The Florida Panthers performance has done a 180 over the past month, what’s the driving force behind their recent success?
A month ago, most critics believed that the Florida Panthers were destined to miss the post-season yet again. But with their recent performance, the Panthers are looking to prove everyone wrong. Over the 37 games played this season, the Panthers have earned 46 points to accompany a record of 21-12-4. This places them at first in the Atlantic division and fourth in the league.
The Panthers performance over the course of their last 14 games has made up for a lackluster start to the season. The team is on a seven game win streak, tying the franchise record for most wins in a row, and their most recent win over the Montreal Canadiens earned them the top spot in their division.
After winning only four games in the November, the Panthers desperately needed a comeback, and it could not have come at a better time. This season, Florida has an 11-3-0 record for the month of December, one of their best performances on record. This time last season, the Cats were struggling with a record of 7-7-3 in December, and had a record of 16-19-9 when the bell tolled on 2014.
The Panthers’ surge to the top of the Atlantic division comes as a surprise because of the recent absence of key offensive piece, Nick Bjugstad. Bjustad has been out of the lineup with an upper body injury since November 29th’s match up against the Detroit Red Wings.
Last season Bjugstad was the third highest scorer on the team with a total of 43 points. He also led the team in shots on goal (207). Before his injury, Bjugstad recorded five goals and seven assists in 23 games.
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This season 43 year-old veteran Jaromir Jagr is responsible for a bulk of the Panthers’ point production. Jagr leads the Panthers with 11 goals and 15 assists, for a total of 26 points. Eight of Jagr’s points have been scored within the past 14 games.
One of the reasons that Jagr has been able to put up these great numbers for the Panthers is his puck possession. His corsi for percentage (CFP) is a healthy 59.7; he also averages 6.9 shots per 60 minutes of play due to an offensive zone start percentage of 60.6. Through his 23 year NHL career, Jagr has been no stranger to success, and his skills have been one of the biggest factors in the Panthers recent point surge.
But Jagr isn’t the only player contributing big numbers to the Panthers offense. Left wings Jonathan Huberdeau and Jussi Jokinen, who only trail Jagr by one and two points, respectively, have also been instrumental in the Panthers’ recent success. Though Huberdeau struggled with point production early on in the season, he is the second highest scorer on the team and leads the Panthers in assists, despite only starting in the offensive zone 41.4 percent of the time. His 21 assists is also good enough to rank him 24th overall in the league.
In addition to their offensive power, the Panthers owe their success to their excellence in the shootout. Though they perform poorly in standard 3-on-3 overtime, where they sport a 1-3 record, the Panthers have a higher win percentage when faced with a shootout. Last season, the Panthers were slightly better than average going 9-5 in shootouts by the end of December. This season they are 5-1 and have a 0.833 win percentage, making them the best team in the league in terms of shootout victories. Three of the Panthers’ five shootout wins were recorded this December, adding to the team’s phenomenal mid-season turn around.
But unlike many other teams, the Panthers shootout success can’t be solely attributed to the goaltender, in this case Roberto Luongo, who has 11 saves on the 18 shots he has faced. The Panthers have been able to continuously win shootouts due to young stars Aleksander Barkov and Brandon Pirri. Barkov, who is also tied with Jagr for most goals in regulation, currently has the best shootout record in the NHL, scoring on 100% of his shootout attempts. Pirri has been equally impressive, posting an 83.3% success rate and scoring on five of his six shootout attempts this season.
Check out Barkov’s goal in the Panthers’ 5-4 shootout victory over the Vancouver Canucks on December 20.
With the team’s new found success, there has also been an increase in attendance at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. Last season, the Panthers had an average attendance of 11,265 at home; the worst in the league. This season, the team’s home average has improved to 13,286. The Panthers past four home games have all had attendance above 13,000, which is up from last season’s numbers. Tuesday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens featured a sell-out crowd of 19,822.
This December has been one of the most prosperous months in Florida Panthers history and has catapulted the team to the top of their division. Offensive power and expertise in the shootout has proven to make the Panthers a surprise contender and one of the top teams in the East — at least for the time being.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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