Without Brayden Point in the lineup for Game 1, and with Erik Cernak leaving during that contest, the Lightning still beat the Panthers on Tuesday. Jon Cooper indicated that, while Cernak should be good to go, Point won’t play in Game 2.
Zach Bogosian, another banged-up Bolts blueliner, is also expected to be available.
While the Lightning’s practice lines looked like this, it wouldn’t be shocking if Tampa Bay once again opted for 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Game 2.
#Bolts practice lines:
— Chris Krenn (@Chris_Krenn) May 18, 2022
Can the Panthers take better advantage of Point’s absence against Lightning in Game 2
Truly, it’s impressive that the Lightning stifled the Panthers to such a degree in Game 1.
Even considering how flat Florida sometimes felt vs. the Capitals, Tampa Bay was banged-up, and they have to be tiring a bit after playing so much hockey trying to three-peat.
Honestly, it keeps bringing me back to questions about whether interim Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette is making the right adjustments.
In this recap of Game 1, I pondered some of the Panthers’ issues creating speed through the neutral zone, and chances off of the rush. Both the Capitals and now the Lightning are clogging them up.
On one hand, plenty of teams struggle to beat the trap. That’s particularly true against a playoff-tested, veteran team like the Lightning.
“Obviously they’re a great team and they force you to do the little things right the whole game,” Brunette said, via Chris Krenn. “They’re patient enough and they’re smart enough that they wait you out a little bit.”
When the chips are down, TBL's 1-1-3/1-3-1 gave up nothing off the rush.
TOR wound up dumping the puck in at critical moments late in the game, leading to lots of time wasted along the wall as the clock wound down. pic.twitter.com/yc3EipQON1
— Jack Han (@JhanHky) May 15, 2022
So, yes, apply heavy dollops of “easier said than done” here.
Still, Brunette would be wise to try to manufacture more situations where the Panthers overwhelm the Lightning with speed. Most simply, that might be easier to pull off by tweaking personnel.
Consider, for instance, how much Carter Verhaeghe factors into Florida’s transition game. Here are Corey Sznajder’s tracking stats from the First Round, including Capitals stats to give an extra sense of context:
Meanwhile, the Lightning lack one of their top transition weapons in Brayden Point.
No doubt, Kucherov burned the Panthers badly at times in transition. There’s a risk-reward factor to consider.
Simple, but maybe crucial: more transition threats such as Verhaeghe?
Perhaps the key is to manufacture more situations with MacKenzie Weegar on the ice, and Kucherov off of it?
Bottom line, Carter Verhaeghe is a catalyst for the Panthers in transition. He’s not only been productive during these playoffs, but has scored despite minimal deployment on the power play. Personally, I’d want Verhaeghe out there for much more than 16 or 17 minutes per night.
To start the Capitals series, Verhaeghe ranged between the low and high 13 minutes per game. Eventually, he had such a hot hand that he finally got bigger minutes to close things out.
Still, in Game 1, Verhaeghe only logged 16:54 against the Lightning, even as the Panthers often looked flat. Perhaps some nagging injuries play into this deployment, but if I were in Brunette’s shoes, I’d try to get transition-drivers like Verhaeghe out more often. You can make similar arguments for someone like MacKenzie Weegar, including the bold-but-maybe-necessary idea to return to a two right-handed defensemen setup with Aaron Ekblad, an unusual pairing that was highly successful during the regular season.
(More power play time may be the most obvious route to getting more shifts for both Verhaeghe and Weegar.)
Either way, Florida shouldn’t waste another golden opportunity
Of course, it’s possible that the Panthers considered these tweaks against the Capitals, and now the Lightning, and maybe that’s not the best course of action. Most obviously, the Panthers must adjust their power play.
While I may be a bit alarmed by a steep drop in their overall pace, the Panthers repeatedly stated they’re mostly happy with the way they are playing.
Again, I’d say that’s debatable. You could argue that the Lightning found a way to keep Game 1 sleepy, and low-energy, which is right where they’d want the Panthers (particularly without Point).
If a run-and-gun style won’t fly, perhaps the Cats can take advantage of wear-and-tear with a more physical game?
Whichever way the Panthers approach Game 2, they may not get many more shots at the Lightning without Point. Otherwise, they may lose another “Battle of Florida,” and this time with the deeper regrets of a team that paid big at the trade deadline.
FLORIDA PANTHERS v. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (TBL leads 1-0)
Game 1: Lightning 4, Panthers 1
Game 2 – May 19: Lightning at Panthers, 7 p.m. ET (TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
Game 3 – May 22: Panthers at Lightning, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN, Sportsnet, TVA Sports)
Game 4 – May 23: Panthers at Lightning, 7 p.m. ET (TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports)
*Game 5 – May 25: Lightning at Panthers, TBD
*Game 6 – May 27: Panthers at Lightning, TBD
*Game 7 – May 29: Lightning at Panthers, TBD
* if necessary
TBD – To Be Determined