Nov 9, 2013; Ottawa, Ontario, CAN; Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad (27) is checked by Ottawa Senators defenseman Marc Methot (3) in the third period at the Canadian Tire Centre. The Senators defeated the Panthers 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

What's Next For The Florida Panthers?

The Florida Panthers wrapped up their season long five game road trip with a 4-3 shootout loss last night against the Calgary Flames. The Panthers finished 2-2-1 on the trip and picked up five out of ten possible points. We started to see some life from the Panthers during the roadie as the team put in strong performances against some talented Western Conference teams. We saw the Panthers go on their first two game winning streak with victories over the Avalanche and the Canucks, we saw them take the Minnesota Wild to the brink in a 3-2 loss and we saw them battle from two behind in the third period to salvage a point in Calgary. With the road trip behind us, its time to ask what is next for the Florida Panthers but before we do that let’s take a look at some numbers from the trip:

  • The Panthers scored 12 goals over the five game road-trip. Their opponents scored 13. Through 24 games, the Panthers have a -27 goal differential (or -1.13 goals per game) so the -1 over the five games is a marginal improvement.
  • The Panthers outshot their opponents 144-141 during the trip. They averaged 28.8 shots per game during the trip and allowed 28.2. Through 24 games, the Panthers are averaging 28.0 shots per game and allowing an average of 29.4 so those numbers did not change much.
  • Florida scored 2.4 goals per game during the trip an improvement from their 2.12 season average. They allowed 2.6 goals per game a large improvement from their 3.17 season average.
  • Nick Bjugstad, Tom Gilbert and Scottie Upshall paced the Panthers with four points a piece in the five games. Bjugstad had four assists while Gilbert and Upshall each had one goal and three assists.
  • 15 Panthers (including goaltender Tim Thomas) tallied at least one point during the trip. Only seven Panthers failed to record at least one point: Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Tomas Fleischmann, Krys Barch, Mike Mottau, Matt Gilroy and Mike Weaver (although he only played in one game).
  • Tim Thomas started all five games for the Panthers. He stopped 128 of 140 shots faced for a .914% save percentage, a huge improvement from the Panthers season save percentage of .892.

So what is next for the Panthers? Well, as we are just over a quarter of the way through the season,the playoffs are not entirely out of the picture. The Panthers have dug themselves a Carkoon-sized hole that they must now fight their way out of. Florida is currently nine points out of the last playoff spot in the East so in order to make the post-season a legitimate possibility they are going to have to string together a lot of wins in a short amount of time.

Oh yea, and by the way, the Panthers are only 1-7-2 against Eastern Conference teams. On Monday Florida kicks off a five game home stand with a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. If the Panthers are going to win some games against the East, Monday would be a good time to start. The Panthers will also face the Rangers, Penguins, Senators and Jets on the home stand.

We should find out a lot about the direction of this team over the next five games. Will they carry some of their road momentum back to South Florida? Will they be able to string a few wins together to help make up some lost ground? Will they fall back into their losing ways? Will their poor play force general manager Dale Tallon to trade away more veteran players?

In the immediate future, there may be some call-ups coming soon. Panthers beat writer tweeted the following late last night:

With the unknown severity of the injuries to Jesse Winchester and Tomas Kopecky, it would make sense for the Panthers to make some call-ups. Vincent Trocheck has been excellent for the San Antonio Rampage in his first professional season leading the team in both goals and scoring (9-9-18) while Alex Petrovic has been the teams most productive defenseman (2-7-9). The arrival of Petrovic and Trocheck would provide Panthers fans with a  jolt of youth and excitement.

The Panthers are fast approaching a breaking point. Right now there is still the slim hope that the team can turn things around and fight their way back into a playoff spot but if they do not start making up ground soon, it will be too late no matter how well they play late in the season. That is why these next five games are huge for the Panthers. If they can string together a couple of wins, their playoff hopes will remain alive and well, if not, then things might get bad fast in South Florida.


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