Panthers' Bergenheim deserves praise and more ice time, not a trip to the press box
The Finnish forward gets nowhere near the amount of recognition that he should, and his benching against Vancouver was a perfect example of this.
With the Florida Panthers trailing the Vancouver Canucks 2-0 in the third period of their Monday night matchup, the pressure was on the Cats to get sustained zone pressure and create offense before the final buzzer sounded. They had a lot of difficulty with this, mainly because Vancouver had abandoned offense, and was sitting back, clogging the neutral zone and forcing the dump in. Once the puck was dumped in, they would simply win the board battle, and chip the puck right out of the zone.
The Panthers mustered some offense, but nowhere near the amount required to come back from a two-goal deficit, especially against Ryan Miller, who had been playing some of his best hockey of the season in the stretch leading up to the game against the Cats.
It's a pity that the Panthers didn't have their best forechecker and puck possession forward in the lineup that game, or the result could have been very different.
Sean Bergenheim is one of the most underrated forwards in the game, as his ability to dominate puck possession helps his team win games, even though he doesn't rack up points on the scoresheet. In fact, Steve Burtch found using his delta Corsi measurement, that Bergenheim had been the eighth most impactful forward over the past seven years when it came to puck possession.
This season, the veteran Finn hasn't shown signs of decline, and continues to dominate the opposition and post great numbers. He has the highest raw Corsi for percentage on the team at 56.8%, and is currently 3rd on the team in relative Corsi with a rating of +4.3%, trailing only Brian Campbell and Aleksander Barkov.
Those numbers still don't show us just how effective Bergenheim has been. He's played over 100 minutes this season with Dave Bolland as his center (about 1/4 of his total ice time), and has been carrying the over paid center when it comes to puck possession.
|Player||CF% With||CF% Without|
So, even though Bergenheim has seen his numbers drop due to Bolland, he still leads the team in raw CF%. That's an impressive feat, and it's odd to think that the true cause for poor possession play (Bolland) got to play against Vancouver, while the man who carries Bolland (Bergenheim) was relegated to the press box.
He's not sacrificing for shot quality, either. His raw scoring chance for percentage of 58.8% is the best on the team, and his relative scoring chance for of +5.5% is third. More impressively, his defensive play has him at third in the league in scoring chances against per 60, behind only Barkov and Jesper Fast, and ahead of everyone else.. in the entire league.
His defensive abilities are incredible, and yet he rarely gets recognition for this. Ask the average fan who the Cats best defensive forward is, and they would probably say Barkov, Bolland, or even Derek MacKenzie before considering Bergenheim.
Sure, Bergenheim isn't the best at converting his chances (his on ice shooting percentage over the past seven years is a measly 6.38%, which is below average). But his ability to keep opponents from scoring should keep him from becoming a healthy scratch.
The reason why he ended up out of the lineup is because Bergenheim excels at an incredibly underrated skill: getting possession of the puck on the forecheck. Forwards such as Nathan MacKinnon, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and Tyler Seguin use their speed and skill to knife through defenders and into the high scoring areas of the ice. That's what most coaches look for out of their top forwards, but Bergenheim isn't skilled enough to do that. Instead, he repeatedly steals the puck from the opposition's defense and creates offense by working off of the cycle. A by product of this? The opposition's forwards don't get to possess the puck as much. Take a look at these examples from the most recent games he played.
Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson thinks he has plenty of time to chip the puck up to MacKinnon, until Bergenheim goes flying into the corner and strips the puck from him. Sure, this play doesn't result in a goal, but it results in a shift where three of Colorado's big guns (Ryan O'Reilly, Gabriel Landeskog, and MacKinnon) spend zero time in the offensive zone. It's not defense in the conventional sense, but it's just as effective.
Here, Bergenheim anticipates the dump in, and blows by defenseman Nick Holden to get control of the puck. Not the flashiest of plays, but it gets the Panthers zone time and negates the offense of Matt Duchene, Alex Tanguay, and Jarome Iginla.
Jan Hejda loses the puck for a split second, and Bergenheim pounces on him. After a quick battle for possession, Bergenheim slides the puck to Tomas Fleischmann, who has time to pass the puck to a teammate and establish offensive zone possession.
Justin Schultz actually has a step on Bergenheim here, but Bergy is still able to lift his stick and get control of the puck. If Schultz is given time, he may be able to wrap the puck around to a waiting Jordan Eberle, but instead, it's Bergenheim who gets control of the puck and the offensive chance. It's not the type of play that's going to draw the attention of scouts or general mangers who may be watching the games, but it's the type of play that will help you post great possession numbers.
Though coach Gerard Gallant may not have realized it, Sean Bergenheim is someone that he just can't afford to sit. He packages an elite possession game with superb defensive play, and just happens to do it through unconventional means. He doesn't create his offense with speed and skill, and his superb defensive play usually starts behind his opponent's net, but it doesn't mean that he isn't helping his team win games. The more often he is out of the lineup, the less likely it is that the Panthers make the playoffs. Hopefully someone points this out to Gallant, and Bergenheim avoids the press box for the rest of the season.