The Florida Panthers have been playing some much inspired hockey this season and it’s finally paying dividends for the long suffering franchise, as well as it’s fan base. This Florida Panthers team might just be the best we have seen since the cup finalists in 1995-1996. Despite last night’s loss to the New York Rangers (6-1), and the overtime loss to Buffalo by a score of 2-1, the Florida Panthers are among the league leaders in points. Their schedule of late has found them playing three games in four nights against top teams, grabbing three of a possible six points on the road.
The Panthers have done a great job so far this season posting a 16-9-5 record, sitting in 3rd place in the Eastern Conference with 37 points trailing conference leader Philadelphia by two points. A huge part of Florida’s success has been in large part due to the performance of the top line which consists of Tomas Fleischmann, Stephen Weiss, and Kris Versteeg. The Panthers top line has combined for a total of 91 points, which is among the best in the NHL. Florida’s trio holds one of the best comeback stories in the NHL this season by Fleischmann. Tomas was playing for the Colorado Avalanche last season and was looking to have a break-out year when his career was put on hold when diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung. But now one year later, Fleischmann is having the best season of his career and is one of the top forwards in the NHL. If that is not a great comeback story, I do not know what is!
Florida’s defense has been really good this season, and a couple D-men are having their break-out year. Dmitry Kulikov and Jason Garrison have to be two of the most surprising players for the Panthers this season. Garrison has emerged as on offensive defenseman with 9 goals and 5 assists on the season for a combined 14 points and plus 12. Kulikov has been having an outstanding year offensively as well. He is 2nd among Florida defenseman in points with 20 while Brian Campbell leads Panthers defenseman in points with 24. The Panthers defense has been all-star caliber since the start of the season, and they look to continue their success as the season progresses.
A major change to the Panthers this season has to be the goaltending, losing one of the top goaltenders in the NHL in Tomas Vokoun to free agency, and having to make the switch to Jose Theodore. Theodore has been marvelous this year so far posting an 11-6-4 record with 2 shut-outs, 2.17 GAA, and a .929 save percentage. The back-up goaltending for the Panthers has been unsure at times with Scott Clemmensen getting injured twice early on, and Jacob Markstrom having to take over that role during Clemms absence but now Clemmensen is healthy and is performing extremely well in the back-up role. Florida’s goaltending has for sure emerged as a strong suit this season much to the surprise of fans and NHL “experts”, and has been a big part of their success.
The Panthers deserve more respect than they’ve been getting. For most of their games so far this year they’ve played gritty 60-minute hockey, and with the exception of a game or two, have played significantly better than anyone imagined. This Florida Panther team that has been put together by Dale Tallon is loaded with character, skill, and determination. The goal for this team is to end the playoff drought of 11 years, and despite last night’s loss, they have set themselves on pace for a historic season for the franchise.
I cannot say it enough, but it’s time for the NHL and other fans around the league to finally give the Florida Panthers the respect that they deserve. The team isn’t moving regardless of what they think, the fan base is healthy, and the players that are now on this team are playing an exciting brand of hockey that’s been fun to watch. They won’t win every game (no one will), but they play hard, play to the end, and are out to prove that this year things are different. Dale Tallon’s Blueprint is working.
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