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Die Florida Panthers starten dieses Jahr früh

von NFI Redaktion

The Cat Scratch Fever has moved up a few months in the calendar this time around. Last year, the Florida Panthers spent the first half of the season searching for a signal on their phones, before finishing the second half with a bang to make the playoffs. This trend continued into the postseason as they chased down the Boston Bruins, needing seven games to take down the league’s best regular-season team (and one of the best regular-season teams of all time). This propelled them to the Stanley Cup Final after beating the Leafs and Canes convincingly.

Can the Florida Panthers make a comeback? | Agree or Disagree

The Cats are not waiting around this time, as since the calendar flipped to 2024, they are sitting at 16-4-2, boasting the best points percentage in the NHL and trailing the Bruins by just one point atop the Atlantic Division with a game in hand. Many people are saying they are the Eastern Conference favorites to make another run at the Stanley Cup Final, and it’s hard to find a more complete team in the East than Florida. In every category that could be used to measure teams, the Panthers rank in the top 5. Corsi percentage: 2nd Expected Goals percentage: 3rd Powerplay: 5th Penalty Kill: 6th Goals against per game: 2nd

If anything, the Panthers have been unlucky. They rank 5th in the league in xGF per 60 minutes at even strength with a 2.85 mark but only convert at 7.24%, which is good for 29th in the league. Their goals per game of 2.38 only ranks 24th. There is actually room for growth for this roster. This is not too surprising considering they may have the best 1-2 center combination in the league. Sasha Barkov has long carried the label of „most underrated player“ that most people are tired of, but with the Panthers still not receiving much national attention, he remains one of the top three 200-foot centers in the world. He is probably still underrated. Barkov’s possession numbers rival those of Connor McDavid, except McDavid starts 65 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone while Barkov starts just around half of that. And yet, he creates the same shot and chance discrepancies for the Panthers as McJesus for the Oilers. Barkov is also arguably the best forechecker in the league.

Behind him is Sam Bennett, who boasts similar possession numbers and has given Sam Reinhart the chance to reach a pace of 55 goals this season. From this graphic, you can see that Matthew Tkachuk is also one of the best forwards in the league outside of the cycle or forecheck, which is extremely handy in the playoffs when opponents are trying to shrink the ice. And Tkachuk and Barkov play on separate lines, distributing the Panthers‘ threat over 30 to 40 minutes per game.

The Cats may also have the deepest blue line (1-6) in the NHL. Aaron Ekblad returned after losing most of his organs during last year’s playoffs and is now one of the better D-men in the NHL, boasting a possession rate of about 60 percent, despite starting fewer than half his shifts in the offensive zone. Gustav Forsling, who I remember being completely helpless at the start of his career in Chicago, held the fort while Montour and Ekblad started the season. The Panthers have benefited from a true renaissance of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who looked like a roasted chicken in Vancouver. The Panthers use this defensive depth to possibly be the most aggressive team in the league defending their blue line, as no team denies clean access to their zone as often as Florida.

Teams simply do not get into the Panthers‘ zone, which allows them to quickly turn around their high-flying offense and drive the puck deep into their opponents‘ depths, where Barkov and Tkachuk make life hell for them.

Florida also has the luxury of two goaltenders performing well without any controversies. Sergei Bobrovsky was good enough to take the Panthers to the Final last season and will take the reins in April. Sporting a save percentage of .916, he is playing his best regular season in years. And he can get all the rest he needs because Anthony Stolarz has rocked a .925 while supporting him, and he probably should be used more to keep Bob fresh for the essentials. Stolarz has the fifth-best above-average number of goals saved per game among goaltenders. There just aren’t too many holes here.

When looking at the competition in the East, the Bruins are weak in the middle. The Canes have neither a goalie nor the tradition of not choking on their own tongues in the playoffs. The Leafs‘ defense is slow, and they also have goalie questions. The Rangers are still a questionable, balanced team that relies too heavily on their powerplay, although the Cats are just so darn feisty that they might boil over and do much more than they should if they have to head to Broadway in May. The Panthers were the Presidents‘ Trophy winners two seasons ago. Last year, they represented the East in the Final. They could simply combine both.

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