Florida Panthers – The long and winding road
Since we are in the All Star Weekend and no regular hockey games are happening this is a good time to say this team has had an unbelievable year so far. I for one am hoping this dream voyage continues on an escalating trend.
Now is also a good time to take a look at where the team is at, what lies ahead and who has given the Cats problems so far. I’ll also give my opinion as to what the Panthers need to do going forward if they are to go far in their playoff runs.
The Panthers are currently in second place in the Southeast division behind the Washington Capitals. They each have 55 points but the Caps lead due to more games won. They are 7th in the Eastern Conference standings at (22-15-11) record and 14th overall in the NHL.
They are coming off of a very bad January where they lost ground to the Capitals. They only played 9 games the entire month but came out of January with a 2-3-4 record. Luckily they were able to salvage some points in their 4 outings to OT but coming away with only 8 points out of 18 is not good if you want to make the playoffs.
The good news is they’re probably in the weakest division so far in the league. No team has cracked the 60 point mark in this division and all the other division have at least one team at that marker or beyond. This could help them in their quest to regain their position as divisional leader. OK that is where the team currently is so let’s take a look at what lies ahead for them.
Their schedule coming out of the All Star break has them with only 34 games left to play for the regular season. They will be playing 18 home games and 16 road games with the majority being against EC opponents. Their road record so far has not been that great at 11-10-04. They will need to improve this with 32 points hanging in the balance on the road.
The Panthers have not done particularly well against two divisions and luckily for them one of them is in the Western Conference who they will not see much of going forward. The two conferences giving them a hard time are of course the two best in the league the Central in the West and the Atlantic in the East. The Cats record vs the Central is 0-2-1 but the Panthers will not be playing the Chicago Blackhawks any more this season as one loss & one OT loss came against the Hawks. Their record against the Atlantic is 5-6-3 and they can thank the NY Rangers for this one with a 1-2-1 record. Luckily they are done with the Rangers as well.
Who they need to focus on is the two teams in their division the one they are chasing in the Washington Capitals and the one on their heels the Winnepeg Jets. The Panthers will face these two teams 7 more times. They will face the Jets 3 more times and the Caps 4 the majority of encounters will be in February which could determine the division. The series so far is split with the Washington and 2-0-1 with the Jets.
What do the Cats need to improve upon heading down the stretch? Well for one thing they are one of the few winning record teams that have more GA than GF. So what this indicates to me is one of two things either their team defense is not good or they are not scoring enough goals. So which is it? Well they are ranked 15th in the league for GA & 25th in the league for GF so there you have it. Everyone has been concerned all along that the Panthers do not have enough scoring power and that appears to be the case. The scoring drought is not on their power play which is one of the better ones in the league but in 5 on 5 situations.
What is surprising is they have scored more goals on the road than at home 69 versus 55 and while they have played a couple more games on the road than home if you average it out Cats still score more on the road. Could be they simplify their game. I’m not sure why else they would be scoring less at home. They have enough shots attempts they just don’t get in.
The Panthers have no player with 20 goals or more. Versteeg has 19 and he is the highest scorer. The Panthers must find a way to get the puck in the nets. They may need more bodies crashing creases and picking up some easy goals for them.
The one thing you can count on is playoff teams know how to score so to keep pace someone in a Panthers uniform will need to step up or possibly something can be done at prior to the trade deadline to remedy this. If they can find the back of the net more this will go along way down the stretch and could be the one thing that vaults them past Washington into a division lead.
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