JC Smith at Litter Box Cats reached out to me earlier this week about exchanging three questions about our respective teams. I answered JC's questions and you should see the results sometime today at Litter Box Cats. I then took a close look at the Panthers while I did my game preview and asked Jan three questions about the team. Here are the answers JC gave. I think you'll find them insightful about tonight's opponent. As mentioned in the preview, consider this to be supplementary material. Thank you to JC and the Litter Box Cats blog for reaching out to provide this opportunity as well as answering my questions about the team:
Question 1: One of the areas where the Panthers don't look so impressive in among team stats are their special team rates. Their PK success rate and PP conversion rate are both near the bottom third of the league. Are special teams that much of a problem for the 2015-16 Panthers? What do you think they should do to improve them?
Smith: There is a consensus amongst many Panther fans that special teams have cost the team points in the standings. Yes, the power play in particular has been horrid. The PK has been solid, with fluctuation games where it has been more porous than normal, but the Panthers do tend to take a lot of penalties, so they get plenty of opportunity on the PK. When it comes to the PK, my opinion is that it was poor early in the season but got much better, only to be disrupted by injuries to players like Derek MacKenzie and Erik Gudbranson, who both figure largely in our PK success. The PP is a whole different problem and one that is difficult to figure out. On most nights fan would prefer a "decline the penalty" option. It's that bad. One would think we have the personnel to have an effective PP, but apparently not. While Brian Campbell is a speedy and effective puck mover, his lack of a shot lets PK's play off him and really shut down the passing lanes. Aaron Ekblad is super human, but he cannot run a PP yet. Dmitry Kulikov has been terrible as well in that respect. My feeling is that the power play problems stem in large part from the lack of a defensive quarterback who is a dual threat to pass or shoot. If they can find that player, Panther fans can hope for better results to follow.
Question 2: The Panthers' rise is certainly helped by the excellent play of Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya. However, as Devils fans can attest to, without support from the skaters, even great goaltending goes so far. Who's been the better skaters on Florida at supporting their goalies?
Smith: As the defense has gone, so have the Panthers, including our goalies. It is no accident that Montoya and Lu[ongo] have put together great campaigns when you look at the shot selection the Panthers are giving up. In most games the team prevents shots from the high probability scoring areas and seems to force teams to shoot from the right wing. As for who has been best on the defensive side of things, the Gudbranson/Campbell pairing that emerged from a mini-slump late in the season was extremely effective against top quality competition and playing top minutes. With Gudbranson's injury the D pairings have been less effective, but Steve Kampfer has recently emerged as a very solid presence that has seemingly calmed Kulikov's game down. It has been noticeable, however, when the defense is running around the team falls apart; and when they are stable, the team has a great deal of success.
Question 3: Jaromir Jagr certainly gets a lot of deserved praise for his production and the mere fact he's this effective at his age. Whatever they're doing with him is clearly working given his 25 goals and 33 assists. [Now 34 assists] Yet, how is he being utilized under Gerard Gallant?
Smith: Jagr has thrived for sure in the Gallant system, which runs cycles out of the corners. But aside from being a future Hall of Fame-level talent, what has likely been the most important aspect of his resurgence is playing with two draft lottery picks in Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. Their speed, ability and (in Barkov's case) size, compliment Jagr perfectly and creates a "pick your poison" situation for opposition defenses as all three of them will score or play-make if given the slimmest opportunity. All that said, Jagr has had an undeniable major impact on the young Panthers and has amplified their ability greatly.
Again, thanks to JC Smith for graciously responding to my questions and with detail. I know I learned something about the Panthers. What did you learn? Does it change your expectations for tonight's game? Please let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading.