Inside the Panthers’ run to start season


SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 4: Eetu Luostarinen #27 celebrates his overtime game winning goal with goaltender Spencer Knight #30 of the Florida Panthers against the Washington Capitals at the FLA Live Arena on November 4, 2021 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL – NOVEMBER 4: Eetu Luostarinen #27 celebrates his overtime game winning goal with goaltender Spencer Knight #30 of the Florida Panthers against the Washington Capitals at the FLA Live Arena on November 4, 2021 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

It has been a historically brilliant start for the Florida Panthers.

With a win Monday night at Madison Square Garden versus the New York Rangers, Florida can improve to 11-0-1 on the season to claim a share of the best 12-game start in NHL history. 

Expectations were high for this team after a massive step forward last season. Florida, unlike most legitimate contenders, had the ability to add in the offseason while others worked to find advantages around the margins. Any reasonable prognostication for this team has surely been surpassed, however, at least through the season’s first three weeks.

There will be some regression, naturally, as the bounces start to add up the other way and knocks, such as the one captain Aleksander Barkov is dealing with, begin to appear. 

But on the precipice of some arbitrary history after defeating the equally formidable Carolina Hurricanes over the weekend to earn the distinction as the last of the undefeated teams (at least in regulation), it is worth asking how strong the gravitational pull will actually be.

As expected, the Panthers have ridden the wave of some highly unsustainable rates en route to a league-best aggregate goal differential of plus-22. Florida’s 12.4 percent shooting is second behind the high-octane Edmonton Oilers, while the tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight have authored a league-high .936 total save percentage. 

Whether or not these prolific rates diminish is not the question, but instead how hard will they crash? The fact that Florida has only a 46.9 percent share of the high-danger opportunities taken in its games would indicate that continuing to perform wildly beyond the average in shot and save percentage will be a difficult ask. 

What might be the most drastic irregularity for the Panthers to this point is their performance in the minimal time they have spent trailing in games. They spent just under 24 minutes (or an average of just over two minutes per outing) chasing so far, which is well over an hour less than the next team has spent behind. Amazingly, they have scored six times in those 24 minutes, meaning the Panthers produce one goal for every four minutes spent trailing. Similarly, they have a league-best 17 goals when on level footing with their opponent despite more or less an equal share in offensive output. 

In other words, when they have needed a goal, or have been working to pull ahead, the opposition has offered little resistance.

One thing that shouldn’t be overlooked, though, is the strength of Florida’s schedule to this point. The Panthers have wins over the Hurricanes, Flyers, Lightning and Capitals, who are each top 10 teams based on points percentage. They also have two wins over the Boston Bruins, and one each on the Colorado Avalanche, New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins — each of which is, or was, considered a threat to win its division. 

Florida’s start has been as tough as any, and the expectation should be that good teams mount honest efforts, thus skewing the underlying results, after falling behind one after the other in their outings versus the Panthers this season.

It’s also noting that Florida’s one loss came in a shootout, meaning that the one point left on the table from 22 to this point was lost on a coin flip.

This latest league-best start will only last as long as the Panthers can continue to defy the odds in order to sustain it. But with the progress earned in the first significant chunk from the season, mere league-average production will carry this team through to a successful campaign and perhaps a division title. 

Starts mean something in the NHL, and few come better than the one Florida is on.

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