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Aleksander Barkov
AP
Hockey Analytics

Top Heavy Panthers Reaping Early Results

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: November 28, 2019, 2:27 am ET

Those pesky Florida Panthers. Entrenched firmly in second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Boston Bruins and just ahead of the Montreal Canadiens, while staving off the surging Tampa Bay Lightning – and rejuvenated Maple Leafs under new coach, Sheldon Keefe.

Panthers star, Aleksander Barkov, topped 70 games played once in his first four seasons, a 71-game sophomore season yielding 28 even-strength points, constituting 69.5% of the Panthers scoring with him on the ice. The oft-injured pivot posed a real problem, banged up at a young age, and creating an injury rap sheet requiring extensive scrolling.

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During Barkov’s breakout third season put up career high 2.31 points per 60 minutes at 5v5, a feat he would duplicate in 2017-18 and last season. There is a distinct contrast between those two seasons as well, but let’s check out the chart.

Aleksander Barkov Primary and Secondary Assists

 

Barkov split 0.83 primary and secondary assists, recording 17 of each in ’17-18, but last season, primary assist rates were 42% higher than the secondary assists. In 2019-20 his 13 assists are broken down by six and seven of each, but as a rate, he’s putting up a career high 1.25 secondary assists per 60 minutes, while earning a point on 80% of 5v5 goals scored with him on the ice – that, too, a career high.

Aleksander Barkov IPP and Shooting Percentage

 

Oh, and those shooting percentages in the seven range, are career lows, usually posting double digit shooting percentages over the course of a season at 5v5.

Linemate, Jonathan Huberdeau has a similar story.

Injured for 34 and 13 games in the first two seasons, and then an Achilles tendon tear requiring surgery in 2016-17 didn’t stop the former QMJHL star from Saint John emerge as a dominant force last season, putting up 2.45 points per 60 minutes with an IPP of 81%, the second time he topped the 80% mark (he had an IPP of 80% in his third season, playing 79 games.)

In 2019-20, he’s already outpacing 2018-19’s points per 60, but he’s doing it with points in 62.5% of on-ice goals scored, significantly lower than last season’s career high, bringing up the question of his production ceiling this season if his on-ice presence translates closer to career highs than averages (71% over his career).

These two athletes are at the top of their game, forming a formidable line with Evgenii Dadonov and the Panthers are riding their stars who are among one of the best, most productive lines in the NHL (bubble size measures time on ice.)

Florida Line Among NHLs Best

 

Supplementary scoring support has been steady from a makeshift second unit, Mike Hoffman (9) and Dadonov (10) of course, have both provided secondary scoring. There’s also scoring from an unlikely source in Brett Connolly with 10 goals at 5v5 and 11 overall. Connolly came into his own with the Washington Capitals, scoring 23 goals at 5v5 and has put up five in the last six games – he should continue shooting the puck and see the good things that come out of that. He’s failed to fire a shot on goal in seven games this season.

Brett Connolly Game by Game 2019

 

Florida faces Connolly’s old team Wednesday night (the tribute video will be glorious to accompany his 23 goals from last season) before embarking on a nine-game homestand with their first two road games of the month occurring right before the Christmas break.

If ever there was an opportune moment for goaltending to kick in and improve the .881 save percentage, it would be during this stint at home. Prized off season acquisition, Sergei Bobrovsky has struggled as a Panther over the first quarter (3.44 goals against average).

Plotting the Panthers fate at 5v5 in 2019-20, they’ve allowed more goals than their expected goals against and the effect is shown in the next couple of charts, the first one below plotting goals and expected goals.

Florida Panthers Expected Goals and Actual Goals

 

The second chart focuses on scoring chances the Panthers have given up at 5v5. A big jump in medium danger scoring chances, with a slight decline from the low danger areas – and a negligible rise overall in high danger chances. Lately, the Panthers have been bleeding chances.

Florida Panthers Chances Against By Distance

 

The escalation in medium chances coincides with a drop off in even strength scoring too.

Somewhere around the 14th game of the season – coincidentally right about the same time Barkov began scoring his seven goals in nine games and where Huberdeau dried up (one goal in the last 10 games), and the offense at 5v5 began to normalize falling more in line with their expected goals, rather than the bump at game 10 and subsequent decline.

Florida Panthers Expected Goals For and Actual Goals

 

There’s a sharp decline in scoring chances for by distance around the game 17 game mark, where it seemed like there were less overall chances created rather than a rebalancing of chances between categories. The biggest decline was in high danger chances. If scoring is to dry up, the first indication is in the high danger scoring areas – which isn’t solely about getting into those areas and firing shots, this area would include tips and rebounds and should contain a robust skill set unless players are picking opening on the goalie from mid-range.

Florida Panthers Chances For By Distance

 

Coupling this chance generation decline with the sharp increase in medium chances suggests broken plays in secondary scoring position, with subsequent transition producing coverage holes that lead to medium danger areas back in their own zone. This delicate balance seems to affect both the offense and defense.

Florida will have the better part of a month to get the balance right with plenty of home time that should feature plenty of practice time.

We could see a sharp, honed Florida club by the time Santa suits up for his one night of work.

Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey