Florida Panthers: Do They Need Artemi Panarin?

The Florida Panthers finished the 2018-19 National Hockey League season with 86 points, failing to improve on their 96-point campaign of 2017-18 and missing the playoffs for the third straight year.  However, there were a few bright spots to speak of.  

 

Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers  both set career highs for goals, assists, and points in a single season. Barkov’s 96 points also set a new franchise high for the Panthers, as he and Huberdeau became the first pair of Panthers teammates to record at least 90 points in a season.  Keith Yandle also set a record for most points by a defenseman in Panthers history.  Newcomer Mike Hoffman also set personal bests in goals and points.  

The Panthers’ power play ranked second in the league, behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning, converting on 26.8% of their opportunities with the man-advantage.  At that cursory glance, it may appear that the Florida Panthers had a very strong offensive season, and it would  become easy to blame this season on problems emanating from their own end of the ice.  

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As a result, many Panthers fans have dismissed the plethora of rumors linking the Panthers to pending Unrestricted Free Agent Artemi Panarin, claiming that the team should focus its resources on improving defense and goaltending, rather than its offense.  However, dig a little bit deeper and it becomes clear that the Panthers were not as strong a team offensively as the raw goals and points stats may suggest, and that a top-end winger like Artemi Panarin would provide some much-needed improvement to areas of attack in which the Panthers tended to struggle.

Offence Not As It Seems

The Panthers scored 264 goals during the 2018-19 season, the ninth-most of any team in the league, but it is important to break down where those goals came from.  

Of those 264 goals, only 162 of them came during 5-on-5 hockey.  By percentage of total goals scored at 5-on-5, the Panthers’ 61.36% was the third-lowest mark in the NHL.  Additionally, the Panthers’ 2.45 goals for per sixty minutes at 5-on-5 ranked as just the 16th-best in the league and their expected goals for per sixty minutes was even worse, at 2.32 and ranked 22nd.  

As one might expect, the Panthers’ middling-at-best goal scoring at 5-on-5 is rooted in their inability to generate and sustain time and pressure in the offensive zone.  On a per sixty minutes basis at 5-on-5, the Panthers ranked 21st in the league in shot attempts, 15th in unblocked shot attempts, 16th in shots on goal, 27th in scoring chances, and 28th in high-danger shot attempts (Table 1).  

Almost every team that qualified for the 2019 post-season ranked among the top-half of the league in most of these statistics, as well as expected goals for, and every playoff team (except Winnipeg) had at least one top-10 ranking (Table 2). 

Considering how the playoff teams stack up to the rest of the league, and that just over 80% of all minutes played were at 5-on-5 in the 2018-19 season, the Panthers’ performance at 5-on-5 left a lot to be desired.  Having a strong power play is obviously an important part of the game, but problems arise when a team’s offense essentially relies on their opponents breaking the rules.

Artemi Panarin The Missing Piece?

So how does Panarin fit into the Florida Panthers’ plans?  To put it simply, Panarin is good at everything that the Panthers are not. Consider for a moment that there are 93 “top-line caliber” forwards in the NHL and that ranking in the top-31 of any given statistic would make a player one of the best in the league in that stat.  

Per sixty minutes at 5-on-5, Panarin ranked 40th in shot attempts for, 19th in unblocked shot attempts, 23rd in shots on goal and scoring chances, 100th in high-danger shot attempts, and 25th in expected goals for.  Note that Panarin is only below the “top-line” demarcation in one of those statistics and he is within the top-31 in four of the six.(Table 3).  

Moreover, not a single Panthers player outranks Panarin in any one of those statistics.  Panarin also had the 23rd-best goals above replacement in the league, beaten only by Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov.  Panarin’s impact on his teammates is demonstrably impressive as well (Figures 1, 2).  

Panarin most commonly shared the ice with Columbus Blue Jackets linemates Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson.  In the 749:30 that the three of them were together, their possession numbers were remarkable, posting a 55.06% shot attempts for.  In the 134 minutes that Dubois and Atkinson spent away from Panarin, their possession numbers were equally remarkable, but on the opposite side of the scale, posting a mere 36.33% shot attempts for.  

Meanwhile, in that time that Panarin spent with other linemates, he still maintained a 53.33% shot attempts for.  This trend is representative across all the other major possession percentages as well (Table 4).  

One would think that a team like the Panthers, who struggled offensively during the game’s most common situation, would be very interested in adding a forward who consistently and vastly improves his team’s play for nothing but salary cap space.

