Panthers Should Be Among Stanley Cup Favorites

The Florida Panthers are one of the best teams in the league this season. They sit atop the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference with a record of 45-14-6 with 96 points. That record also makes for second in the the NHL behind only the Colorado Avalanche with 100 points. With the way they’ve been playing all season, despite early season adversity, it’s easy to call the Panthers a Stanley Cup favorite.

Florida’s Electric Offense

Their high-octane offense has been the driving force for them all year long. They currently lead the league in goals per game with 4.06, shots per game with 37.1, and total goals scored with 268, which is a franchise record for most in a single season. In addition, they rank 10th in the NHL on the man-advantage with a 23 percent conversion rate. This is in large part due to their weapons on offense led by forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who is having the best season of his career as he ranks third in the NHL with 93 points (23 goals, 70 assists). In addition, he leads the league in assists and leads the Panthers in points. Furthermore, he leads all Panthers in franchise history in games played, points, and assists.

Related: Panthers Add Extra Defensive Depth with Robert Hagg Trade

Along with “Huby-Dooby-Doo,” Florida has a great number of players that can put up points as they have five other players with 20-plus goals. This includes their captain Aleksander Barkov, who leads the team in the goalscoring department with 28 and is tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals with four. Additionally, they have ramped up their dangerous offense by acquiring former Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux this past trade deadline, who has already made his presence known as he’s tallied four assists in his first three games as a Panther.

Panthers Depth Has Shown Up in Big Moments

Their big stars of course do all the dirty work, but their depth has come up huge in the moments they needed them. Pieces like Mason Marchment and Anton Lundell have come up in their own ways, whether it be scoring a good insurance goal or being a key piece on the penalty kill.

Related: Panthers in Rare Air with Three 3-Goal Comeback Wins This Season

In addition, they’ve also received major help in the veteran leadership department and got extra gritty in pieces like Patric Hornqvist and Ryan Lomberg. The toughness is welcomed considering how physical the postseason gets.

Panthers Defense Locks it Down

Despite the injuries, the defense can easily shut it down for Florida with stars like Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar. Around the league, they rank 14th in goals allowed per game with 2.89 and 10th in shots allowed per game with 30.6. Furthermore, their penalty kill is also good for 15th in the NHL with a 80.1 percent kill rate.

Aaron Ekblad Florida Panthers
Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the absence of Ekblad, defensive pieces have stepped up, such as Robert Hagg and Gustav Forsling. It may not be 100 percent, but its enough to hold the fort down until his return for the playoffs.

Goaltending Coming in the Clutch

After struggling in net for Florida in his first few seasons, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is finally playing at a decent rate. He currently holds a save percentage (SV%) of .914 and a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.61 through 43 starts this season. In addition, he ranks sixth in the league among goalies in goals saved above expected with 20.4. The biggest task facing him now is seeing if he can play up to the same potential in the postseason.

On the bright side, he has a reliable backup in Spencer Knight, who currently has a .904 SV%. He’s been given the nod in 22 games but played in 25 total games. In addition, he’s spent most of his time in the American Hockey League to get more starts and develop his game even further. Although, he has proven himself to be a reliable backup.

Can They Keep This Status Come May?

They have dropped some games to potential playoff teams over the course of the last few weeks, but what they have done overall this season is enough to get them to the dance. As previously mentioned, they still lead the league in certain departments and are second in the NHL overall despite the adversity they’ve been faced with all season long. While the playoffs themselves are a different type of game altogether, it seems the Cats have what it takes to handle it.

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