In the regular season, the Florida Panthers weren't what you'd call an offensive force. They averaged 2.40 goals per game, although their power play ranked seventh at a 18.5 percent clip.
In the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Panthers are averaging 3.33 goals per game and converting at an obscene 60 percent on the power play (nine goals on 15 chances) through three games.
They didn't face New Jersey Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov every night in the regular season
Volchenkov has been one of the 2012 postseason's biggest liabilities: The Panthers have scored nine of their 10 goals with the Russian A-Train on the ice. (The other one was an empty netter by Tomas Fleischmann.) His ice time has reflected those struggles: Volchenkov averaged 17:58 TOI in the regular season and a team-leading 3:05 short-handed; against the Panthers, those averages have dropped to 12:13 and 2:19.
Perhaps out of necessity, given the Devils' lack of physical defensive stoppers (well, allegedly) on the blue line, coach Peter DeBoer gave Volchenkov some public support ahead of Thursday night's Game 4 against the Panthers. He's been a victim of bad luck, you see ...
"Volchenkov, you look at the situation and he's had some bad luck, some bad timing," DeBoer said. "He's been on for nine of the 10 goals (and had) personal responsibility in only a couple of them. He's had a bad run. I feel for him. It's Murphy's Law. Whatever can go wrong is going wrong for him right now and he's just got to battle through that.
"He's been part a valuable part of our team all year. This guy, he's a guy that's risen in the past in the playoffs in Ottawa and he's battled-tested guy this time of the year that we need in the lineup."
Volchenkov did not want to discuss his play in this series, politely saying, "I'm not having any comments."
John Fischer of In Lou We Trust had some comments, however, in a post that chronicles Volchenkov's steady decline:
A further indictment is his utilization. According to NHL.com, Volchenkov has been averaging a mere 12:13 per game and he's dead last in total ice time on the team. That is partially because he doesn't bring any real amount of offense means that he's sitting when the Devils need a score late. The other part is that he's been a horror show in his own end. Three games is a very small population size for advanced stats to tell us much, but here it is at Behind the Net.
He's been given 80% offensive zone starts, his shifts end in the offensive zone only 29.4% of the time. His SA/60 rate has ballooned from 21.8, the best among Devils defenseman to 30.5, the worst among Devils defensemen. In a series where the Devils have been the superior team in 5-on-5 play, Volchenkov is one of three Devils with a negative on-ice Corsi rate and it's the second lowest on the team, just better than Ryan Carter.
I know these could just be three really bad games in a row. It's not at all the right time to have them, tough. Overall, this is a defenseman who went from being a shut-down, 20-minute guy for Ottawa to a 17-18 minute sort-of shut-down guy for the Devils in two seasons to playing like an AHL scrub in the 2012 playoffs. I think the only things he hasn't done to hurt his team yet is take a penalty that hurt his team (he took one in Game 1, but the Devils actually killed it) and giveaway the puck for a score. With the way things are going, I think both are a matter of when and not if. All this for $4.25 million a year with four more seasons to go.
Volchenkov will be back in for the Devils in Game 4, trying to turn his series around. Meanwhile, New Jersey faces some other disturbing questions … like what happens if Scott Clemmensen continues to outplay Martin Brodeur?