This is not to say that Panarin will play in a Panthers sweater for the next five to seven years, but more so to dispel the narrative that the Panthers do not need to pursue him when free agency opens up and present the case for why he should be a priority on July 1st.  

Panarin is one of the best forwards in the NHL and there are no two ways about it. The Panthers may appear to have had a strong offensive season, but they were very much propped up by a strong power play and a few very good shooters, which is not a sustainable model for success.  

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Panarin would provide some much-needed assistance to the Panthers’ ability to generate and sustain offense, as well as push another forward down the depth chart, which, in addition to some of their more highly anticipated prospects, would also give the Panthers a bit more depth for Panarin’s tenure in Sunrise if they were to sign him.  

The Panthers have plenty of work to do from a personnel standpoint up and down the whole roster (defense and goaltending included) if they want to create a consistent contender, but to claim that the Panthers should not pursue Panarin given the chance is dangerously shortsighted.  

Panthers fans should expect the team to be heavily engaged in pursuing Panarin on July 1st and will, hopefully, welcome him with open arms if he does find his way down to Sunrise.

 

 

All statistics from naturalstattrick.com and evolving-hockey.com

Shot location heatmaps from hockeyviz.com

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins: Taking On Tortorella And The Well-Rested Blue Jackets

The Boston Bruins are moving onto Round 2. The Bruins will be taking on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

CBJ Is Well-Rested And Ready To Pounce

The Columbus Blue Jackets are coming off of sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning. They are well-rested and ready to take on Boston.

But, how many people honestly had the Blue Jackets beating Tampa ? How many people picked them to sweep?

Columbus made some incredible deals (added Matt Duchene, Adam McQuaid, Ryan Dzingel and Keith Kinkaid) at the deadline and those seem to be paying off right now. Their future? That’s anther story. But for now, it’s all about round 2 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

Their bags had been packed for almost a week, but the Blue Jackets had no idea where their charter would be flying to. One would have to think, that seeing a first round matchup like Boston-Toronto, the Jackets were enjoying both teams beating each other up. It took 7 hard fought games against the Toronto Maple Leafs before Boston could open up the doors of the Garden to the Blue Jackets.

Who Has The Edge?

Game one of the Eastern Conference Semifinals will be played tomorrow night at 7 pm EST.

The Blue Jackets are well-rested, but does a week off really help? Some may say no, some say yes. I don’t think being well-rested gives the Blue Jackets any edge. Sure, they’ve had time to review game tape and prepare, but the Bruins are coming off two huge wins back to back. The Bruins are finding their groove. Where as Columbus, might’ve lost a stride here and there before heading to Boston.

Columbus

Let’s go across the sheet and take a look at their roster. It’s scary to say the least. Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Duchene, and Dzingel to name a few. All-around, the Blue Jackets have a well-rounded club. They are excellent in all three zones. But, there still is one more name that I haven’t touched on. They have a guy by the name of Sergei Bobrovsky in net. He’s amongst the Vezina talks every year. He’s incredible when he’s on.

The CBJ, are coached by Boston native, John Tortorella.  “Torts” has been a head coach in the NHL for quite some time. He’s seen time with Vancouver, Columbus, and the New York Rangers. This season he’s found something. Something that works. His “laid back” kind of mentality is something that drives this Columbus team. We’re obviously no flies on the wall in the dressing room, but one would have to think that Tortorella locks down his players when he needs them. 

Atkinson Returning To Boston

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I want to touch a little on Cam Atkinson. Another kid with Boston ties. Atkinson played his college hockey at Boston College. Atkinson helped lead the Eagles to a national championship. 

Throughout his career, Atkinson has always been someone I’ve always liked watching. He plays the game with edge, speed, and he’s highly underrated. He’s also got a great shot as well. I love every aspect of his game. Perhaps, at some point, the Bruins might look to bring Atkinson to Boston when he’s a UFA.

The Bruins

But, the Columbus Blue Jackets will have their hands full when they arrive at TD Garden on Thursday night. The Bruins are coming off what might have been Tuukka Rask‘s best performance in the last few years. He played well all series long against the Leafs. The fan base in Boston can only pray that carries over to the second round.

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Davis Pastrnak needs to find his game. He was invisible in round one. When he picks up the pace, the Bruins will only become a bigger threat. If Pastrnak is back in shape, perhaps head coach Bruce Cassidy will move him back to the top line to play alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Without Pastrnak, the top line wasn’t too effective against the Leafs, so 63-37-88 will hopefully be fully charged and ready for a resurgence.

