As the Florida Panthers prepare to hit the ice for the 53rd time this season, they will do so with the intention of grabbing their 4th win in 5 games. This will be the 3rd meeting this year between the Florida Panthers and the Boston Bruins and the Cats will be looking to hand the Bruins their first loss of the season series. The Panthers do have a legitimate chance of coming out of Boston victorious since Tim Thomas will be facing his old team for the first time in his old house. That should provide him (not that he needs any more) with a lot of energy and therefore goaltending should be pretty solid tonight for the Cats.
I mentioned goaltending as being one of the main factors in giving the Panthers a chance to win tonight because it appears to be the strongest and brightest spot for the Panthers thus far. If you are a Panthers fan obviously you must be feeling good about your team. After having the disastrous start that the Panthers had this season and waking up every day with that horrible “this is going to be a very long season” feeling, it certainly is comforting to know that the Cats are on the brink of closing out a month with a winning record for the second time in a row.
In fact, interim coach Peter Horachek has a winning record (18-15-3) with a team that looked like they were going to be worse than last year’s team. Had the Panthers started the season with that same record after 36 games, it would have given the team the last wild card spot and they would be sitting 7th in the Eastern Conference with 39 points. Can you imagine where this team would be now? Obviously credit must be given to Horachek for what has happened to this team however Horachek’s tenure with the Cats also coincides with Timmy T’s definite return to the lineup after 2 injuries. He did get sidelined one more time due to another injury but it has been with Horachek that Thomas has played the bulk of his games.
Due to the fact that the team has been winning some games, a strong sense of excitement has crept back up into this franchise and its fans. Rightfully so. But I do worry sometimes it might be a little too much. Sometimes I feel like we are disregarding our problems and our problems are big. In my first piece with TRT I had written that with an above .900 save percentage this team would be a playoff contender. Which is true given the situation the team would find themselves in if they had started their first 36 games the same way they have played their last 36. However I also thought this team would be able to produce as much as they did last season.
The Panthers have essentially failed to produce anything on the power play. They currently are 8.8% on the man advantage. That’s dead last in the league. The closest team to the Panthers in that category is the Buffalo Sabres with 13.7%. Last year the Panthers finished the season with 20.4%. That was good for 6th overall in the league. If you have been jotting down all the Panthers’ power play goals on a calendar then your 2014 calendar has been hanging unmarked so far.
Last season, with fewer games played, the Panthers were led in scoring by Tomas Fleischmann with 35 points and right behind him was the eventual Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau with 31 points. Today, even though they have played more games than last year, they currently have 23 and 21 points respectively. The Panthers are led by D-man Tom Gilbert and 18 year old rookie Aleksander Barkov each posting 24 points each. What?! Gilbert and Barkov leading the Panthers? Don’t get me wrong. This means that the Panthers did a good job signing Gilbert and drafting Barkov but this also exposes how weak the offense is.
Now the difference in numbers between this season and last season might be due to the fact that this year the Panthers are facing teams from the West when they only played teams from the East last year. It is evident now how much better the West is compared to the East so the lack of production this year can be understood. However if the Panthers want to be a deep playoff team in the future this will have to change.
There is no doubt that the Panthers are headed in the right direction. That feeling is as real as the computer I am using to type all of this. My sleep today is much more profound and invigorating than it was for the 2013 year. But a collective effort to increase production needs to occur. This team can be doing marvelous things with great goaltending and half decent scoring. Maybe something will click this season that will see a surge in scoring. The Panthers have a chance today to click against one of the top teams in the NHL and to prove that scoring isn’t a deficiency on this team. Maybe a good off season’s work is necessary to boost it. Whatever it is, it needs to get fixed. When it does (assuming goaltending is as good as it is now) this team will be protecting a playoff spot instead of trying to acquire one.