By Glenn Odebralski for floridapanthers.com
|The Panthers (led by Stephen Weiss, Bryan McCabe and Jay Bouwmeester) are currently tied for ninth in the NHL in 5-on-5 scoring with 75 goals. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)
Sometimes it’s the opportunities that aren't converted on that end up telling the most at the end of the day.
Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski curled back toward the blue line to try and find some room midway through the second period in Tuesday’s game, but there was none. Both Brett McLean and Anthony Stewart were aggressively defending the forward and McLean knocked the puck off Grabovski's stick with a nice poke check. The puck found Stewart who was off to the races. Vesa Toskala had to make a nice stop, but that play resembled so much as to what the Panthers are finally getting to. Playing aggressive hockey. Taking chances yet being responsible. DeBoer’s system to a T.
It took awhile for the Panthers to grasp head coach Peter DeBoer's attacking, aggressive system, starting out the season 7-11-1, but they seem to be playing it now going 12-5-5 in their last 22 games, including a 4-2 victory over Carolina Thursday night.
“We have to be the hardest working team out there,” said winger David Booth who leads the team with 17 goals. “Getting pucks in the offensive zone and cycling teams and wearing them down. Finishing our hits. Getting pucks to the net, jamming, getting rebounds. I think that would be the identity of our team.”
Stats never seem to tell a lie (at least that’s what you hope). If that’s the case then things are looking up for the Panthers.
One of the best ways to tell if your system is actually working is to look at the 5-on-5 play. After Tuesday’s game against the Leafs where the Panthers outscored them 3-0 in 5-on-5 play and Thursday’s game against the Canes (2-2), the Panthers are tied for ninth in the league in 5-on-5 scoring with 75 goals. They’re also 12th in the league in scoring differential per game for 5-on-5 play. While teams will get power play opportunities and goals each game, it’s the five-on-five play that tends to make the difference in the end.
“We want to roll four lines and come at the opponent with energy,” said DeBoer. “To do that, you have to have 20 guys going. As soon as you get into a special teams battle, the game turns from a 20 man game into a 10 man game and those are the guys that play on special teams.
“The strength of our team isn’t in our top five or 10 players, it’s in our depth of 20 players and the fact that we can roll four lines at people.”
Now here’s a question. How does one be aggressive in your fore check and playing that attacking style without taking penalties, thus giving another team a power play opportunity? The Panthers are fourth in the league in penalty minutes per game (12.4 minutes) by the way. They also were not whistled for a penalty against the Canes Thursday (Carolina draws the most penalties in the league, currently 196 penalties drawn), the third time in the history of the franchise that that feat was accomplished.
“It’s hard to do,” said DeBoer. “Our systems are based around puck pursuit and taking away time and space and when you’re doing that, you’re going to be involved in more confrontations and physically more involved which you would think would lead to more penalties.
“I think how we saw it as a coaching staff is that last year the Florida Panthers didn’t have the puck enough. We were too passive. And when you’re doing that, it sounds like it doesn’t go hand-in-hand, but when you’re doing that, you’re chasing a lot of times and I think you’re taking a lot of penalties. We felt that if we could be aggressive, we would have the puck more and maybe draw more and take less.
“I’m happy with how few a minors we take. I still think we can draw more and that comes around being stronger on the puck, more puck possession and being a little harder to play against.”
“You have to be smart,” said Booth. “You just have to finish your hits and play clean. You might take a few penalties. But it’s a physical game and that’s why it’s got to be the identity of our team.”
“We’re not going to win very many games if we’re taking a lot more penalties than we’re drawing,” added center Stephen Weiss
who leads the Panthers with 27 points. “That’s another thing we have to work on but I don’t think anyone would want to change our style of play. We like playing this way.”
The system shows that it can work as can seen by that defensive play leading to the offensive chance against the Leafs. Keep attacking and the wins will keep coming.