Twelve more wins until the Cup is in Boston. The journey continues tomorrow and the Bruins will be hoping to carry the momentum from round one into game one. 

player profiles from hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Tampa Bay Lightning: Golf Is Fun, Right?

After Game 3, the Columbus Blue Jackets have a 3-0 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning

 

Game Summary

 

1st Period

Early on, the Tampa Bay Lightning showed their frustrations. They showed aggressiveness and eventually, Lightning forward Alex Killorn took a stupid penalty by hitting Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky after the whistle.

The Blue Jackets couldn’t generate much offense, and when they did, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was up to the task. After the penalty was killed, Columbus’ Josh Anderson had a great chance and Vasilevskiy robbed him.

The physicality continued both ways, as Tampa Bay began pressuring the Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky, early on, had trouble handling the puck but was solid and making the saves. It was a very fast and aggressive start, but neither team got much going.

Throughout the first, Columbus had random, short bursts of good chances, and Vasilevskiy did a great job. Like the Calgary/Colorado game Saturday night, where those two teams were polar opposites in the second period, the Lightning acted as the Flames. They were not generating offense, but keeping their opposition on the perimeter and blocking as many shots as possible. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets acted as the Carolina Hurricanes in their game Saturday, sustaining offensive zone possession and throwing as many shots as they can on net. To put it into perspective, Tampa Bay blocked 13 shots, as the Jackets outshot the Lightning 12-3.

 

2nd Period

Not long after the puck dropped, Tampa Bay established the offense as forward Ondrej Palat had a quality opportunity to open the frame. Columbus had trouble with bouncing pucks, but once the Blue Jackets got it into the offensive zone, they buried it.

After a great save by Vasilevskiy off a point shot through traffic, the puck found Matt Duchene and Vasilevskiy had no chance, and it’s 1-0 Columbus.

The Lightning responded well however, getting back into the offensive zone, and generating solid offensive opportunities. Bobrovsky made a few great saves to keep them at bay. This time, it became Columbus relying on bursts of offense, and not keeping it in the offensive zone. At about the 14-minute mark, Lightning forward Ryan Callahan Then Lightning forward Ryan Callahan blatantly interferes Columbus’ Artemi Panarin. About 45 seconds later, the Lightning touched the puck for the whistle.  After a tough minute and a half on the man advantage, Oliver Bjorkstrand blasted one past Vasilevskiy to make it 2-0 Columbus.

Can we please fire Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper now? Okay, let’s hear him out. So coach Cooper, you guys are down 2-0, what’s been going wrong? “We knew that they’d be coming strong early there, but I think we got past that and weathered it fine” Alright, is this guy blind? Is he watching the same damn game as everyone else? Because this has been yet another pathetic effort. Outside of Vasilevskiy, the Lightning have been awful. The few times that Tampa has had good scoring chances, they’ve missed the net.

 

3rd Period

More of the same early. Tampa Bay cannot move the puck cleanly at all, it’s embarrassing. But then… can it be? Sustained offensive zone time? Shots on net? But still, Bobrovsky kept it out.

Then Columbus brought it back the other way after Tampa Bay played the puck with a high stick and the whistle was blown. Bobrovsky then made a fantastic save on Palat again. But it wasn’t too much later when Palat put home a great chance as Bobrovsky initially made a ridiculous save, but Palat stayed with it and buried it in the back of the net.

At this point, everyone on Tampa has skated with a passion. Palat had been great, and has improved with each minute that ticked down. Bobrovsky made another spectacular save, but the Lightning kept pushing.

Tampa Bay defenceman Jan Rutta was having immense problems keeping the puck in at the blue line, as well as Mikhail Sergachev nearly put the puck in his own net. Soon after, Vasilevskiy shut down a Ryan Dzingel breakaway attempt. It was a huge save, as Vasilevskiy was looking to keep the momentum completely on Tampa Bay’s side.

Another fantastic save is made by Vasilevskiy, as the Lightning’s  sloppy play nearly cost them on several occasions. Something I didn’t notice was that Killorn was involved in a collision and he limped off and went down the tunnel and to the locker room.

