The Wraparound: The Panthers’ power play is a mess

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Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television information.

• Catch up on Wednesday night’s action, which included overtime and a 15-goal game with NHL Rink Wrap.

Kyle Connor, Jaccob Slavin and Jared Spurgeon were voted as the finalists for the 2021-22 Lady Byng Trophy. 

• Here is the full Second Round schedule with dates and TV info.

The 2021-22 regular season was the best the Florida Panthers organization has ever seen. They finished with the league’s best record to win the first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history; they had the best offense the league has seen in decades; and they have already advanced to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 26 years and just the second time ever.

There are a lot of positives and successes here.

But great success brings great expectations. Even though the Panthers are in the Second Round at the moment, playing in Game 2 against the defending back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night, they have not really been overly impressive in the playoffs to this point.

They struggled against the Washington Capitals more than most expected and needed several come-from-behind (and overtime) wins just to get through. At one point they were just a couple of inches away from being down 3-1 in the series if Garnet Hathaway‘s shot at an empty net had gone in the net in Game 4 for the Capitals.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

That sort of effort and performance may not be enough against a team like the Lightning. There is perhaps no area that needs more immediate improvement for them to have a chance in this series than their power play. Through the first seven games that unit has been, in a word, rough.

After being one of the best power plays in the NHL during the regular season, they enter Game 2 having yet to score a goal in their first seven playoff games, currently sporting an 0-for-21 mark. Even worse than the lack of goals is the disorganized look of it and the fact they are not even really generating any strong chances or looks. It would be one thing if they looked crisp and were creating shots and chances and the puck was simply not going in the net. Sometimes that happens. You keep at it, trust the process, and trust that the correct process will lead to the desired results. But the process is not even good right now.

Consider the following numbers.

  • The Panthers are averaging 104 total shot attempts per 60 minutes of power play time this postseason. That is ninth among the 16 teams that have played in the playoffs.
  • They are averaging just 38.6 shots on goal per 60 minutes. That is 14th among the 16 playoff teams, ahead of only Nashvillle and Dallas. They averaged 52.9 in the regular season.
  • Their 47.5 scoring chances per 60 minutes is 13th among the playoff teams, while their 20.8 high danger chances per 60 minutes are also only 13th in the playoffs. They averaged 54.7 and 20.7 in the regular season respectively.
  • They are averaging 5.22 expected goals per 60 minutes of power play time, a mark that is only 15th in the league. Nashville is the only team worse. They averaged 7.24 in the regular season.

What is interesting here is the Panthers’ underlying power play numbers (shots on goal, shot attempts, scoring chances, high-danger scoring chances, expected goals) in the regular season were all among the bottom half, and in some cases, the bottom-10 in the league. They have never at any point this season been consistently good at generating shots and chances. But their overwhelming talent still produced a lot of goals.

[NHL Power Rankings: Top Second Round storylines]

Are the goals stopping now because the quality of competition and goaltending is consistently better? It’s possible. Just a run of bad shooting luck from highly skilled players? Also possible. It could also be possible that the power play has been flawed all season and got better results against the inferior competition you sometimes get to play in the regular season.

It is very possible to win in the playoffs without a good power play. It is not a necessity for winning, and if one of your special teams units is going to be good you need it to be our penalty kill. But it is still helpful to get some offense from the power play to swing a game, especially when you are not generating a ton of offense during 5-on-5 play. The Panthers are a dominant team off the rush and when they get into games where teams trade chances with them and turn it into a track meet through the neutral zone. So far in the playoffs they have run into some teams that have been able to slow that down and it is significantly impacting their ability to score goals and create offense. It is a big reason they have not looked as impressive in the playoffs as they did during the regular season.

[Data via Natural Stat Trick]

NHL PLAYOFF GAMES TODAY

Game 2: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers, 7 p.m. ET — TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports (TB leads 1-0): It is probably a little too early and too soon to call this a must-win game for the Panthers, but they really need to win this game. You can not lose the first two games at home against the Lightning and reasonably expect to win four of the next five games (three of which are in Tampa Bay) and win the series. The Lightning roster may not be as deep or strong as it has been the past two years, and Brayden Point might be injured, but Nikita Kucherov seems to have found his game in Game 1 of the series and Andrei Vasilevskiy looks like he is also getting back on track after a slow start to the playoffs in the First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Game 2: St. Louis Blues at Colorado Avalanche, 9:30 p.m. ET — TNT, Sportsnet, CBC, TVA Sports (COL leads 1-0): The first game of this series may have gone to overtime, but do not let that confuse into thinking it was an evenly played game. It was not. Colorado absolutely dominated it from start to finish and with at least five shots off the post behind Jordan Binnington throughout the game it could have very easily been just a few inches away from a very different outcome and score. Binnington played great, make no mistake, but the Avalanche got a ton of good lucks and with some better luck would have run the Blues out of the building. This series resulted in a four-game sweep for the Avalanche in the First Round a year ago and the first game of this series looked very much like that series. The Blues need to bring a lot more if they are going to have a chance to keep this series competitive.

PHT’s 2022 Stanley Cup previews
• Hurricanes vs. Rangers

Lightning vs. Panthers
Avalanche vs. Blues
• Flames vs. Oilers
Makar, McDavid lead Conn Smythe watch after First Round
NHL Second Round predictions
Storylines for the NHL’s Second Round

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    Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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    CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

    Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

    He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

    In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

    Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

    “Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

    “When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

    Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

    In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

    Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

    He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

    Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

    Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

    Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

    “We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

    Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

    But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

    “It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

    Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

    Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports
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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

    Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

    “Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

    This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

    “Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

    The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

    “I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

    The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

    “You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

    The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

    With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

    Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

    “He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports
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    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.

    PRIDE NIGHT

    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”

    UP NEXT

    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

    Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

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    PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

    Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

    Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

    “Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

    As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.