Cat Bites: Panthers starting to find shootout success

Panthers center Nick Bjugstad scores a shootout goal against Capitals goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Robert Mayer/Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Since its introduction in 2005, the shootout has rarely benefited the Florida Panthers.

They currently hold an all-time mark of 37-60 in the man-to-man effort. They are dead last when it comes to converting on shots — just 25 percent — and their goalies’ .642 save percentage ranks among the bottom third all-time.

Even in 2011-12, when Florida racked up 18 overtime losses which helped them eke into the postseason, 11 of those came via the shootout.

Since then, there has been a noticable change in Florida’s approach to snagging an extra point in the game-ending duel. Florida is 7-4 over the past two seasons.

“[Goaltending coach] Robbie Tallas has done a really good job of preparing the guys,” head coach Peter Horachek said. “We show video on the other team’s goalie. We prepare the players by talking about what works and what doesn’t work on them and work on certain moves. We practice on a daily basis.”

But even though it has played to the Panthers’ advantage as of late, not everyone is sold on the shootout.

“Teams are not making the playoffs or making the playoffs,” goaltender Scott Clemmensen said following the team’s 3-2 shootout win over the Washington Capitals on Friday. “Millions of dollars are at stake. Jobs are at stake based on a skills competition.”

But Clemmensen, who said he prefers a “three-point system” in the standings, also understands why the shootout is not going anywhere any time soon.

“It’s a gimicky thing, I think, but I am such a hypocrite because I’m sitting at home and I love watching it,” Clemmensen added. “And the fans love watching it, too.”

Panthers coach Peter Horachek agrees.

“It’s really for the fans. It’s not for the coaches, I know that,” Horachek said. “It’s entertaining, and that’s part of what the game is all about.”

It is easy to understand their perspective. One of the key marketing points of the shootouts is the opportunity for players to show off their creativity. And that is an aspect Florida’s younger talent has fully embraced.

Take, for instance, Aleksander Barkov’s shootout tally against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 10. The rookie deked to his right to pull goaltender Jimmy Howard out of the net, then shifted the puck to his backhand, sliding it into an open net with one hand on his stick. The clip found its way onto highlight reels that night.

Three nights later, the Finn attempted a move where he skates in backwards, pulls the puck away as he reaches the crease, then backhands it over a sprawled goaltender. He was stopped Friday, but Barkov executed the trick shot in the Finnish Elite League. At practice Saturday, Barkov confirmed he was trying to pull off the “Reverse Datsyuk,” as the Internet has dubbed it.

Jonathan Huberdeau has added to the skills display with his “Huberdeke” — a deke while skating forward and another while skating backward before sliding the puck between the goalie’s pads, backhand. Tuesday against the Red Wings, the Calder Trophy winner nearly converted on a spin-o-rama. Friday against Washington, Huberdeau successfully replicated Barkov’s move against Detroit.

“I told him not to do it, that I was going to do it, try it,” Huberdeau said after the win against the Capitals. “We saw the last game [Washington goalie Philipp Grubauer] got beat like that, so we were going to try it, and it worked out.”

Even Nick Bjugstad performed the a modified version of Barkov’s one-handed backhand, with the addition getting all 6-foot-6, 215-pounds of his frame as close to the goalie before tucking the puck inside the post.

But Brad Boyes, the NHL’s all-time leader in shootout goals with 36, said he’ll often go into the shootout with a plan, with a rare audible mid-shot.

“A long time ago, I just decided to pick something while going in and stick with it,” Boyes said. “It’s been pretty good. I’ve had some success at it. I have a pretty good idea of what I want to do. Sometimes I change it up mid-shot. But I try to keep that idea and go with it.”

Ultimately, Boyes says his strategy is to keep attempts simple.

“I can’t do what Barkov did. Huberdeau, I’m not doing that,” Boyes said. “I’ve had success with certain things, and I know my limitations. I just stick with things I am good at, and it wasn’t those.”

Gud Ol’ boys

The Panthers may have found its core defensive duo for the long-term. Since joining forces 10 games ago, Erik Gudbranson and Dylan Olsen have become Florida’s top pairing.

Although neither have put up workhorse-type minutes — that is still veteran Brian Campbell’s job — the duo are taking on more responsibility in facing opposition’s top lines.

“We’re playing solid defensively, shutting down other teams’ top lines,” Olsen said. “Shutting down the D-zone is helping generate those opportunities.”

Not just for Olsen, who recently saw a five-game points streak come to an end, but also for Gudbranson. Since being paired with Olsen, Gudbranson not only snapped a 100-game goal drought, but also picked up five points in his past 10 contests.

Both are excited to be putting up points, but they are also focused on improving their trade in their own end.

“If we’re able to go through some ups and downs as a pairing and figure it out together and grow, we should be very good,” Gudbranson said. “We play a very similar style game. Very simple, but effective. I think the biggest key to our success has been our communication. We’ve been able to talk to each other on the ice, read off each other very well, and if something goes bad, we know about it and talk about it on the bench before our next shift.”

Missing hardware

Has anyone come across a pair of Rocket Richard trophies in South Florida?

A report published in the Vancouver Sun indicated former Panther Pavel Bure never received the miniature, replica trophies given to NHL award winners. Bure captured the NHL goal scoring titles in 1999-2000 and 2000-01.

Bure was unable to attend the awards ceremonies because of previous commitments. The Montreal company in charge of producing the the awards shipped them to Vancouver. Except Bure no longer played for the Canucks or resided in the Pacific Northwest.

A Panthers spokesman confirmed general manager Dale Tallon has staffers looking into the matter, seeing if perhaps the trophies did arrive in Sunrise but were stashed in a dark corner of the arena.

Florida plan to honor Bure on Jan. 24 with a bobblehead night. Perhaps Florida will be able to find a little something extra for the Russian Rocket’s mantle by then?

Looking ahead

Florida continues its four-game Canadian road trip Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Panthers will then face the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets in a back-to-back series Thursday and Friday, respectively.

The Panthers return home to face their intrastate rival, the Tampa Bay Lighting, on Monday, Dec. 23, the first of a five-game homestand.

Florida will enjoy a Christmas break from Dec. 24-27.

Erin Brown can be reached on Twitter @rinkside.