The Cats are back after the West Coast Road Trip

Normally you are not pleased with a 3-2 record over the last 5 games; however, considering how the Panthers have played on the road to start the season and the fact that they only had the one bad loss to Calgary; I am rather pleased.

First of all, for anyone who has not heard Justin Faulk’s comments on playing in Canada right now, there has to be quite a bit of truth to it.  The majority of restaurants are closed, it is freezing cold, and there are no fans in the building. It is not exactly screaming “let’s go have some fun”.

In an 82-game season, especially at this point, it can get to be a grind. Do you ever have those days where you sit in your car and debate on whether or not you want to go in to work? Imagine being stuck in a hotel room, eating room service, and it being -5° outside. Would that pump you up to go play? For the Cats, they are trying to adapt; whereas, for the guys in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, etc. it is a way of life. The same way the Cats smoke these teams because they come to Florida ready to blow off steam, they try to get their revenge by freezing the boys nuts off.

While it was not the prettiest hockey, every game showed some strengths of the Cats and areas of improvement.

Let’s start with the positives.

The Panthers have seemed to find their line combinations and have been getting a lot of secondary scoring.

Here are the pairings as of the Winnipeg game:

Verhagee – Barkov – Mamin

Huberdeau – Bennett – Duclair

Marchment – Lundell – Reinhart

Lomberg – Luostarinen – Hornqvist

As you saw in Tuesday night’s game, the first 3 goals were scored by the 3rd line, with 2 of them coming from Marchment. Marchy had 2 goals and an apple all within the first period against the Jets.

Being able to roll all 4 lines and get production out of all 4 lines is key to make a deep playoff run. Look at the teams who have had success in the playoffs versus those who get eliminated.

McJesus is probably the greatest hockey player to ever lace them up; however, there is a reason Edmonton has not won a playoff series during his tenure there. The top lines will cancel each other out and it boils down to who has more depth and who can get production out of their depth players.

Did Winnipeg have more talent than Edmonton? I would say no because of the sheer skill of McDavid and Draisaitl; however, Winnigpeg was able to sweep the Oilers because their top guys shut down McDavid and Big D. The Oil dippers were not able to generate anything from the other lines and ended up getting eliminated.

The Cats are built for depth and are in a very different situation than teams like Edmonton, Boston, or Toronto where you only have a handful of top guys and if they do not produce then the team cannot win. The Panthers have all 4 lines contributing so they can still get a win without needing Barkov or Huberdeau to generate all of the points.

Just take a look at this stat. At his point in the season, there are 9 guys who have hit the 20-point marker:

  1. Huberdeau – 58 points
  2. Ekblad – 39 points
  3. Reinhart – 37 points
  4. Duclair – 34 Points
  5. Barkov – 34 points
  6. Verhaeghe – 34 points
  7. Bennett – 26 points
  8. Lundell – 26 points
  9. Weegar – 25 points

Looking at the lines as they have been playing, that is 2 guys on the top line over the 20-point marker, all 3 players on the 2nd line, and 2 guys on your 3rd line. How do you get much deeper than that?

Now on to some of the scarier points to discuss.

The Panthers are still giving up way too many shots against. Especially if they are going to ride Bobrovsky as hard as they have been.

Bob has made 30 starts for the Cats and has faced a total of 915 shots. He is averaging over 30 shots per game (30.50 to be exact). While it may not seem too bad, it is still way above what you want/need your goalie to face. Especially considering the games when Bob is forced in to making 45-50 saves in the game. Just take a look at Tuesday night’s game where Bob faced 35 shots against a Winnipeg team that does not have the offensive fire power like a lot of our interdivisional opponents.

The Panthers have not faced the Leafs yet; however, I cannot imagine giving up 35 shots to players like Matthews, Johnny T, Marner, and Nylander. The Cats will need to tighten it up and reduce the number of shots faced otherwise Bob is going to be out of gas before the playoffs hit.

And it does not all fall on the defense either. I have noticed a lot of the forwards get a little horny for a goal and start cheating offensively. While I think Duclair is a heck of an offensive talent, I have notice he is never the first guy on the backcheck. It is not just him, but quite a few players, who have the offense first mentality. Is it because Bob has the ability to bail them out? Maybe, but it will need more of a defensive effort than relying on your goalie to make a save to win a playoff series.

Let’s talk about some possible move for the Panthers moving forward!

As mentioned, the Panthers have too many offensive minded d-men who are playing more like a 4th forward and less like a defenseman. Weegar and Ekblad should be split up because they both get so pinch happy that it puts the Cats in a bad spot at least once per game.

If you read my other piece on whether or not Zito should go after Klingberg, you should know that I am a firm believer in acquiring a defenseman like Giordano (ideal rental player) over a guy like Klingberg. I also believe the ask is too high for Chychrun and the Panthers will be taken out of the running because they do not have a 2022 1st round draft pick. Locking down a Giordano or Chiarot type defenseman should be the top priority.

An interesting thing we have all seen floating around is the talks of Claude Giroux hitting the open market and Colorado’s apparent interest in him. I am assuming the 34-year-old captain would only want to get dealt to a true Cup contender.

So why not Florida? He is still competing at a high level with 34 points, 15 G & 19 A, in 40 games this season on a Flyers team that just flat-out stinks. Imagine him playing wing with Verhaeghe and Barkov? He is a pest that can buzz around the net, cause Chaos, and still has the talent to back it all up.

Plus, he would be able to slide in and just be a player again. He would not have to worry about being the leader and top dawg on a flailing Philly team with one of the most toxic fanbases in the country. It would relieve a lot of pressure and let him just have fun playing the game on a winning team. It seems like a win-win in my book.

I am not saying that this would be an easy move as Giroux has a NMC and carries an $8.275 AAV; however, it is not impossible.

Let’s be honest, Philly is currently on a 13-game losing streak and has been a dumpster fire this season. Whether injury related, underperformance by key players, or average goaltending; it is clear the Flyers are about to hit the reset button and start a rebuild.

So the real question is would they be willing to retain some of G’s salary in exchange for draft picks and promising young prospects. With Hart having shown some glimpses of brilliance, they have a young goalie to build around thus protecting Knight. Maybe they would be interested in players like Tippett and Hemponiemi who seem to have potential, but struggle  to consistently crack the lineup for the Cats.

Mix in either a few veterans like Vatrano or Acciari as well as some draft picks and maybe Chuckie Fletcher is willing to retain some of G’s salary?

Again, this is all speculation; however, it would be something fun to think about.

As always Panthers fans, in Zito we trust! Let’s go Cats!

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