Sports

/

ArcaMax

COVID-19 interrupted Huberdeau's career year with Panthers. Can he do it 4 months later?

David Wilson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

In the final days and weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly shut down the regular season, Jonathan Huberdeau was mired in a rare scoring slump.

He was the Florida Panthers' lone All-Star this season largely because of his consistency playing with Aleksander Barkov and the Panthers' productive top line.

Until February began, Huberdeau hadn't had a point-less streak longer than two games. As February ended and bled into March, Huberdeau crashed into a four-game points drought.

Joel Quenneville's solution, perhaps paradoxically, was to split up the dynamic pairing of Huberdeau and Barkov. The coach sent his star left wing down to the second line and Florida promptly flipped a four-game losing streak into a two-game winning streak heading into the coronavirus shutdown.

"It doesn't matter points," Huberdeau said. "It's just to work hard. I want to help my team, obviously, offensively."

Huberdeau scored one goal in those last two games he played with winger Mike Hoffman and forward Erik Haula, who had been with the Panthers for less than three weeks when the virus outbreak sent the season into an unexpected four-month hiatus.

 

The shuffling lines meant an overhaul in Florida's identity. No longer were the Panthers content with just trying to outscore teams with one of the NHL's best offenses.

Quenneville wanted a more complete two-way identity to support struggling superstar goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. This strategy, however, hinges on the scoring punch Florida's top-end talent has the ability to provide.

Barkov was well-established as a star before this season. He was an All-Star in 2018, and his NHL peers regularly listed him among the league's most complete players, most underrated stars and top forwards.

Huberdeau, 27, was long the center's wingman, but he solidified himself as a star in his own right this season, leading the Panthers with 78 points and 55 assists, and ranking third with 23 goals.

...continued

swipe to next page