Comparing where the Florida Panthers are now to two months ago paints a very different picture.
Back in the final months of 2017, the Florida Panthers’ playoff hopes didn’t look good, and with the team struggling to find their footing, the Panthers needed to start fresh in 2018. Enter Harry Sateri. Sateri, 28, was signed by Florida back on July 1st 2017 and had spent the season with the team’s AHL affiliate, the Springfield Thunderbirds. Sateri was eventually called up due to an injury in net and ended up losing the first three games of his NHL career having the Panthers sitting with an overall record of 19-22-6 on January 25th.
However, Sateri won his next three games in a row and this would begin a large string of games that saw the Panthers earn 13 wins in their next 16 games putting them one point out of the second wild card spot with 70 points and a 32-25-7 record with 19 games remaining in the regular season. Not only have the Panthers been playing some excellent hockey, but they also have three games in hand compared to the team’s they’re competing with including the Carolina Hurricanes (66 games played) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (66 games played). Despite the team’s overall success, there have been some standout players for the Panthers that have been integral in their recent winning streaks.
For starters, Roberto Luongo has continued to defy father time and since coming back from injury he’s gathered a 6-1-0 record with a 2.27 GAA and .930% save percentage. This brings Luongo’s overall record on the season to 12-7-1 with a 2.50 GAA and .930% save percentage. At 38 years old, going on 39 come April, Luongo has picked the perfect time to go on a hot streak and if he can keep this up he may be able to get the Panthers over the hurdle and into the playoffs.
Another huge reason for Florida’s recent success has been the play of their young forward group. Excluding returning Panther Evgeni Dadonov, much of Florida’s offense has come from Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck. Barkov in particular is arguably the team’s best forward and has already shattered most of his personal records with quite a few games remaining. The 22 year old was selected with the 2nd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft is currently leading Florida in goals, assists and points with 25 goals and 64 points in 62 games. He has already blown out his previous personal highs set in the last two years and only needs three more goals to get by his career high 28 goals set back in 2015-16. On top of being incredibly productive, he also has emerged as one of the league’s best players during the shootout. If an extra point is on the line, I’m turning to Barkov to have a highlight reel goal and win the game.
As for Huberdeau, he’s having an excellent followup season after being limited to only 31 games last season. The 2013 Calder Trophy winner is on pace to shatter career highs like Barkov, as he currently sits second on the team with 20 goals and 58 points in 63 games. At the pace both of these players are going it wouldn’t surprise me if they both hit 70-75 points and Huberdeau got close to 30 goals.
Also, at 24 years old and signed for the next four years at $4.75 million a year, Trocheck is looking like one of the better deals in today’s NHL. Since entering the Panthers lineup in the 2013-14 season, Trocheck has slowly, but surely transformed into a consistent 20-30 goal scorer for Florida. Trocheck is second behind Barkov in goals scored with 24 and is one off from tying his career high set last year (25). With 19 games left to play Trocheck should continue to be one of the main cogs in Florida’s offense and may hit 30 goals for the first time in his career.
Now although the entire team will have to continue this hot streak if they hope to sneak into the playoffs, their remaining 19 games give them a chance to not only break into the wildcard, but solidify a spot in the playoffs. Aside from the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, the only team that is close to making the playoffs from the Atlantic Division is the Florida Panthers. What’s interesting is that in their final 19 games they play a team from the Atlantic Division 12 times including the Bruins four times and the Canadiens twice. If they manage to win these key divisional matchups not only could help make sure they remain in the wildcard standings, but potentially even push for 3rd in the Atlantic. The Florida Panthers may still have a big hill to climb, but if they can continue to claw their way up the standings they’ll playing some playoff hockey come April.