The Florida Panthers (5-4-1) make their annual trip to the Tank to face the San Jose Sharks (3-8-1), coming off a surprising 3-1 loss to
Arizona Sun Devils Arizona Coyotes. Florida has had a strange start to the season, with wins over the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres, but losses to the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers. While the Panthers are still trying to figure out their team’s identity with new addition Mathew Tkachuk, they haven’t had a signature win against a top team, such as the Tampa Bay Lightning or Boston Bruins, leaving this team in flux and trying to reload . after going all out last season.
Florida was the league’s best team last season, winning the much-cursed President’s Trophy with a 58-18-6 record and 122 points, and looking like a giant while doing it. The team averaged 4.11 goals and over 37 shots per game.
At the trade deadline, general manager Bill Zito acquired defenseman Ben Chariot from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a 2022 fourth-round draft pick, an unprotected 2023 first-round pick and center prospect Ty Smilanic. He also added Robert Hagg from Buffalo for a sixth-round pick in 2022. The big trade was adding longtime Flyers captain Claude Giroux for a third-round pick in 2023, a first-round pick in 2024 (top-10 protected) and forward Owen Tippett.
While the Panthers looked like the team that would finally win the Joe Thornton Stanley Cup that he deserves, the power play — which operated at a 24.4 percent rate in the regular season — went cold and the team was swept by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Lightning . The skater advantage went 1-for-13 in the series and 1-for-31 over the entire postseason (3.2%).
The offseason changed more when Florida sent All-Star forward Jonathan Huberdeau, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar and prospect Cole Schwindt, plus a 2025 first-round pick for forward Mathew Tkachuk. As part of the trade package, Tkachuk agreed to an eight-year, $76 million contract extension before taking his talents to South Florida. Zito spent the remainder of the offseason filling out the roster with players such as Rudolfs Balcers, Colin White, as well as brothers Marc and Eric Staal on low-cost contracts.
Heading into this game, left wing Anthony Duclair is on long-term injured reserve as he recovers from offseason Achilles surgery. Aaron Ekblad is also on LTIR with a Grade 2 groin strain he suffered against the Bruins. He should be back in mid-November.
The Sharks saw Erik Karlsson score his first career hat trick on Tuesday, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Anaheim Ducks, losing 6-5 in a shootout. The Sharks remain relatively healthy, with Markus Nutivaara still on IR.
Have the cats lost their bite?
The Panthers were an absolute steamroller last season. In last season’s visit to Sunrise, the Panthers attempted 91 shots en route to a 5-4 overtime victory. In 30 games, Florida attempted at least 70 shots – the Sharks had four such games in 2021-22.
This season, the Panthers continue to pile on the shot attempts, including a 109-shot performance against the Flyers. But the team hasn’t had the same puck luck, currently averaging 3.00 goals per game, down over a full goal per game from last year.
The underlying metrics are positive, but Florida’s special teams have been killing the offense. If your power play is worse than the Sharks, you have a problem. The Panthers will have a big test to get the power play going against the Sharks’ penalty kill, especially if James Reimer is in net.
Can Erik Karlsson keep this going?
Erik Karlsson’s nine goals are second in the league, as of the morning of November 2. The noted winger Erik Karlsson (wink), is second in the NHL in goals. He has contributed 15 points to the team’s 29 goals. He has contributed a goal or an assist on 52 percent of all San Jose’s goals this season. Karlsson is the reason the Sharks are competitive in most of these games, notching three game-winning goals in the team’s three wins.
While Karlsson will never live up to the contract he signed, he has found a way to turn back the clock to his most dominant form. This level of production doesn’t feel sustainable—probably because we’re so used to seeing him play through injury—but Karlsson is on the heater and has entered the Norris conversation early. Forget Norris, give Karlsson the Rocket Richard.
Erik Karlsson on pace for 62 goals. I say he does.
— Andrew Berkshire (@AndrewBerkshire) 2 November 2022
Defense in hope and pray mode?
The Panthers plan of attack is to shoot at every opportunity. The Sharks’ defenders will be more than happy to oblige. Karlsson is the only blueliner with a positive percentage of unblocked shots and attempts (Corsi) this season. San Jose gave up 44 shots to Anaheim on Tuesday, a team that averages 29 shots per game. Reimer’s 4.1 goals saved above expectations together with Karlsson’s magic is what creates an occasional winning formula in San Jose.
Radim Simek, Mario Ferraro, Matt Benning and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic will have their work cut out for them to try and contain a Panthers offense that is ready to break out. On average this season, the blueline has done a solid job of holding down shots, ranking 10th at 30.9, but high-powered offenses like the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes have put up over 35 shots, despite only having scored two goals each. This, meanwhile, is not a winning formula.
Bold prediction: Erik Karlsson scores a goal and assists on a Tomas Hertl goal, but Rudolfs Balcers scores the game-winner as Florida’s offense secures a 4-2 win.