Panthers Forward Jonathan Huberdeau is an elite player. In 33 games this year, the 27 year old French Canadian is second on the team in scoring with 36 points, leads the team in assists with 25 and has potted 11 goals. The problem is that heading into this crucial two-set of games against the Dallas Stars, Huberdeau stands alone. Aleksander Barkov and Patric Hornqvist are both out with injuries. Both Barkov and Hornqvist have absolutely dominated play when on the ice this year, and the team has struggled with the loss of their captain, as they lost their first two games without the Finnish star in Chicago. During the second game of that set, the Panthers lost Patric Hornqvist, a big part of the team’s emergence this season.
Huberdeau has been on and off this season. When he is on, he is elite, as evidenced by his games on February 4th against Nashville and February 17th against Carolina. However, when Huberdeau is off his game, he struggles a lot. He turns the puck over a lot and he becomes invisible on the ice.
The Panthers desperately need their longest-tenured player to play at that elite level he consistently performed at last season. Huberdeau needs to consistently dominate possession when on the ice, and generate high danger chances. He also cannot get too cute, as evident by that 3 on 0 which he messed up.
Following the Chicago game, the FOX Sports (soon to be Bally Sports) Florida team interviewed the apoplectic winger. Huberdeau was clearly frustrated by the way the game went, and took full responsibility. Whenever Huberdeau gets mad, he often shoots the puck which is what the Panthers need him to do.
Huberdeau isn’t the only player that needs to step up. Anthony Duclair has been snakebitten all season. Duclair will get several golden chances a game. Duclair needs to stop going in tight on the goalie and just fire a wrist shot when he gets a chance off the rush. Last year, Duclair had a hat-trick in a game against Columbus. As you can see, all three goals, Duclair immediately shoots the puck. Duclair does not try to get too fancy. Duclair needs to play the simple game, which is absolutely crucial for the Panthers. I really hope someone in the organization reads this article and sends it to Duclair, because I feel that if Duclair starts shooting immediately, he will start scoring again.
Aaron Ekblad has struggled of late too. Ekblad is not taking as many shots on the powerplay as he was earlier this year. When the Panthers beat the Dallas Stars 3-1 after like 50 shots, the only two that went by Anton Khudobin were slapshots from the point. Ekblad needs to fire a slapshot rather than play the pass. The problem is that many are starting to block his shots. Ekblad needs to fire quickly off the faceoff. This is also crucial to the Panthers centers as they must win faceoffs.
Also, without Patric Hornqvist and Sasha Barkov, both Noel Acciari and Owen Tippett must get first unit PP time. Acciari is excellent in the faceoff circle and the team has produced in the rare occasions he’s been on the ice for the PP and Tippett has a lethal shot. On the second unit, the Panthers should keep Gustav Forsling and roll a forward rotation of Verehaege, Wennberg, Vatrano and Duclair.
Frank Vatrano needs to be a more consistent presence as well. He is absolutely crucial in these key games.
Most importantly, Joel Quenneville needs to keep a consistent lineup. The Panthers are in panic mode without Barkov and Q has not helped matters with a constant switching of lines. He needs to pick a lineup and stick to it and let the team get out of the rut on it’s own. It’s fine to roll the blender if the offense is struggling in the third period, but for the first forty, please keep a consistent lineup.
After that, there is nothing really much else to say. The team knows what it has to do, they have to triumph over adversity. Let’s see if they can do it.