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Welcome to the Dwork On Sports blog. This is a place where I’ll cover all things related to South Florida sports, with a steady combination of facts and opinions while ultimately keeping a close eye on anything and everything related to our local teams.
The Florida Panthers begin a stretch of eight straight games in the state of Florida on Tuesday night, with seven of those contests coming at the BB&T Center.
The team has been suffering through a rough patch of late, dropping five straight games and eight of their last ten.
While the Panthers hot start has been the only thing keeping them from the Eastern Conference basement, the season is still at its early stages and there is plenty of time for the Cats to turn their fortunes back around.
During their five game skid, Florida is averaging just 1.4 goals per game while giving up 3.4.
Losing top line center Aleksander Barkov has really hurt the Panthers, and the resulting line shakeup has caused gaps on the roster.
Barkov is one of the best two-way centers in the NHL despite being just 20 years old. He plays on a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr, two players who are known much more for their offensive prowess than their defensive abilities.
Without Barkov the line has struggled mightily in the defensive zone, and breaking out of it has also been an issue.
Panthers coach Gerard Gallant tried to make up for the loss of Barkov by putting scoring threat Nick Bjugstad on the top line, but like his new linemates he’s also much better in the offensive zone than the defensive zone.
The big problem however is that Florida’s number one line hasn’t been providing much scoring either.
After recording 10 points in his first eight games, Jagr has been held scoreless in his last four games while compiling a minus-three rating.
Huberdeau leads the Panthers with six assists but has yet to score a goal this season.
Since moving to the top line, Bjugstad has two goals and an assist but is a minus-two and is averaging just 2.8 shots per game during that span.
Huberdeau has been worse, averaging under two shots per game on the season, though he did have four during Florida’s last game in Los Angeles.
The move also had a ripple effect on the rest of the forward lines as players have been shifted around constantly since the change.
One of the reasons that Florida was paying so well was the continuity on the forward lines. Players were getting used to one another and finding each other much easier on the ice.
It’s clear that there is a disconnect on some of the lines which has led to less time in the attacking zone and more time defending.
And speaking of the defensive zone, the Panthers have been very sloppy of late, turning the puck over and failing to clear the blue line consistently.
That was very evident during the three games in California in which the Panthers gave up 12 goals while allowing an average of 35.3 shots on goal. On the flip side, they scored only 5 goals and averaged 25.6 shots.
Barkov is getting closer to returning to the lineup but he’s still likely another couple weeks away.
Gallant said that Barkov will meet with his doctor and get x-rayed on Tuesday night and will wait until seeing the doctor’s report before estimating a return date.
In the meantime, the Panthers must find a way to resume playing solid, two-way hockey if they want to start climbing the standings again.
The Panthers face the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, November 10th at 7:30 p.m. You can hear every game on Sports Radio 560 WQAM, the radio home of the Florida Panthers.
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