The Florida Panthers were not their high-powered offensive selves at points during their most recent road trip, scoring just four goals during regulation during a two-game stretch in Vancouver and Seattle rather than hitting the four goals-per-game pace they had been averaging.
One reason could have been the absence of Gus Forsling.
Forsling has flown under the radar this season, notching a goal and 19 assists in 37 games this season, but he does a lot more than just post numbers on the scoresheet.
His crisp passing ability, puck possession prowess, and puck carrying ability have been huge in driving play for the Panthers this season.
Since he was placed on the Covid-19 protocol list last Wednesday, the Panthers saw a severe dip in puck possession numbers and were plagued with slow starts.
The Panthers have the sixth-worst Corsi-for percentage (47.37) and the sixth-worst Fenwick-for percentage (44.76) according to naturalstattrick.com in the first three games they played without Forsling — a stark contrast to where they stand with him in the lineup.
Before Florida lost Forsling, they ranked first in the league in both categories with a 55.68 Corsi-for percentage and a 55.40 Fenwick-for percentage.
Even in Florida’s 6-0 win against the Edmonton Oilers the day after he was placed on the Covid list, his absence was very apparent at the start of the game.
The Panthers had trouble establishing possession and stringing together offensive opportunities to the point where they were down 17-7 in shots and 5-2 in high-danger chances through the first period of play.
Granted, they were able to push through and score six goals in the next two periods to knock the Oilers off with an easy win, but two things factored into that victory.
The Oilers still controlled play a lot of times and it took a massive effort from Sergei Bobrovsky to notch the shutout.
Florida also took advantage of an Edmonton team that was very flawed in the defensive zone, scoring when they got the chance.
It was a similar story the following night in Vancouver, but this time, those goals did not come.
Vancouver controlled play, for the most part, holding Florida to only three high-danger scoring chances throughout the game.
Of course, Canucks goalie Spencer Martin did have the game of his career stopping 33 of the 34 shots he faced, but most of those chances weren’t the best due to some sloppy puck movement.
They held a 1-0 lead until Sam Reinhart found the back of the net on the power play early in the third period, and it turned into a defensive battle from there.
The Panthers finally gained control of the game in 3-on-3 overtime with a three-minute offensive onslaught, but Vancouver weathered the storm and limited most of the chances to the perimeter, sending it to a shootout.
On Sunday in Seattle, the Panthers did not play a complete game.
The Kraken controlled the pace for the most part and Florida could not get much going when it came to possessing the puck and stringing together plays.
Games like these are where the Panthers missed Forsling the most.
A three-goal second period where the Kraken found the holes in Florida’s game, driving play and creating timely takeaways toppled Florida and despite a comeback effort, they could not recover.
Forsling, whose crisp passing and puck possession ability really could have helped the Panthers establish themselves and play a complete game on Sunday.
The Panthers were able to control play more in their 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets, one which featured a change in personnel.
Matt Kiersted, who had been in the lineup for Forsling, was taken out for Chase Priskie, who was called up from the taxi squad.
Paired with Lucas Carlsson, his pairing had a combined Corsi-for percentage of 71.13 and a combined plus/minus of plus-eight.
They seemed to gel together, and along with a newly re-united third line, helped the Panthers establish play early on.
While the Panthers finished their road trip 3-2-0, and on a high note after a clean win in Winnipeg, they’ll be happy when Forsling is activated off of Covid protocol.
Forsling could play Thursday against Vegas although, with the team not getting a practice in Wednesday, his return may not come until Saturday.