Now it’s Bobrovsky’s turn again to make key stops, and in the final five minutes, he was forced to track an Erik Cernak shot through traffic, and he gloved it down. (Side note: The Lightning have been awful in faceoffs.) Then Bobrovsky stops a flying Tyler Johnson on a shot in tight. With 2:15 left, Vasilevskiy made another key stop. Less than two minutes left, and Cooper had yet to pull Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker. Eventually, Cooper got Vasilevsliy to the bench but to no avail. Columbus’ Cam Atkinson put it into the empty net, and that would end it. 3-1 Columbus.

 

My Team Hero

Andrei Vasilevskiy was sharp throughout the entire game, that’s for sure. He wasn’t good in the first two games, but he was very good for the Lightning in this one. He’s probably the only Lightning player who played a full 60 minutes. Erik Cernak wasn’t great, but he was the Lightning’s best defenseman out on the ice. He did a good job transitioning up ice, and was solid in the defensive zone, not giving the puck away too often.

 

My Team Villain

Jon Cooper was out-coached yet again, and his comments in the second period, where he said the Lightning weathered the early Blue Jackets storm “really well” when they were down 2-0 was just the cherry on top to how delusional this man is. Not to mention, he held an optional practice ahead of a crucial must-win game for his team. Optional skate in the playoffs? Really? Just pathetic.

Nikita Kucherov, for the third straight game, makes this list. Yeah, he didn’t play, I know. But that’s exactly why he’s here. The Lightning did a decent job in the offensive zone in periods 1 and 3, albeit a streaky first period and a last-ditch effort in the third period.

But the Lightning have been in these comeback situations many times throughout their record-breaking regular season, and they looked to Kucherov, among others, to spark their game and get those tough goals. Well, Kucherov was suspended for Game 3 due to a very stupid hit in Game 2, and couldn’t be there for the Lightning when they genuinely needed him most.

Finally, Jan Rutta. The guy was solid for us through the stretch run in March, when Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi went down with injuries. He played well enough that when Girardi came back, he took Braydon Coburn’s role on the bottom defence pair. But in the playoffs, the guy has been awful. He hesitates when he has the puck on his stick, turns it over about 20 times a game and can’t hold the offensive blue line to retain offensive zone possession if his life depended on it. When he has the puck and he’s looking to break it out of the defensive zone, (and there’s a Blue Jackets forward forechecking) he instantly looks lost. He’ll turn back, go around behind the Lightning net, then reverse it up the boards, right into the skates of that same Jackets forward that was skating towards him on the forecheck. He does this on multiple occasions and it’s pathetic. Did I mention Jon Cooper yet?

 

My Three Stars

*Sergei Bobrovsky: As I mentioned in my series preview, Bobrovsky could steal this series from Tampa Bay, and that’s exactly what’s happening

**Matt Duchene: He’s absolutely been on fire. Tampa Bay can’t figure out how to stop this man.

***Erik Cernak: Figured I could maybe squeeze someone from the Lightning in here. Got an assist on the only goal scored for Tampa Bay. 

 

Potential For Next Game

I got one word for you: Brooms. Take them out Columbus, because that’s exactly the way it’s going. Cooper doesn’t know what the hell he is doing, and has only gotten this far strictly because of how absolutely stacked the roster is. So unless Cooper gets fired or begins using the smart part of his brain, instead of just trying the same damn things every game and hoping it will work because this team won 62 games in the regular season, then I have no confidence that they will win Game 4.  But there’s always hope!

 

Stats provided by hockey-reference

Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals 

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Columbus Blue Jackets Preview, Part One

The President Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning have a challenger in round one. Who’s stepping up to the task? The Columbus Blue Jackets, with Sergei Bobrovsky in net. So, let’s look at how these two teams match up.

Tampa’s Last Ten

Over the final ten games, the Lightning went 7-3-0, outscoring opponents 42-30 in that span. Andrei Vasilevskiy started 7 of those 10 games, going 5-2-0, with a save percentage of .900 and a goals against average of 3.14, which aren’t the best numbers to have, especially late in the season. The big three of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point scored 10, 6 and 3 goals, respectively, which made up 45.2% of Tampa’s goals scored over the last ten games.

Columbus’ Last Ten

Over the Jackets own last ten, they went 7-3-0 as well, outscoring opponents 38-24 in that span. So while they posted the same record, the Lightning scored more goals, while they gave up less.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens come round one, lots of goals or few goals? While Vasilevskiy put up fairly pedestrian numbers over the last ten, Bobrovsky started 8 games, winning 6, while posting a SV% of .940 and a GAA of 1.63, with 3 shutouts. Based on that, Bobrovsky is the hotter goalie coming into the series. However, Vasilevskiy has been far more consistent than Bobrovsky this season.

