hoffman's teammates play an important role.

A pass right in his wheelhouse can set up a perfect one-timer, while an off-target dish can force the whole play to reset. Additionally, the offensive threat provided by the other top players on his unit, such as Aleksander Barkov, Evgenii Dadonov, Keith Yandle and Huberdeau also stretch the defense out and give him more open ice to work with. Or, if he's covered, they can shoot.

If you look at the power play like a relay race, it takes an entire team passing the baton from one another to get the eventual victory. It just so happens that Hoffman is the one crossing the goal line.

"The goals don't happen if you don't end up getting the puck in areas," Hoffman said." I put myself in positions to score and then hopefully they can find me like they did last game."

In 2018-19, Florida converted on a franchise-record 26.8 percent of its opportunities with the extra attacker to finish with the second-ranked power play in the league. Of their 72 power-play goals, a career-best 17 came from Hoffman, which placed him in a tie for fourth in the league.

With two power-play goals already this season, Hoffman appears to have not skipped a beat.

"He's got a hot stick to start with," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "He's capable of sustaining that. Hopefully we'll keep doing the right things."

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