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New Year, New Power Play: Florida Panthers turn a corner

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Florida panthers power play
Sasha Barkov, center, celebrates his power play goal — the Florida Panthers’ first of 2022 — with Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Reinhart, Anthony Duclair and Aaron Ekblad on Jan. 1 against the Canadiens. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

Before the Florida Panthers had a pause to their season due to the combination of a Covid-19 outbreak and the NHL holiday break, their power play was one of the worst in the league.

Granted, it was a team that was shorthanded at that point.

Florida had been missing both Sasha Barkov and Anthony Duclair for a large chunk of games during the stretch leading up to the pause.

From the time Florida lost Barkov to a lower-body injury on Nov. 16 up until their season was put on pause on Dec. 17, the Panthers’ power play was tied for 29th in the league in power play percentage, scoring on only 12.5 percent of their man-advantage opportunities.

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Only the Montreal Canadiens (9.4) and the New Jersey Devils (8.4) scored less often on the power play than the Panthers.

Since returning to play on Dec. 29, Florida’s power play is tied for seventh in the league with the stark improvement to a 28.6 percent clip through their last seven games.

You might be asking yourself: What changed?

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For starters, the Panthers gained back all of their top contributors from injury.

Barkov, who missed 12 of Florida’s last 13 games before the break, and Duclair, who missed eight games in a row with a lower-body injury of his own, were both 100 percent healthy when the team resumed play.

“I’d say for the last two months, we just seemed to have different guys in and out a little bit,” Brunette said prior to Florida’s Dec. 29 game against the New York Rangers.

“Barkov is a huge spoke in the wheel that keeps that moving. He was out a lot, and then we had protocol guys, but we’ve had all kinds of different movements. We’re just trying to get familiarity back.”

With Florida’s captain back in the lineup and on the power play, it has been moving a lot more fluidly and has been churning out goals since his return.

Barkov activates play and distributes the puck from his role as the power play quarterback, but he hasn’t been afraid to shoot from that position, which makes him a dynamic player on the man advantage.

Through the first two weeks following the holiday break, Barkov is tied for fourth in the league in power play goals with two.

Anthony Duclair was also a new addition to Florida’s power play following the holiday break.

Prior to his return to injury, he was mainly slotted in on the second power play unit in a limited role, but he was thrust in a bigger role as soon as he got back.

Duclair led all players in the NHL in goals through Florida’s first three games back from the holiday break, which led Brunette to giving him more responsibility on the power play.

“These are really good opportunities and he deserves every inch he’s gotten here,” Florida’s interim coach said of Duclair. “He’s a pretty dynamic player and he deserves to be playing on the power play.”

Duclair added an element to the Panthers power play that was sorely needed: someone who will shoot the puck when they get the opportunity to do so.

While it hasn’t resulted in any power play goals for Duclair yet since returning from the break, it has activated the power play by causing more rebound opportunities for the net-front players Florida has at its disposal.

Of the five players who have a power play goal in that seven-game span, three of them (Sam Reinhart, Joe Thornton, and Patric Hornqvist) play in a net-front role, cleaning up rebounds and finishing up those second-chance opportunities.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything special,” Reinhart said. “I think we’re playing a simple game offensively and getting the puck there at the right time. I think we’re all on the same page there and it has been effective.”

Simple has gotten the job done for the Panthers every since they returned from the break.

In the team’s run prior to the break, a lot of scoring opportunities were passed up on via an attempted pass instead of a shot, but with more pucks being put on net, they have recovered from that.

“I think at times we get a little cute at times where we don’t put pucks on net,” Brunette said.

“It was good to see us being hungrier on the puck and putting pucks on net and winning those little battles in that area.”

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