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Columbus’ big three would be Cam Atkinson, Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin, who scored 3, 1 and 3 goals, respectively, which combined to make up just 18.4% of the Blue Jackets goals over the last ten. The top 3 goal scorers on the Jackets seemingly cooled off late in the season which, if it isn’t solved, could come back to haunt them.

Top 6 Comparison

Tampa’s top 6 fluctuates, as they have plenty of guys who can move up and down the lineup. However, these are the likely players in the top 6: Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, Point, Stamkos, J.T. Miller and Ondrej Palat. These 6 players have combined for 177 goals.

The Columbus Blue Jackets top 6 consists of Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Atkinson, Ryan Dzingel, Duchene and Josh Anderson. These 6 have combined for 190 goals. However, Dzingel and Duchene weren’t on Columbus the whole year, and if you take out their goal totals with Ottawa, this top 6 has 141 goals. Duchene and Dzingel have combined for just 8 goals since joining the Jackets.

Yet again, Tampa’s consistency has been better than that of Columbus.

Bottom 6 Comparison

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For this, I’ll add in the current bottom 6 of both teams and the totals of players that are extra forwards (such as Ryan Callahan and Danick Martel for Tampa) to get every other goal scored outside of the top 6 forwards. Tampa’s depth has scored 107 goals this season, while Columbus’ depth has tallied 77 goals. It’s safe to say that Tampa has much better scoring depth, as Ryan Callahan has more goals than some third liners on Columbus.

Conclusion

Tampa has been more consistent on offense, and in net, although Bobrovsky has been on a tear of late. Check in for part two to see how the Lightning blue line matches up to that of the Jackets.

stats from NHL.com & Hockey-Reference.com

 

Just How Good Has Jake Guentzel Been for the Pittsburgh Penguins?

Jake Guentzel was drafted 77th overall in the 2013 draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Jake Guentzel‘s first NHL goal came on November 21, 2016 against the New York Rangers. He ended up scoring two that game as the Pens came away with a win.

In his rookie season, he put up 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 40 games played. Fifteen of his sixteen goals came at even strength as well. Despite having a solid start, Guentzel wasn’t finished there. The Penguins were looking to make a long playoff run that year and they needed help all throughout the lineup. They got exactly what they asked for. Guentzel would go on to have 21 points (13 goals, 8 assists) in 25 games as the Pens hoisted their 5th Stanley Cup in franchise history going back-to-back. The rookie was making quite the impression around the league but one question was always asked, would he produce without Sidney Crosby?

Sophomore Season

Heading into his sophomore season, that question loomed over Guentzel. Most fans around the league and even analysts were ready to write his rookie season off as a fluke. Guentzel didn’t get those rumors to go away with his 48 points (22 goals, 26 assists) in 82 games. Sure, 48 points is nothing to just ignore. But, it certainly isn’t something to write home about either. The Penguins looked poised to make another playoff push this season. They finished with 100 points and 2nd place in the Metropolitan division behind the Washington Capitals. Questions swirled around about whether or not Guentzel could produce in the playoffs like he did the year before. Those questions quickly got their answer. Guentzel would have 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in just 12 games. Unfortunately, the Penguins would come up short in the 2nd round.

Junior Season

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Nobody really knew what to expect from Guentzel heading into the 2018-19 season. Everyone knew the kid could play, but didn’t know just how well he could play. He would have 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists) in the first 20 games of the season. Alright, can this kid keep it up?

Guentzel would have 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists) in his next 20 games. Thirty-five points in the first fourty games is good, right? The Penguins were sold.

Hard Work Pays Off

The Pens would sign Guentzel on December 27, 2018 to a 5 year contract worth 30 million (6 million per year). The Pens would continue through their season and Guentzel had no intentions of slowing down. Currently, Jake Guentzel has 71 points (38 goals, 33 assists) in 76 games. Guentzel is tied for 7th in goals with Connor McDavid, Alex DeBrincat, and Cam Atkinson. Pretty good company.

Playoff Push

The Pens are currently 3rd in the Metropolitan division with 93 points. The Pens are chasing down the division leaders, Washington Capitals & New York Islanders. They are 8-1-4 in the month of March and are hoping to stay in a playoff spot for the remainder of the season. The Pens last regular season game is on April 6th against the New York Rangers.

We’ll keep our eye on the Pittsburgh Penguins and we will keep you up to date.

Stats from HockeyReference, NHL.com

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