The Florida Panthers are topping the league at the moment, and their performances seem to show no sign of stopping. The Panthers have ten wins under their belt already, and their goal differential is one of the largest across the league, with a difference of 28 goals. So where is this success coming from? A fair majority of hockey fans hadn’t considered the organization a very large threat before the 2020-21 season, and to see them now on top of the league, a lot of fans are truly shocked to see how this team has changed.
The forward core of the team is one that any team in the league would be envious of. The first line is spearheaded by captain Aleksander Barkov, who has had a great season so far in terms of faceoff wins and point production. The player faced an injury already this season, and yet he integrated back in seamlessly which has seen him at 13 points so far this season in only 11 games. When paired with his +/- score of nine, it can be seen that this player has done an amazing job in putting forward both offensive and defensive contributions to his team.
Apart from Barkov, the second line of the team is truly impressive, featuring Jonathan Huberdeau and two rookies in Anton Lundell and Owen Tippett. This line’s performance has largely been attributed to the youth development decisions of the Panthers organization as each player was brought up through this system and have started to put up an impressive amount of points that see the players among the league leaders in his rookie season, with Lundell being a serious Calder contender.
When looking towards the bottom six forwards, they still look strong enough that they could likely move up or down the lines throughout the season to fill for injuries or COVID protocol without much of a drop in performance. Forwards such a Reinhart and Hornqvist both have experience playing in the top lines of their teams and are currently playing on the third and fourth lines respectively.
Defensively, the Panthers have seemingly been running a master class this season, with key players Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar performing stellarly from the first line, while a young player Brandon Montour is performing at the level of a top-four defenseman from the third defensive line. Overall there aren’t many drawbacks to this team’s defense, and finding a gap between the defensive players to get an attempt on the net is a task that not many teams have been up to so far in the season.
The performance of these lines is again mostly attributed to the Panthers playing to their youth and taking the time to develop them, rather than forcing them into the league too early and stunting their growth. The results of this system are abundant in the Panthers lines, as the majority of these players were acquired in the entry draft, and have been given the chance to develop with the team in a low-pressure environment.
In net, the team has been able to rely on the combination of Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight to keep the pucks out from between the pipes. Going into this season a lot of people were expecting Knight to take on the starting position in Florida, and he has delivered. With Bobrovsky being out for a fair amount of time due to an upper-body injury, Knight has stopped a fair few shots and kept a decent save percentage of .902.
Overall, despite having a fair bit of an injury crisis affecting the team currently, with six players being considered either in the injured reserve or on day-to-day status, it still has left the team seemingly unhindered as they continued their winning ways. Overall this team can be seen as serious cup contenders, as even when not at full strength they are still one of the hardest teams to go up against during the season, which should translate to a rough playoff series for whoever they are up against.
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