The Florida Panthers had their most embarrassing loss of the season on Tuesday when they fell to the Winnipeg Jets 8-2. Putting that game aside, the Panthers are still 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and are on the cusp of the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season. Before that the team hadn’t had a taste of the post-season since the 1999-00 season.
Some suggest the reason for the Panthers making it to the post-season only twice in the past 25 years is that they have struggled to find a number one goaltender, however the other problem is that they have struggled to have a pure goal-scorer.
82 Points, Hard to Come By
Not since the 2006-07 season have the Panthers had a player finish with more than a point per game. Olli Jokinen achieved the feat during the season tallying 91 points in 82 games. Jokinen also surpassed the 82-point plateau the season prior, recording 89 points in 82 games.
Before Jokinen hit the mark the last Panther to do so was the Russian Rocket. Pavel Bure had 59 goals and 92 points in 82 games for the Cats, back during the 2000-01 season. Bure also had 94 points during the 1999-00 season when the team was swept by the New Jersey Devils in the first round. So going back a quarter of a century only four times and only two players had ever recorded more than a point per game in a season for the Cats.
Last season Nick Bjugstad led the team in scoring with just 38 points in 76 games. This season Bjugstad is once again leading the team in scoring with 25 points in 41 games. He is on pace for 32 goals and 12 more points than last season, but at this rate will lead the team in scoring with just 50 points, far short of a point per game.
Stats Not in Team’s Favour
The lack of an elite goal scorer is part of the reason why the team is 25th in the NHL with just 2.37 goals per game. That mark however, is an improvement from last season when the team finished 29th in the league with 2.29 goals per game, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres. The extra-man also hasn’t helped the team score much this season as the Panthers have the second worst power play in the league ahead of only the Sabres.
Looking at the Panthers it is hard to figure out exactly why they are doing as well as they are. The team has struggled in almost every offensive category. The have the 28th ranked shooting percentage, their team 5-on-5 save percentage is the 19th best in the league at 92.09% and their goals against per game is ranked 16th at 2.63 per game.
Luongo Carrying the Load
Roberto Luongo might very well be the biggest reason for the team’s success. The 35-year-old is in his second stint with the Cats has the ninth best save percentage at .924%. He also has the the 13th ranked goals against average at 2.32 and an impressive 17-8-7 record this season.
One other reason for the Panthers success is that the team has been one of the better possession teams in the league. The team has the 10th best Corsi-for percent at 51.8% and the ninth best Fenwick-for percent at 52.2%. Oddly the team was 12th and 13th respectively in those categories last season, despite finishing 15th in the Eastern Conference last season.
The Panthers are three points behind the Boston Bruins for the final Wild Card Spot in the East and have three games in hand on the B’s. The team will likely go without an elite goal scorer, but if Luongo can stay hot and the team can keep doing what they’re doing, they might not need a goal scorer to make it to the playoffs.
Craig is an intern at The Hockey News where he has written for both the website and the magazine. He is also a featured-blogger at http://www.hockeyforums.net/index.php/blog/46-its-a-canadian-game/. Craig has an Honours in Journalism from Wilfird Laurier University and is currently completing the Sports Journalism Program at Centennial College. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Hagerman.