The Florida Panthers beat the Arizona Coyotes Monday night, 5-3, to move to 6-0-0, becoming the 25th team in NHL history to win their first six games in a season (“Panthers hold off Coyotes to become only 25th team in NHL history to start season 6-0”, Miami Herald, 10/25/21). And those wins haven’t come against pushovers (well, aside from Arizona). Four of the teams the Panthers have played made the playoffs last season.
Related: 3 Keys to the Panthers’ Hot Start
It’s still early, but right now, the Panthers are the best team in the National Hockey League and a favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup. Multiple factors have contributed to this historic start, from the goaltenders to the offensive stars, to the new additions. The team is firing on all cylinders.
Bobrovsky & Knight Starting Strong in Net
The Panthers came into the 2021-22 season with a goaltender controversy after rookie Spencer Knight replaced veteran Sergei Bobrovsky during the 2020-21 playoffs and paid well. Head coach Joel Quenneville stuck with the 33-year-old Bobrovsky to start the season, and Bob has been outstanding thus far. In the four games he’s played in, he has a 1.99 goals-against average (GAA) and a .942 save percentage (SV%). Knight has also provided solid play, registering a 2.01 GAA and .923 SV% in two starts.
If Florida can continue getting this version of Bobrovsky (rather than the version of him it got during his first two seasons in Sunrise), along with continued strong showings from the promising young Knight, the Panthers can ride into the postseason on the strength of the play between the pipes. But they likely won’t need to do that, as they have plenty of talent elsewhere, and it’s showing.
Huberdeau, Barkov, & Ekblad Shining
Going into this season, the Panthers knew they had three stars in left-winger Jonathan Huberdeau, center Aleksander Barkov, and defenseman Aaron Ekblad. The 28-year-old Huberdeau had 61 points (20 goals and 41 assists) last season, while the 26-year-old Barkov registered 58 points (26 goals and 32 assists). Barkov finished ninth in the league in goals and Huberdeau finished eighth in assists. The 25-year-old only played in 35 of the 56 games due to a fractured left leg, but still finished fourth in goals among defensemen (11).
Through six games this season, Huberdeau has a team-leading eight points (three goals and five assists), while Barkov (two goals and four assists) and Ekblad (three goals and three assists) each have six points. The trio has helped the Panthers tally at least four goals in all six games and wins of two or more goals in five of their six games. But the returning stars have also gotten some help themselves.
Bennett, Reinhart, & Other New Guys Contributing
Not only are the stalwarts playing well thus far, so are the fresh faces. Forward Sam Bennett, who was traded to Florida by the Calgary Flames on April 12, signed a four-year deal to stay with the Panthers in the offseason. That deal has paid dividends so far, as the 25-year-old Bennett is second on the team in points (seven) and tied for first in goals (four). He’s on pace to smash his numbers from a season ago, when he finished with 27 total points (27 goals and 17 assists) in 48 games with the Flames and Panthers.
Center Sam Reinhart, like Bennett, came over via trade and then signed a multi-year contract. The 25-year-old Reinhart was traded to Florida by the Buffalo Sabres on July 24 and signed a three-year deal with the Panthers two weeks later. After scoring 40 points (25 goals and 15 assists) in last year’s shortened season (his sixth straight season of at least 40 points), Reinhart has five points (two goals and three assists) through six games to kick off the 2021-22 campaign.
The Panthers are receiving contributions from the young and old alike. 20-year-old center Anton Lundell, who was selected 12th overall by Florida in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Panthers in July, has registered five points (two goals and three assists) in his first five NHL games, and 42-year-old center Joe Thronton, who signed a one-year contract with Florida in August, scored his first Panther goal in Monday night’s win over Arizona.
It’s still early, but right now, the Panthers are a force to be reckoned with, and they don’t seem to have a real weak spot. The team is getting production from the goalies, the goal-scorers, and the new additions. That’s without even mentioning key contributors like Carter Verhaege and Anthony Duclair.
If the Panthers beat the Boston Bruins Thursday night in Sunrise, they’ll become the 14th team in NHL history to start a season 7-0-0, and they’ll be just three wins away from the 1993-93 Toronto Maple Leafs’ NHL record of 10 victories to begin a season. But they have bigger aspirations. They’re searching for their first Stanley Cup. And if they keep playing the way they are now, they might find it this season.
Grant is a freelance writer covering the Florida Panthers/Columbus Blue Jackets and contributing to Morning Skate for THW. He started his own sports blog (Head in the Game) in 2013 and worked in the sports information department while at Trine University, from where he graduated in 2019. You can follow Grant on Twitter @G_Tingley.