The NHL season spans from October to April.
Hence the common saying, it’s a marathon not a sprint.
For the Florida Panthers, that holds true as the team learns a new system under head coach Bob Boughner, the team’s third coach in less than a year. Even as the Panthers want to play hockey at sprint speed, it’s all about getting a feel for things before finding a groove.
But if Florida puts forth the type of effort it showed in Friday’s season-opening loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boughner feels good about how well the team has picked things up so quickly during training camp and the preseason.
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“Playing like that we are going to win our fair share of games,” Boughner said. “I wasn’t unhappy with the effort; sometimes the execution has to get better. But we had lots of chances. We generated and stuck to our game plan.”
Implementing a new system is not an overnight process. It’s not even a training camp process. It takes time for players to learn new tendencies, new responsibilities and new directions. The trick is to get through the phase when thinking about where to be on the ice becomes instinctual.
“We had a really good training camp with (Boughner) getting everyone familiar with things,” defenseman Keith Yandle said. “Our coaching staff does a good job of getting the message through to us and it’s nice to have them reassuring us every day, getting us to be comfortable with the system and knowing it so it becomes second nature.”
Some of that showed in the preseason results as Florida outscored the opposition 21-15. Some of it showed up in the loss to Tampa Bay on Friday as the Panthers outshot Tampa Bay 36-25, which included a 30-20 advantage at even strength.
“That was our best game, and I know it was just preseason, but I liked what I saw from the details and the things that we’ve been preaching in the last few weeks,” Boughner said. “Transition things, execution of faceoffs, some of our breakouts we were pretty clean for the most part. So there were a lot of things that were good out there. We just need to get back to work and keep perfecting it.’’
Boughner spent the previous two seasons as an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks and brought some of what made the Sharks successful with him to his first NHL head coaching job. While the personnel is different, the concepts are the same, something noticed by Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper, after seeing the Panthers three times during the preseason.
“Bob is really great at was he does, he was great in junior and he went to San Jose and has massive success there,” Cooper said. “You can just tell there is a lot in what San Jose did in (Florida’s) game, which there should be because they had a ton of success.’’
And it’s a big change from how the Panthers played last season.
“There are definitely drastic changes, a lot of new faces, a lot of new changes,” Yandle said. “There’s a lot of things that we need to do and I think everyone is up for the challenge.’’
Boughner has had success with this system in the past and is confident that will continue as long as the players put in the work.
“I learned a lot and got to see how some of the best teams in the league play and I try to emulate that with our systems,” he said. “It’s going to be a work in progress but we are going to win our fair share of games if we work that hard and get some timely goals.”