A quarter of the way through the 2016-17 season and the Florida Panthers are not where they thought they would be.
Injuries to key players (Jonathan Huberdeau, Jussi Jokinen, Nick Bjugstad), other players getting off to slow starts, and just some overall inconsistencies have produced a disappointing 11-10-2 record entering play on Thursday. That slow start ultimately cost coach Gerard Gallant his job in what was one of the more controversial coach firings in recent memory.
One of the key players that has been in the lineup this season and has had a particularly tough start has been center Aleksander Barkov.
Entering play on Thursday he has just two goals on the season after scoring 28 a year ago in only 66 games. After scoring a goal in each of his first two games of the season, he has now gone 21 in a row without one for the longest goal scoring drought of his career.
On Wednesday, Panthers coach and general manager Tom Rowe talked about Barkov’s play and how he is confident that if the 21-year-old forward keeps playing the way he is, the goals are going to arrive.
“He’s such a horse for us,” Rowe said, via Harvey Fialkov of the Sun-Sentinel. “The thing that impresses me the heck out of him is he’s as cool as a cucumber on the bench. If he plays like that he’ll eventually break [out] and when it breaks it’ll be big time.”
A couple of important things to consider here when it comes to Barkov, and even the Panthers as a whole.
The first is that Barkov isn’t necessarily playing poorly, and Rowe seems to understand that. He is racking up assists at a higher rate than he did over the first three years of his career, his shot rate hasn’t really changed all that much (he has never really been a shoot-first player to begin with), and his possession numbers are still among the best on the team. He is doing a lot of things well and remains a strong all-around player. He just isn’t scoring goals at the moment.
The biggest factor in his goal scoring total is that he is only scoring on 4 percent of his shots, a massive drop from what he has done during his career. Simply shooting at his normal career level on the same number of shots probably gives him an extra three or four goals at the moment.
Is he doing something different that is resulting in a drop in his shooting percentage? Or is it simply the type of cold streak that happens to every player in the league because of how wildly individual shooting percentages fluctuate over the course of a season? It is almost certainly the latter. There is going to come a point this season where Barkov’s percentages start to balance out and he gets some of the bounces around the net that he hasn’t been getting at the moment.
Just go back to a year ago when Barkov had a similar cold streak through November and December when he went 14 games with only a single goal on 38 shots (2 percent). He responded by scoring five goals over the next six games, including a pair of two-goal efforts.
Barkov and the Panthers are back in action on Thursday night in Detroit against the Red Wings.