SUNRISE — When fully healthy, the Florida Panthers have used the same personnel on their top power play since training camp.
Matthew Tkachuk, Sasha Barkov, Sam Reinhart, Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad have made up Florida’s core with the man advantage when available.
Although those five have not been on the ice much together this season, when they have been there, success has not.
The Panthers have the 24th-ranked power play in the league and are 1-for-10 in their past two losses.
That one goal was scored by the second unit.
As for the top unit, the puck movement has been sloppy, they have failed time and time again on zone entries and they continue to lack the ability to sustain pressure in the offensive zone when they do make an entry.
Following Florida’s 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers on Sunday, Panthers coach Paul Maurice had little to say about his top power play unit.
“Second unit goes first,” he said.
While that may work for a bit, you need to get your best players going.
And in this case, you need to put your best players together.
Aaron Ekblad, right now, is not one of Florida’s best players.
With three goals and 13 points since returning from a groin injury on Nov. 12, Ekblad has not looked like the elite defenseman he has evolved into.
Ekblad has looked slower this season, has made uncharacteristic mistakes in his own zone, and most notably, he has not been scoring at his usual rate.
Since Nov. 28, the usually offensively-potent defenseman has no goals and six assists in 17 games and boasts a plus/minus of minus-13.
Ekblad has four goals overall with just one of them coming on the power play — a wrist shot from the point that came in the second game of the season.
And he is in the shooter’s role on the power play.
Maurice said multiple times during training camp that he was going to use two defensemen on the power play because he likes how Montour distributes the puck and how Ekblad shoots it.
Montour has fared pretty well in his role, racking up 12 power play points. Ekblad has not.
With Ekblad’s play continuing to falter on both ends of the ice, it is time for a change.
And the second unit has the perfect candidate to take over the shooter’s role.
Carter Verhaeghe — the team’s leading goal-scorer — ranks fourth on the Panthers in power play goals (4) in just 2:26 of power play time-on-ice per game.
He leads the Panthers in power play goals per 60 (2.26) and is fourth on the team in power-play points per 60 (4.67).
Verhaeghe has proven time and time again that he is the Panthers’ most confident shooter, boasting a quick release on his wrist shot that rivals many elite goal scorers and a slap shot that can get the job done on the power play.
His speed with the puck is also something the Panthers’ power play has desperately been needing on zone entries.
At some point, Verhaeghe needs to be rewarded for being the team’s second-most consistent point-scorer all season.
And maybe this could be the push Ekblad needs to return to his usual form.
PANTHERS ON DECK
ARIZONA COYOTES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- This season (Arizona leads 1-0): Coyotes 3, Panthers 1 (Nov. 1)
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Arizona leads 20-16-2, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Friday night at Detroit Red Wings