When the Florida Panthers won the Southeast Division this year, it was a very, and I mean very exciting time. For the first time in franchise history, a Division championship banner will hang from the rafters at the BankAtlantic Center starting opening night this season. This event will mark a rebirth for the team and the organization as a whole. Hopefully it will also reinvigorate the fans to look at the Panthers as serious contenders in the NHL. Now looking ahead to next season, what do the Panthers have to do the same, or differently to once again claim the Southeast Division title?
Score more. First off, we will most likely have Jonathan Huberdeau in regular season NHL games where we will be able to see which players he gels with the best. He is a center with great hands and is deadly with the puck adding some much needed offensive fire power. I see him being on the 2nd or 3rd line, maybe with Scottie Upshall and the newly acquired Peter Mueller. If Mueller can stay healthy, and the Cats seem to think he will, and he can get back some of that spark he displayed as rookie, we could have a pretty dangerous second scoring line.
Continue the success of last seasons’ power play. Do you realize the Panthers were 7th last year in power play percentage at 18.6? That’s pretty impressive. Of course we can attribute a lot of that to the Jason Garrison, Brian Campbell defensive combo. Unfortunately Jason has moved on to Vancouver but we still have the great playmaking ability of Campbell. All we have to do is see what defenseman pairs best with him and hope it has some of the magic of last year.
Speaking of defense: improve our penalty killing. We have a loaded defense with newly acquired Filip Kuba and the re-signing of Keaton Ellerby, so defensemen will be competing for a spot in the lineup. The ever steady Mike Weaver, exciting Dmitri Kulikov, ageless veteran Ed Jovanovski and the up and coming Erik Gudbranson will all be returning. But last year we finished 25th in penalty killing. That’s got to improve. Gudbranson improved tremendously throughout the year and I see him playing with more confidence and improving his plus minus a lot this year. In addition I think with more offensive skill this year, it may ease the burden on our defense some if we can be in the opponents zone more.
Improve our shootout skills. One name: Huberdeau. He’s got the hands and finesse we need to bury the puck more in these critical situations.
Continue the solid goaltending. We continue to need Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen to keep us in the game each night. With some of new players I believe we will have the ability to come back in any game we are within two goals of.
Fan support. Often overlooked but fan support plays in a team’s success. We need to attend as many games as possible. We need to scream and shout our support each and every night. We need to ring those cowbells till out wrist aches. I hope you’re all with me on this one!
Thanks for reading and all comments are appreciated!
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