FORT LAUDERDALE — The Florida Panthers find themselves in an interesting position.
While they have not scored a goal at 5-on-5 in the past three games, they do not have much to panic about.
They gutted out two wins against the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders with exceptional play on special teams before a 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers helped uncover a few of the issues the team has been having at even strength.
“I think we just have to simplify a little bit,” Evan Rodrigues told FHN.
“We had the Pittsburgh game where we had a bunch of penalties, so there’s not really a flow to the game. And then the Islanders game, they are a stingy defensive team, and we grinded our way through that game.
”Yesterday, we played another hard, stingy defensive team. So, I think we have to get back to rimming pucks, getting in on the forecheck, and turning the tide of the game in our favor, and I think it would be fine.”
Florida is a hard-forechecking team that can set the tone and win games their way rather easily.
But they can go south pretty quickly when things are not going their way.
That happened in the second period when Philadelphia took control of the puck possession battle and out-chanced Florida 17-5 before a Panthers dump-in attempt turned into a flip pass and a game-tying goal on a partial rush chance near the end of the period.
“I think that game was lost in the second period,” coach Paul Maurice said. “We made our mistakes mentally in the second period where we tried to get the game back on our terms in one play where you need to hold water and shut the game down for a little bit.
“What we did was we lost the flow of the game, and if you’re a forechecking team like we are, as soon as you lose the flow of the game, it’s obvious, and you can see it, and you need to try and get it back. The way to get it back is not how we tried to do it.”
The Panthers tried to force their way into offense in the third period, trying to string together some rush chances.
Still, it only resulted in three shots on goal despite a whopping 17-7 lead in third-period scoring chances per Natural Stat Trick.
It ultimately became their downfall when a forced stretch pass turned into a carom off the boards, leading to Noah Cates’ eventual game-winning goal early in the third.
“Some games they go in and some games they don’t,” Rodrigues said of the disparity of scoring chances and shots.
”I think when you start to overthink it and worry about the puck not going in, it gets worse and starts to pile on. So it goes back to the simplifying things, getting guys in front of the net and then shooting pucks and fighting for rebounds. We had success all year long like that, it’s just about getting back to that, and it will open everything up for us.”
Maurice feels many of those problems stem from the team’s mentality during the four-game winning streak it carried into the All-Star break and beyond.
They won games playing it safe in certain situations and generating solid looks with extended zone time but have faded off the intensity in rush situations.
He felt they were overthinking it too much in their first game out of the break.
“I think we’ve wanted not to waste shots, so we were looking for more offensive zone time,” Maurice said.
“It came in a stretch of games where we were beating playoff teams, and we were on a really strong run, so we’ve kind of kept that, and now I think we’ve possibly overdone it. And it’s not even in-zone; it’s off the rush.
”Our first thought off the rush now is not ‘puck to the net,’ and that’s okay if you have a better option. But it can’t be who you are. You cannot be looking at the net and do that. Drive the net, pound the net and start your chaos there. I think we’ve come off that a little bit so that’s probably a starting point for us.”
Playing a hungry Flyers team on a five-game losing streak right out of the break helped uncover things, and a slate of teams in a similar spot in their playoff races can help the Panthers fine-tune their game some more.
“I think we came out and played really well,” Rodrigues said.
”We started off the game really hot, and I think we just got a little bit too comfortable. I think we almost have to put our foot on the gas even more when that sort of thing happens.
“We got the juices flowing a little bit, we got a quick, hard practice in today and we should be ready to go.”
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WASHINGTON CAPITALS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank 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, NHL app
- This Season: At Washington: Panthers 4, Capitals 3 OT (Nov. 8). At Florida: Thursday; Feb. 24
- Last Season: Panthers won 3-0
- All-time Regular Season Series: Washington leads 67-46-13, 9 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Colorado, 6 p.m.