The Florida Panthers won the NHL’s Southeast Division last season and went to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Sounds like a good run right? The only problem with the Panthers’ success is that they are now a marked team in a division in which only a few games separate the winners and the losers.
Last season only five wins separated the first and last place teams in the Southeastern division. The Cats came out on top despite winning fewer games than the Washington Capitals. Fortunately for Kevin Dineen and company, the Capitols had more losses than the Panthers as well.
The Caps look like they’re ready to tackle the top of the division again. This offseason they picked up Mike Ribeiro and Wojtek Wolski in the free-agent market. These aren’t huge pick-ups but they are enough to bolster the Caps’ offense and make them a dangerous rival for the Panthers next season. Ribeiro is a particularly good acquisition for the Caps because he will add a 50 point per season player to their depth at the center position. Wolski, who was with the Cats last year, will do the same by adding valuable experience to the Caps’ left side.
The Panthers have picked up a few players of their own but will go into next season with about the same scenario on defense and between the pipes. Jose Theodore didn’t look great against the Caps last year, with a 3.09 goals against average. Backup net minder Scott Clemmensen didn’t fare much better with a 3.31 GAA against Washington. Despite the shaky goaltending the Panthers were able to go 6-5 with the Caps last season, and that one extra win may have been the one that put them over the top in the division.
There is no doubt that the 2012-13 season will be a tough one for the Cats. The competition in the Southeast Division has been upgraded and the Panthers will be playing with a mark on their backs as division champs. It will be a tough road but it’s important that the Cats prove to everyone that last season wasn’t a fluke.
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