Panthers ‘have to be disciplined,’ limit Oilers’ power-play chances in Final

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers’ video room has been a busy place this week, breaking down different parts of the Edmonton Oilers’ game in preparation for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amerant Bank Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+, SN, CBC, TVAS).

Among the areas the Panthers are studying closely is the Oilers power play. After finishing fourth in the NHL by clicking at 26.3 percent during the regular season, Edmonton has been even better in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, scoring on 19 of 51 opportunities for a League-best 37.3 percent efficiency.

“We know they have top guys, and their power play has been really good in the playoffs, so it’s a great challenge for us to shut it down,” Panthers forward Anton Lundell said Wednesday. “We have to try to stay out of the box first, but also just try to be aware what they do.”

The Oilers’ first unit boasts some of the NHL’s top offensive talent in forwards Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and defenseman Evan Bouchard. McDavid (two goals, 12 assists) and Draisaitl (six goals, eight assists) share the League lead with 14 power-play points each. Bouchard is third in the League with 12 power-play points (one goal, 11 assists), and Nugent-Hopkins is tied for fourth with nine (four goals, five assists).

Draisaitl is first in the playoffs with six power-play goals, Hyman is tied for second with five and Nugent-Hopkins is tied for third with four.

“It’s not just the two great players (McDavid and Draisaitl) they have, but, boy, do they create an awful lot for everyone else,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “They’ve got a very strong net-front presence (Hyman), they’ve got a heater on the blue line (Bouchard) and very creative players in the other three (McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins).”

Florida has experience against dangerous power plays already, though, and ranks second in the NHL in the playoffs with an 88.2 percent success rate on the penalty kill.

The Panthers’ first-round opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, had the NHL’s top-ranked power play at 28.6 percent during the regular season. Florida killed 16 of Tampa Bay’s 20 power plays (80 percent) in that series, with two of the goals coming in a 6-3 loss in Game 4, and scored a short-handed goal on its way to winning in five games.

After the Boston Bruins went 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) on the power play in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Panthers killed 15 of 16 power plays (93.8 percent) and scored one short-handed goal to win in six games in the second round. The New York Rangers were third in the NHL at 26.4 percent on the power play during the regular season and even better in the first two rounds of the playoffs (31.1 percent), but the Panthers killed 14 of 15 power plays (93.3 percent) in winning the Eastern Conference Final in six games.

That gives Florida confidence in taking on Edmonton’s power play in the Cup Final.

“I think both teams have been pretty good on special teams, and that’s the thing; we have to be disciplined,” forward Eetu Luostarinen said. “We can’t give them too much time on the power play. For our end, we’ve got to look at some video and see how we can exploit them.”

Among the things that stand out when watching the Oilers power play is how their skilled players work within — and sometimes outside — their structure.

“Every power play has a structure to it, and you have a plan for that structure,” Maurice said. “And when I say the word freelance, it’s not disrespectful. It’s not chaos. It’s their ability to create off broken plays, off very small lanes that you leave open. … So, structure, for the most part, you’d like to think you can handle. It’s the — and better word than freelance is — the creativity out of structure that makes them so difficult.”

Bouchard’s powerful shot from the point – per NHL EDGE, he leads the League in 90-plus mile per hour shots (22) this postseason — is one of the constants on the Oilers’ power play. The four forwards on it are often in motion, though, which makes it more difficult to defend.

“They move around all over the ice,” Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad. “You can find McDavid kind of in any spot. I think one of the only guys who kind of stays in the same spot is Bouchard up top with that heavy shot. So, with that kind of movement, it’s really dynamic and really hard to find passing lanes, especially when things are kind of happening behind you if you’re kind of focusing on the puck.”

Although Draisaitl moves around, too, he often ends up at the bottom of the right circle in time for his teammates to set him up for one-timers. So, that’s an area of the ice Florida must be aware of as well.

“There’s going to be a percentage of the game you’re going to have a pretty good idea where he’s going and where he’s going to be,” Maurice said. “He’s not always there, but if you score that many points, why wouldn’t you (go there)? It would be a pretty good area to hang out.”

Even after the Dallas Stars held the Oilers without a power-play goal in the first four games of the Western Conference Final, the Oilers broke through to go 4-for-5 in the last two games, including each of their goals in its series-clinching 2-1 win in Game 6 on Sunday. So, the Panthers can’t afford to let up if they have some success early in the series on the penalty kill.

The only team with a better penalty kill in the playoffs than Florida is Edmonton at 93.9 percent. The Oilers have killed off 28 consecutive power plays, including going 14-for-14 against the Stars while scoring once short-handed. So, the Panthers power play will have to figure out how to solve Edmonton’s penalty kill as well.

That means more time in the video room.

“I think special teams is going to be huge,” Florida defenseman Brandon Montour said. “Obviously, they’ve got a great power play, too, so obviously we’ve got to be disciplined. That’s a mindset they’re going to probably preach as well.

“If it comes down to where we’ve got to play more 5-on-5, we’re OK with that as well.”

Originally Appeared Here

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