Yesterday I said there are two main reasons to watch the Panthers the rest of this season. The first was Jonathan Huberdeau‘s quest for the rookie scoring title and second was the play of Jacob Markstrom and his chance to prove he is a worthy starting NHL goalie. Well in the Panthers 6-2 thrashing at the hands of the Devils, Huberdeau was kept off the score sheet and Markstrom allowed six goals on 33 shots.
Huberdeau’s main competitor Cory Conacher had an assist last night for Ottawa tying Huberdeau with 28 points for the rookie lead. Markstrom has now allowed 23 goals in his last five starts, not they type of development you want to see from a young goaltender.
The Panthers have lost five straight and have gone 0-3 on their road trip throughout the Northeast. They travel to Boston today for a 12:30 matchup before returning home for their last home stand of the season with games Tuesday and Thursday against the Rangers and Maple Leafs respectively.
The Bruins are in a battle with the Montreal Canadiens for the second see in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Boston, with two games in hand, is only two points behind Montreal. Capturing the second seed would mean facing the Ottawa Senators (are whoever ends up in the 7th seed) in the first round rather facing the Toronto Maple Leafs. Personally I want to see Boston pass Montreal because if Boston captures the two seed, the Canadiens in all likelihood will face the Maple Leafs in what would be an epic first round matchup.
In fact, I can think of three reasons why I actually would be happy with a Boston win. First, and most importantly, the city of Boston deserves as many wins from its sports teams as it can get right now. Second a Boston win would make a Leafs-Canadiens playoff series that much closer to a reality, and third another Panther loss would increase the chances of Florida receiving the number one draft pick.
Regarding that last point, the Panthers are in a tight race of their own. The race for last place in the NHL looks like it will go down to the wire between Florida and the Colorado Avalanche. The Panthers, with 32 points, are currently three points behind the Avalanche and the way that the Panthers are playing, its conceivable that they do not pick up any more points the rest of the season. Of course finishing last does not guarantee the number one pick, there is still the NHL Draft Lottery lingering in the near future.
Here’s a fun fact for all the masochistic Panther fans out there: The Panthers through 44 games have a -55 goal differential, last season through 82 games only one team in the NHL had a differential worse than that, the Columbus Blue Jackets with -60. Projected for a full 82 game season, the Panthers goal differential would be -102. On a positive note I looked up the worst goal differential of all time thinking that the Panthers may be on a close to historic pace, but they’re nowhere close. The Washington Capitals were -265 in the 1974-75 season!
With four games left in the season, there are a few things I will be looking for. The Panthers have not had a shutout all season (they’ve been shutout five times) and it would be nice to see them get one, however unlikely that may be. Also, a number of Panthers have made their NHL debuts this season including the highly touted Nick Bjugstad, Alex Petrovic and Quinton Howden. This trio has failed to record a point in their short time with the Panthers. A couple points in these last four games would go a long way towards rebuilding Panther fans’ optimism about the future of this team.