Panthers’ power play broke out against lowly Coyotes. A strategy change can make it last

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Over and over, Joel Quenneville has called the Florida Panthers’ power play “a work in progress.” Sam Bennett said the Panthers are still “learning,” and trying to figure out what style and plays work best for them. Joe Thornton, who has played on the power play from time to time this year, has his own opinion of why it worked so well Monday in Florida’s 5-3 win against the Arizona Coyotes at FLA Live Arena.

“Just shoot from the middle,” the 42-year-old forward said Monday.

It’s how the Panthers (6-0-0) scored both power-play goals Monday in their first two-goal effort of the season. On the first, defenseman Brandon Montour took a shot from the point, forward Sam Reinhart slid the rebound across the crease and Thornton tapped a game-tying goal into an open net. On the second, star defenseman Aaron Ekblad fired another slap shot from the point into traffic, and the puck bounced off Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun and into the net.

Neither was exactly pretty, but it was exactly what Florida needed to get its power play going against the worst penalty-killing team in the league and maybe, Quenneville hopes, it can be something to build on when the Panthers host the Boston Bruins (3-1-0) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Sunrise.

“Take it because you never know what’s going to happen,” Quenneville said Monday. “Sometimes those are the type of ways that you get some momentum.”

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It’s hard to know whether a 2-of-3 performance against Arizona, which has now given up nine power-play goals in 14 chances, actually is indicative of any progress for Florida. Quenneville, though, suggested a “shoot-first mentality” could help ignite the unit and it did pay off when the Panthers committed to it Monday.

In 4:25 of power-play time, Florida put seven shots on goal and its Corsi — which totals all shot attempts, whether or not they require a save — was 14, meaning the Panthers attempted 3.17 shots per minute. They were aggressive and fired shots into traffic rather than waiting for the perfect opportunity and the result was a pair of ugly goals, albeit against arguably the worst team in the NHL.

It was a markedly different approach from past games. In a win against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, the Panthers’ Corsi was 10 in 11:28 of power-play action. They also had a Corsi of 14 in their win against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, but it came in 7:46 of power-play time. Monday was the first time they averaged even two Corsi per minute on the power play.

“The key for us right now is just getting more pucks on nets, getting more shots,” forward Sam Bennett said Monday. “When you shoot the puck with a screen good things are going to happen.”

After starting the season 0 of 9 on the power play, Florida is now 5 of 25 and has actually scored a power-play goals in four straight games. While the aggressive approach came to a head Monday, the uptick actually began last Tuesday when the Panthers scored their first power-play goal in a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In the first two games, Florida averaged 0.90 Corsi per minute on the power play. In the four games since, the Panthers are averaging 1.67 and have gone 5 of 16.

Last year, Florida had the 15th best power-play percentage in the league and averaged 1.60 Corsi per minute. There’s not an exact correlation between Corsi and goals, but the top two power-play teams in the NHL last year both averaged more than 1.70 per minute.

The Panthers won’t get to go up against the Coyotes every game, which means they probably won’t possess the puck quite as easily as they did Monday. They can commit to shooting more, though, and Monday should be a lesson that sometimes quantity is better than quality.

“When it’s there, get pucks through,” Thornton said. “Like you saw tonight, good things happen.”

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