In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, the Panthers have found success with their new-look power play early in the season, the team is enjoying a final lull in the schedule and more!
SUNRISE, Fla. - The Panthers spent a good portion of Tuesday's practice at BB&T Center giving both of their special teams units a bit of extra polish after a very successful road trip.
Over the course of their four-game swing against Columbus and Detroit, the power play went 4-for-11 (36.4 percent), while the penalty kill clocked in at an outstanding 15-for-16 (93.8 percent). Following that trip, Florida ranks fourth in the NHL on the power play and 11th on the penalty kill.
"Today and yesterday, [special teams] basically won us the games," captain Aleksander Barkov said following Sunday's 3-2 win over the Red Wings. "We scored a couple goals on the power play and they didn't score any goals on their power play. Our penalty kill was really good."
Taking a closer look at the power play, the Panthers have found success in unpredictability.
Looking at the last two seasons, there was never a question as to what the go-to option was on the team's top unit. From the moment they were sent to the man advantage, the goal was to get the puck onto Mike Hoffman's stick for a one-timer, which was usually fired from the right circle.
And although they found success with this method more often than not - after all, the team did own a 24.4 percent success rate from 2018-20 -- there were times when opposing teams were also able to take advantage of this predictability and shut down the power play in some games.
But with Hoffman now in St. Louis, the Panthers have changed up things quite a bit this season.
While Keith Yandle, Jonathan Huberdeau and Barkov remain on the ice, Aaron Ekblad and newcomer Patric Hornqvist have been thrown into the mix to give the top unit a completely different look and feel. Rather than having one go-to option, it now feels like there are several.
This distribution of looks is evidenced by the fact that all five players on the top unit have already scored at least one goal on the power play through the first six games this season.
"I think the versatility and the different options, play recognition, sometimes it goes through a different guy," coach Joel Quenneville said when asked about the man advantage after this afternoon's practice. "I think our retrievals have been better, and I think that plays a part of it, not to start from a set spot."
It's those key retrievals that have led to a lot of extended zone time for the Panthers. If a shot is stopped or a pass sails wide, the puck is immediately collected and kicked back up to the point so that the offense can reset. Because of this, the top unit rarely comes off the ice. In fact, while each member of that unit has at earned at least 16 minutes of ice time on the power play, most members of the second unit have only accumulated around 7-8 minutes of their own thus far.
As the quarterback of the top unit, Yandle has tallied a team-high 20:14 with the extra attacker.
"Yands is pretty effective as far as moving it around, using his deception of getting his shot through," Quenneville said. "I think it's kind of comparable to last year where you've got some other looks. I think last year we kind of ran a little more through Hoff's shot, but I think this year with comparable personnel, they recognize what's available."
While each member of this new-look top unit has been chipping in, it's hard to ignore just how big of an impact Hornqvist is making. Leading the team with three goals on the power play, his ability to carve out space in the blue paint and screen opposing goaltenders is also invaluable.
When the gritty veteran is able to create chaos in front, all of his teammates benefit.
"That's kind of a little different twist from last year," Quenneville said of Hornqvist, who was picked up from Pittsburgh in an offseason trade. "His presence there has been very noticeable. It's not an easy place to go and hang out, but you get rewarded when you do go there."
Looking ahead, the Panthers will have a great chance to continue finding success on the power play when they kick off a back-to-back set against Nashville on Thursday in Sunrise. Off to a bit of a shaky start, the Predators currently rank 30th in the NHL on the penalty kill at 64.9 percent.
THE LAST LULL
Speaking of the Predators, the Panthers will have a few extra days to prepare for their meeting.
While it's nothing like the weeklong break they had last month after having their series against the Hurricanes postponed due COVID-19 concerns in Carolina, having three days in between games certainly feels a bit unusual given the nature of Florida's jampacked 56-game schedule.
And although -- given that they're off to a 5-0-1 start and own the best points percentage in the league at .917 -- the Cats likely would prefer if they could simply keep on rolling, having a few days to catch their breath before things really begin to ramp up could end up being a good thing.
Starting on Thursday, the team will play 14 games over just 24 days.
"I think this is the last time we're going to see anything like it," Quenneville said. "It's a couple extra days here to get back in action, but I think after that we're going to be full throttle."
To purchase tickets any upcoming home games, visit FloridaPanthers.com/TicketCentral.
TUESDAY'S PRACTICE LINES
Carter Verhaeghe - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair
Jonathan Huberdeau - Alex Wennberg - Patric Hornqvist
Frank Vatrano - Eetu Luostarinen - Brett Connolly
Aleksi Heponiemi - Juho Lammikko - Vinnie Hinostroza
MacKenzie Weegar - Aaron Ekblad
Radko Gudas - Anton Stralman
Keith Yandle - Markus Nutivaara
Kevin Connauton - Noah Juulsen
Group 2: Owen Tippett, Ryan Lomberg, Noel Acciari (skated in both groups), Vinnie Hinostroza (skated in both groups), Mason Marchment, Kevin Connauton (skated in both groups), Noah Juulsen (skated in both groups) and Phillipe Desrosiers (skated in both groups)