The Florida Panthers, Kings of the South

Published November 25, 2021 at 3:38 PM

Some might argue that in order to be considered the best in the East Division you have to go through Tampa Bay, and the Panthers set the ton early in the season with a 4-1 steamrolling of Tampa. Florida has recently lost to the Lightning, but that came in Overtime, meaning the Panthers have captured 3 out of a possible 4 points against their in state rival this year.

On November 6th, the 9-0-0 Carolina Hurricanes and 9-0-1 Florida Panthers squared off in a game of unbeatens (in regulation) to see who would be the early front runner to come out on top of the east division and it wasn't even close. By the end of the first period it was 4-0 Florida and all the Hurricanes could do was try their best to weather the storm and keep the game respectable. This victory let other teams know that this Florida Panthers team is for real this year and when the spotlight is on them, they will do whatever it takes to win. Unfortunately, after riding high on that win, it was a perfect time for a letdown and Florida rattled off 4 straight losses, 2 of them coming in extra time, one being the aforementioned loss to Tampa in Overtime. But like any great team, they woke themselves up and have now won 4 in a row and are second in the league in points percentage, only behind the Carolina Hurricanes.

What has made this team great this year is they are controlling the play on both ends of the ice, and finally have a true number 1 goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky currently leads all starting goaltenders in Goals Saved Above Expected Per 60 at 1.718. For context, the next highest is Frederik Andersen at 1.043. Bobrovsky also leads the league in Wins Above Replacement at 3.02, the second highest is Jack Campbell at 2.31. The fact that Bobrovsky was able to rebound this year and put up the performances he has so far after so many have written him off has been a huge boost for this team. There have been games this year that Floridia has had no business winning but the stellar play of Bobrovsky has carried them through. This is a far cry from a year ago when it was asked if he was given the worst contract for a goaltender ever in the NHL.

Defensively the team's underlying numbers are just as impressive as its goaltenders. The Panthers currently lead the league on 5 on 5 in Corsi with 55.88%, Goals For per 60 with 3.36, Goal Differential per 60 with 1.58 and the most telling stat of how well this team is playing defensively is that the Florida Panthers lead the League in Percentage of Giveaways in Defensive Zone is only 36.84%. Florida is also second in the league Share of Takeaways at 57.69%. To simplify all of these numbers, if the Panthers have the puck in their own zone they're going to get it out, and if they lose possession of the puck they are going to take it right back.

Does all of this early regular season success finally mean the Florida Panthers are going to do something in the playoffs? The fact that we are even posing this question is a good sign for this franchise. Since they made the Stanley Cup Finals in 1996, Florida has made the playoffs only 5 times and has lost in the first round in all of those appearances. The narrative is changing around this franchise and the expectations are high, which is a good sign for hockey in the sunshine state.
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