Hockey

Are the Florida Panthers For Real?

Robert Mayer- USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers have been one of the biggest surprises in the NHL this season.  They have 59 points, good for first place in the Atlantic Division and second place in the Eastern Conference.  The Washington Capitals are the only team in the east with more points, and they are the best team in the league.  Florida has been a borderline playoff team for the past few years but always missed out.  Every year people think that the Panthers will finally make the playoffs, but up to this point, it has never happened.  This year things seem to be different, however, and the Panthers are poised to make their first playoff appearance since 2011, and only second since 2000.

This year’s Panthers team is for real, and truly are one of the best teams in the east.  They have a strong goaltender in Roberto Luongo, who has played in the playoffs many times with Vancouver.  They also have a good mix of veteran and young players.  Leadership is a must have in the NHL, and the Panthers are full of it.  Captain Willie Mitchell is 38 and is in his 13th NHL season.  Jaromir Jagr is 43, Shawn Thornton is 38, Derek Mackenzie is 34, and Brian Campbell is 36.  All of these players have been around for ten plus years and know what it takes to win in the NHL.  On the other end of the spectrum, the Panthers have plenty of young talent.  Aaron Ekblad is 19, Alex Petrovic is 23, Erik Gudbranson is 24, Jonathan Huberdeau is 22, Nick Bjugstad is 23, and Aleksander Barkov is only 20.  The Florida Panthers have the perfect mix of young and old, skill and grit, and youth and experience.

The Panthers also seem to be a close-knit group, and they always stand up for each other.  That is a must for a team looking to be successful in the playoffs.  Teams play better when they like the people they are playing with and playing for.  This group really appears to be tight, and everyone on the team are friends.  Guys like Shawn Thornton and Erik Gudbranson have never been afraid to fight for a teammate, but with this team, it’s everybody.  If anybody lands a cheapshot or big hit against a Panther, they know they are going to have to answer the bell.  This team has all the “team” qualities needed to make a deep playoff run.

The Panthers are also a balanced team with four good lines and three good defense pairs.  They have eight players with at least 20 points and five double-digit goal scorers.  Jonathan Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr are tied for the team lead with 32 points while Aaron Ekblad leads all defensemen with 20.  The Panthers are also in a great spot in goal.  Roberto Luongo has a 20-13-4 record with a stellar .929 save percentage and 2.12 goals against average.  Even the Panthers backup goalie is good.  Al Montoya has a 7-2-1 record, a .929 save percentage, and a 1.92 GAA.

The Florida Panthers are absolutely for real this season.  They have a balanced offensive attack, strong defense core, and great goaltending.  They also are a tight-knit group and always stand up for each other.  They have all the attributes on a top-tier NHL team, and should make a run in this year’s playoffs.  They currently lead the Atlantic Division and certainly have a good chance of staying in first place.  I’m not convinced that they are ready to win a Stanley Cup yet, but they certainly are ready to make the playoffs.  For the first time in years, the Florida Panthers are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

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