4-0-1 in their last 5. Points in 8 of their last 10. Solo 8th place (at the time this was written, anyways). Don’t look now, folks, but the Florida Panthers are streaking again. But this recent run has a much different feel then their November stretch in which they went 8-2-1. This 5 game streak includes a 7-1 dismantling of the Islanders in Nassau, an impressive 4-2 win against Martin Brodeur in New Jersey, a resilient 4-3 win against the high flying Thrashers, and most recently a 6-3 throttling of the Hurricanes. The lone loss came in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a game the Panthers matched the top team in the East. If this team can find some form of consistency, it could be an interesting 2010 in south Florida.
One of the most impressive highlights of the Panthers’ recent string has been the emergence of a true top line. Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, and Michael Frolik have brought an excitement to the offense that hasn’t been seen since Pavel Bure strode South Beach. In their last 5 games; Horton – 3 G, 7 A. Weiss – 3 G, 5 A. Frolik – 3 G, 2 A. Yes, it’s just a 5 game sample, but since David Booth went down with a concussion in late October and Cory Stillman went out with a knee injury November 20th, there was a giant question mark surrounding the Panthers and their offense. Horton and Weiss in particular have been the focal point of many Panthers’ fans finger pointing. Horton was a 3rd overall draft pick in 2003, taken in front of players such as Tomas Vanek, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Zach Parise, and Ryan Getzlaf. But Horton has yet to live up to the lofty expectations the club had for him when he was drafted. Until now. It has been clear early on this season that Horton was a different player. Couple him with Stephen Weiss, who picked up from where he left off after last season’s career high in points and is on pace to far surpass that, and the Panthers finally have a legitimate scoring line.
Something else that is somewhat remarkable about the Panthers solid play of late is the amount of injuries and AHL call ups the team has endured. Most notably David Booth and Cory Stillman, but also Radek Dvorak, Greg Campbell, and Dominic Moore have all missed a handful of games. Yet the Panthers have found adequate enough fill-ins in the forms of Victor Oreskovich (25 GP), Shawn Matthias (17 GP), Jeff Taffe (15 GP), and Michael Repik (8 GP). All have contributed, either on the score sheet or in a checking role. The first two months exposed a glaring lack of toughness on the Panthers’ roster, but Oreskovich, Mike Duco, and Kenndal McArdle, along with the waiver wire acquisition of Steve MacIntyre, have solved that problem. And with Cory Stillman due back shortly after Christmas, and David Booth looking at a mid-January return, those AHLers are fully aware that Pete DeBoer and Co. will be watching very closely to see who deserves a spot on the roster and who deserves a plane ticket back to Rochester.