Writer: Matt Ross
Last night the Panthers put away the former Stanley Cup champs with a 5-4 OT victory.
The game was pretty much even in terms of numbers, with the Panthers having a very slight advantage in some key areas. The Cats put 31 shots on net to the Caps 30. Florida out hit Washington 20 to 16 and had the better faceoff percentage (narrowly) with 50.8% to the oppositions 49.2%.
But there’s an issue they will need to correct in order to have success embarking on what feels like another potential second half run…
Holding the lead.
Last year, the Cats went on a tear the second half of the season – coming up one point short of a playoff spot. It feels like history might be repeating itself a bit here as we venture further into the post-All-Star break months.
While the Panthers are winning games, the trend of losing/volleying the lead could be worrisome. In a lot of ways, it’s similar to the Blackhawks the past couple seasons (though not recently). Although the Hawks struggled finding the back of the net for long stretches last year, when they did, they could never seem to hold the lead – often times losing the game.
The Panthers seem to be walking this line the past few games.
• Loss to Blues 3-2 after having a 2-goal lead
• Win over the Pens 3-2 in OT after having the lead twice
• Win over the Caps 5-4 in OT after leading for the majority of the game
Obviously what’s important is getting the W those last two games and I know it’s not realistic to think every game the Cats (or any team for that matter) go up first would/should close it out; but it’s worth keeping an eye on this trend of passing the lead back and forth – especially since the Panthers have scored first in their past seven games…
Battle for Florida
The Cats will faceoff against their hated foes as the Tampa Bay Lightning look to complete a season sweep of the Panthers.
Sitting at 40-11-4, the Lightning are in first place of the Atlantic Division and are absolutely ridiculous with 84 points – the next closest team is the Maple Leafs with 71.
It’ll be an uphill battle for sure…but not unwinnable.
If it comforts you to know, Tampa is 4-2-0 when it comes to back-to-back games and the Panthers are 7-1-3. NHL points leader (81!) and standout winger Nikita Kucherov is scoreless in his past 10 games – hopefully he doesn’t breakout tonight.
The game plan should be more of the same of what Ekblad and Boughner spoke about after Wednesday’s practice – get heavy on the body, puck, shots and forecheck.
But most importantly…keep it simple.
Games against teams of the Lightning’s caliber aren’t times to be cute or force things that aren’t there, just play to your strengths. I’d actually like to see Exblad not jump into plays/down low as much as he has been. Hopefully he stays on the blueline so a forward doesn’t have to drop back and cover for him because this Lightning team can expose that quickly.
Looking forward to a fun, fast-paced game!