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The Florida Panthers Certainly Miss Sasha Barkov

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Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov, pictured here warming up before a game against Columbus on Nov. 6, has missed the past two games with an undisclosed lower body injury. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE — It seems like only yesterday that we were commending the Florida Panthers for their excellent work on the penalty kill as they went from dead last in the NHL to a spot in the top five.

In January, before Friday’s debacle against Minnesota, they were killing penalties at a sparkling 89.7 percent rate.

Then, bang!

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Things went haywire against the Wild with the Panthers allowing five power-play goals in six tries by Minnesota.

For you folks who like math, that’s a paltry 16.7 percent success rate.

So, what happened?

For starters, missing Sasha Barkov did not help.

Barkov’s absence, however, was just as apparent in the forfeited scoring attempts he missed in the two-plus games. Anton Lundell is a versatile, hard-working center, he is not Barkov.

Coach Paul Maurice would not use the loss of his captain and top defensive forward as an excuse. 

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“He’s a great player, but I don’t see that as the key piece. It’s opportunities for other players. Lundell was good,’’ Maurice said.

But?

“We won’t be bragging about this one. This was a tough one for us.”

What else happened? No amount of analysis can figure that one out. It was simply a complete breakdown.

During the nine-game winning streak, the penalty kill was at a respectable 89.3 percent, and the power play clicking at 32.4 percent.

These numbers, of course, were not sustainable. As a means of comparison, the power play during the four-game losing streak was at 25 percent – not bad – but the penalty kill is 62.5 percent. Those are not the numbers of a playoff team.

Of course, the numbers are skewed by the Minnesota game, one which must be considered a complete defensive fiasco.

Often, a losing streak needs to hit rock bottom, have a major-league clunker before the team regroups and becomes a cohesive threat again.

At this time last year, after the All-Star break, the team went on a well-documented tear to a playoff spot.

The situation is different this season, with a post-season slot almost guaranteed as moneypuck.com gives the Panthers a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs.

That’s just slightly off from where the Panthers were during the winning streak.

What’s in store for the future?

According to Maurice, who has been around long enough to deal with a little adversity, the Panthers would take Saturday off to “get a day’s rest and then get back to work.”

Barkov’s return from his lower body injury is still uncertain. He was possible for Minnesota but held out for precautionary reasons. Maurice said he would not be back until he was 100 percent ready but added it should not be long.

Nashville is up next.

The Predators are a streaky team with several winning (and losing) streaks this season.

Their power play is a mid-pack 20.8 percent, but Filip Forsberg is producing at better than a point-per-game pace, and Ryan O’Reilly is third in the league with 11 power-play goals.

The Predators are in the thick of a playoff position battle in the West and will not be pushovers.

The PK must be at its best.

It certainly could not get any worse.

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ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ NASHVILLE PREDATORS 

  • When: Monday, 8 p.m.
  • Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville 
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • Season Series — At Nashville: Monday. At Florida: March 21.
  • Last Season: Nashville won 2-0
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Florida leads 21-14-6, 3 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Wednesday vs. Arizona Coyotes, 7 p.m.

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