Little is generally expected of the Florida Panthers. They tend to pale in comparison to their Floridian rivals, at least theoretically, and people don’t often think of them as an intimidating club – even if they do make the playoffs.
This year’s manifestation of the Panthers is the sort of team to sneak up on a person and that’s part of what makes them fun. Many hockey fans, especially those north of the border, sleep on Florida.
But here are the Panthers, 6-5-3 and riding the wave of a four-game win streak to hit the road Tuesday against the Flyers. These are the same Panthers that started the season 2-5-3, by the way, so that’s nothing to sneeze at.
And these are the same Panthers that knocked off the Ottawa Senators 5-1 Sunday night as they prepared to hit said road, with a five-goal second period highlighting the drubbing.
“After 14 games, I think we’ve found some balance and some chemistry,” head coach Bob Boughner said. “We had all lines going after the first period.”
Indeed, they did.
In fact, the Panthers are clicking along so well that Mike Hoffman has points in a dozen straight games. If he finds the scoreboard Tuesday against Philly, he’ll tie the franchise record set by Pavel Bure. Yes, really.
Hoffman has been moved to the top line with Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov and that’s made all the difference in the world. Dadonov has at least a point in 12 of his last 14, while Barkov has 13 points in 14 games – including two goals against the Senators Sunday.
Boughner’s line juggling set up the top unit for seven of the team’s 17 goals on the win streak, but other adjustments have helped as well. Frank Vatrano was moved to the second line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck and they’ve got a dozen points between them on the win streak.
Roberto Luongo is back. The goalie is 3-0 since his return on November 2, stopping 87 of 91 shots. James Reimer got the win Sunday to give the starter a break and he played well for his second win of the year, stopping all but one of Ottawa’s 35 shots.
So, while Florida may not hit the top of the marquee among some hockey fans, there’s a lot going on with the Panthers. And if you like scoring, points and quality goaltending, this year’s model may actually be the team for you.