The Florida Panthers have been very consistent to start the season, as they have followed up any kind of loss this season (OTL, SOL, or regulation) with a win. The team is 9-2-2 and has 20 points, good for second in the Discover Central Division. After facing some of the weaker teams in their first 10 games of the year, many people over social media doubted the team as they hadn’t faced the Tampa Bay Lightning yet. Now, after playing them three times and winning two of the three, the league has been put on notice.
What’s Coming Up?
The Panthers are about to play some of the most important games of the season in the next two weeks. From Feb 17 to March 1, the team plays both the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes three times and the Detroit Red Wings twice. In this span, the team has back-to-back games against the Red Wings and the Stars. The team needs to exploit the 4-10-3 Red Wings, who have the second-worst goals-per-game in the NHL at 2.06.
The Carolina Hurricanes will most likely be the Panthers’ biggest challenge. The Hurricanes are third in the NHL in goals-per-game at 3.62. With a 10-3-0 record tied with the Panthers at 20 points, the Canes will definitely be looking to do damage against them, and one of the teams will try to pull away from the other in the standings in this coming two-week span. The biggest question for the next couple of games for the team will be their goaltending: can Chris Driedger and Sergei Bobrovsky keep them in tight games against lethal offences?
The Panthers have yet to face the Stars this season after the start of their season was postponed due to COVID-19 complications. The Stars have been unlucky this season, not only because of COVID-19, but they have a 5-3-4 record, and the team is struggling to close out games and grab that extra point. The most notable problems would be the penalty kill, which is at 78%, ranked 20th in the league, as well as the lack of shots, where they are averaging 27.8 per-game, good for 27th in the NHL. If the Panthers want to continue their early success, this two-week stretch will really define what direction they will go this year.
What’s Working So Far?
In the past three games against the Panthers’ state rival the Lightning, one stat jumps out at me: Frank Vatrano has scored in three straight games. The feisty winger has been a vital part of the team’s depth in the past four seasons, scoring 49 goals in his 179 games with the team. After being held goalless for eight straight games after the team’s second game against Chicago, he has helped propel the Panthers past the reigning Cup champions in two of their last three games.
If the Panthers want to keep the momentum going, they will need big-time contributions from all their depth players including, Vatrano, Alexander Wennberg, Owen Tippett and Brett Connolly. Having these guys contribute along with the stellar play of the team’s top players will help the team keep their sights on the Central Division title. The team’s top contributors in Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau have all been playing some of the best hockey of their careers, leading the team to a top 10 offence in the NHL and the sixth-best power play at 29.7%.
Where Can We Improve?
The very unfortunate but obvious answer to the improvement question is Bobrovsky. The 32-year-old netminder is off to a streaky start to the season. Due to the Panthers’ hot start offensively, they have been able to win Bobrovsky some shaky games, which has given him a 5-1-1 record through seven starts. However, Bobrovsky has a .884 save-percentage (SV%) and a 3.33 goals-against average (GAA). He has only had above a .900 SV% three times this season, and two of those starts were against one of the worst offences in the league in the Red Wings.
It’s clear the Panthers have been very confident in Diredger and are really hoping for Bobrovsky to find his old self because this is the best the team has looked in a very long time. With the Cats rolling, the team has much to be proud of after the reshaping of the roster done by general manager Bill Zito.