The Florida Panthers definitely are turning heads but it now has to be entertained that this team, picked by many to finish near Buffalo in the Atlantic will possibly contend for a playoff spot this year. Most everyone thought they were on the right track but it would be at least 2-3 seasons before the Panthers would be in this position and yet here we are. As of early Friday, a mere one point separates Florida from the playoffs.
Just a couple weeks ago, they appeared dead out of it, the games in hand were dwindling and being eight to ten points back made things look bleak. Many writers, including myself, were wondering if the eight East teams were locked in or almost locked in. Then a magical thing happened. Boston went on a considerable losing streak (currently five straight and counting).
This has pulled Florida back to where they are now and in a position to do some damage. Imagine being the one team to end Boston’s postseason hopes. Honestly the Bruins were picked by quite a few to win the division and at least get to the second round of the playoffs. Imagine if the Panthers find a way. It will not be all that easy to do, however.
The Enhanced Stats Argument
This is going to take some time to get used to. Saying Corsi and now it is SAT and USAT and this behind or that front will be lots of agony but people will get it eventually. Shots attempted close or SAT Close is where Florida is in the middle of the pack at 17th with a +19. They are 14th in regular SAT which is basically the old 5-on-5 Corsi.
The Panthers appears to be a playoff team, but their stats get a boost more because of Roberto Luongo than anything else. The funnier part yet is when Luongo is struggling, the team tries to pick him up a lot more than they used to. They actually do this to the point of causing more problems. However, in the long run it is a good trait to have and the Panthers are showing that they have the ability to contend for a playoff spot.
Luongo is a very solid sixth in even strength save percentage at .933. Thanks to War On Ice for all of their stat packets there. That is a vital reason why Florida is able to stay in it even in the rough and tumble bubble race for the last playoff spot. When your goalie is able to keep things stable at even strength, it does have a ripple effect on the rest of the team. There are few more deflating things than a goalie who gives up goals in bunches and Luongo is definitely not guilty of that in normal circumstances.
It is not a secret that Florida needs to rack up some points and though chances and shots are there, the goals have not been of late. That will have to change quickly because eventually Boston and even Philadelphia are going to get things moving in the right direction. At least one would think. The debate stands though. Florida is definitely in this and the numbers say so for now.
The Chase For Boston
Something that Panthers fans can lean on a bit: Tuukka Rask is definitely not himself and partially it is a product of the Bruins slowly disintegrating defense. While Florida really has never panicked, Boston is literally bending itself up, down, and backwards to try and maintain their position while somehow improving the team. Their effort really is as convoluted as that last sentence sounds.
What happens in the next seven weeks or so and around the trade deadline may not matter much this season for the Panthers in this sense. They are a team that has drawn notice. People now realize hey, they may be here awhile. That is a damn good thing. At this point, the rest is all gravy.
Despite the awful goal differential, Florida really has found a way. That number is still a -17. None of that matters now. What does matter is how they approach the trade deadline (do not mortgage a bright future) then the final sprint. Florida fans, get ready, this will be a fun ride no matter how it turns out!