Writer: Matt Ross
The Panthers face another big test as they get ready to host a Flames team that currently sits at 34-16-4 and in second place in the Pacific Division with 74 points - just one point behind the surging San Jose Sharks.
With the Panthers having lost their past two games and the Flames finding themselves on a three-game skid, something will have to give tonight and coach Boughner feels he might have the game plan in place to help Florida get the edge on Calgary in tonight's tilt...
Boughner broke down yesterday's practice, explaining that the focus was on driving to the middle of the net, getting in on the forecheck and rolling off checks to beat guys to the front. He emphasized the importance of getting shots on and having net-front presence - referencing that the majority of goals scored around the league the night before were not pretty goals, but just guys working hard, getting traffic In front and doing whatever it took to find the back of the net.
This really isn't Earth-shattering stuff. It's a simple, hard-nosed approach that's a good thing for this panthers team. It's a mindset/game plan that can lead to success at any level. The Panthers have a lot of talent and I think they sometimes believe that talent alone will get the job done and not necessarily having to grind it out. Don't get me wrong, talent is key, but you can't overlook getting ugly and putting in the hard work and going to the tough areas (corners, front of the net, etc.). A goal is a goal, despite how pretty or ugly it is. The Cats like to sometimes float on the perimeters and that won't always get the job done. Finding the back of the net is the name of the game and having an aggressive attack with guy(s) driving to the net hard always helps.
Bougher's comments certainly make a lot of sense coming off their recent loss, which saw them blanked by the Stars 3-0 on Tuesday night. The Cats struggled mighty against the scheme Dallas drew up to stifle the speed of Florida (credit to them). The Cats often times had trouble getting through the neutral zone, and although they outshot the Stars 30-19, they gave up more quality chances than Dallas did. The Panthers were relegated to the outside and didn't have the quality shooting lanes, nor could they get to the net to cause chaos. It came down to the Stars generating more offense/pressure (on less shots) than the Panthers were able to do - a sentiment shared by both Boughner and Trocheck after the game.
The 5-2 loss to the Lightning was a different sort of scenario - despite the Panthers outshotting the competition again at 27-23. Tampa is just such a solid team all around: speed, skill, goaltending and the list goes on. Every line knows their role and executes well. While the Panthers had their chances and scratched (pun intended) their way back in the second period to make it 3-2, the combination of Reimer's struggles (a couple of soft goals before being benched for the third) and Tampa's big guns leading the charge - most notably Nikita Kucherov who was scoreless in 10 games until putting two in that night - was just too much for Florida to overcome.
Hopefully the Panthers take advantage of the Flames (rare) slump they currently find themselves in. I think in order to do that, they'll have to be on the same page as Bougher, plus a couple extra points:
Drive hard to the net
PP must get back on track - at one point the Cats had the best PP in the league, but have since gone cold...they need to get that going again
Get traffic in front - don't let the goalie settle in and get comfortable, make his night miserable
Keep the legs moving - roll off hits/contact and beat the opposition to the front to look for a screen, redirect, etc.
Get ugly - forget about the fancy goal, it's time to lace up the boots, bring the lunch pale and go to work - do whatever you can to get that puck in the net, even if it means paying a price
Get production from the lower lines - nothing can boost a team like a fourth line that the opposition doesn't have an answer for. With McGinn back in the mix and getting his legs under him, I'd like to see Sheahan, Troy 'The Boy Toy' and McGinn operating as a true energy line and help bolster the physical game
The Rumor Mill
There's still a lot of chatter about the possibility of Bob/Panarin making their way to sunny Florida with the idea that Brassard would be a piece of the package heading up to Columbus. While the other part of that package remained a mystery, there are new rumors that Hoffman or even Huberdeau could be a part of the deal.
Man...that's tough if true. While I know you have to give up something to get something, I like both Huberdeau and Hoffman and I think it would be hard to part with either - though, I guess you need to keep in mind that a very good player in the Bread Man would be coming to Florida.
Puck drop at 7PM...let's go Cats!