Panthers On The Right Track to Make the Playoffs
By Patrick Hoffman
After struggling last season both on the ice and even off it, the Florida Panthers have put themselves in a good enough position to give themselves a chance make the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing it last season.
As of this writing (March 9, 2018), the Panthers have 73 points (33-25-17), which currently puts them two points behind the holders of the second wild card spot, the Columbus Blue Jackets, and three points behind the team holding the first wild card spot, the New Jersey Devils. With that said, the Panthers have three games in hand on both of those club so the ball is in their court to get this done.
When the All-Star break came, the Panthers were not looking good. Roberto Luongo, their starting netminder, had a lower-body injury that was to keep him out for some significant team, the team was extremely inconsistent, and they simply were not winning hockey games.
After the All-Star break, however, the Panthers have scripted a much better story. As of this writing (March 9, 2018), the team is 14-3-1 since the break and are right back in the thick of things in a very tight Eastern Conference.
One of the main reasons why the Panthers have been able to have a bounce back season has been the play of Luongo. In 24 games, Luongo, 38, is 13-7-2 with a 2.50 goals against average, a .930 save percentage and two shutouts.
As mentioned above, Luongo missed significant time with a lower-body injury. Since returning to the ice, "Lou" has been stellar between the pipes as has done his job by making the timely saves, keeping his teams in most games, and using his veteran presence in net to inspire confidence for the rest of the team.
Another reason why the Panthers are back in the playoff hunt is because of the way their offense has stepped up. Guys like Aleksander Barkov (25 goals and 43 assists for 68 points), Vincent Trocheck (26 goals and 34 assists for 60 points), and Jonathan Huberdeau (21 goals and 38 assists for 59 points) are playing extremely well right now and producing at a very critical time in the season.
As a whole, the team's offense is currently (As of March 9, 2018) 14th in the league in goals scored with 196 goals in 65 games. This is good for an average of just over three goals per game, which is something they will need to keep up if they want to stay in the thick of things in their conference.
Lastly, the team believes in what first-year head coach Bob Boughner is selling. The club has bought into his style of play and with him behind the bench, the Panthers have an opportunity to be good the next few seasons with the roster that they have.
Obviously, making the playoffs is not a guarantee for this hockey team. With that said, if they continue to play the way they are playing now and continue to battle game in and game out, they might just find themselves in the postseason dance come April.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.