It’s late January, and the Florida Panthers look good. Their record sits above most teams in the league. And if the playoffs started today, they’d be playoff bound. A hot start propelled the Florida Panthers to where they’re at now. Unfortunately for them, the season started only a few weeks ago due to COVID-19. In 2020-21, a late January snapshot only tells us a very short story.
How Legit is the Florida Panthers Hot Start?
But, a short story still may be worth reading. The question remains though, whether this Florida Panthers hot start really means anything. Is it truly indicative of where they’ll end up at season’s end?
Certain aspects of their early performance definitely have fans optimistic. Head coach Joel Quenneville seems to be achieving his goal of being harder to play against this season. The team plays with a lot of pace, led by captain Aleksander Barkov centering Anthony Duclair and Carter Verhaeghe. The way Barkov elevates whomever he plays with, its reminiscent of how Sidney Crosby has gifted wingers with career-best seasons throughout his career. Verhaeghe is the main beneficiary of that currently, but Duclair’s right there too.
Patric Hornqvist fits in really well, scoring over a point-per-game so far (including a last-second game-tying goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets, before he also scored the shootout winner). The physicality he and Radko Gudas bring sets a tone that this team has been lacking for years. Keith Yandle was worked into the lineup after almost serving as a healthy scratch, and looks great running the top powerplay unit.
Florida Panthers Hot Start is Best Start in Franchise History: 3-0-0
With their win against the Blue Jackets, the team set a new record for longest win streak to start a season. Sadly, it’s not saying much. Most teams find a way to string three wins together at some point over a full year. Without looking it up, I’m certain they are the only team to have never accomplished this feat to start a season (prove me wrong!).
If it was any other team besides the Dallas Stars or Carolina Hurricanes, an undefeated record right now would actually mean something. Everyone else has played between five and 10 games, but due to COVID-19 the Cats, Stars and Canes have each had four or more games postponed and rescheduled. If we’re looking at a 9-0-0 team in a couple weeks, we can confidently call it a hot start for the Florida Panthers.
Though they remain undefeated, the team hasn’t been perfect. Primarily, Sergei Bobrovsky looks more like “Last Year Bob” than he does “Vezina Bob”. Chris Driedger stood on his head in the season-opener, with 28 saves en route to a 5-2 win. The highlight of his game came via a cross-crease glove save on a one-timer from the faceoff circle, and he made many timely stops to keep the team ahead and in control. But Bobrovsky… he just hasn’t done that yet.
In the season opener, Bobrovsky allowed four goals on 36 shots. Against the Jackets, he allowed three on 22. To make matters worse, at least once in both games he allowed a really, really soft goal. Against Columbus, he had an especially odd night. Think what you want of the two fluky ones he allowed in the first period, but the third goal he allowed later in the game is one that professional goalies have to stop.
If there’s a silver lining for Bobrovsky, it’s that he stopped 19 of 20 after allowing the first two shots of the game. That includes an overtime period where he helped kill a 4-on-3 powerplay late to force a shootout. He went 4-for-5 in the shootout thereafter as well, and came up clutch in OT against Chicago in the game prior. So when it’s “next-goal-wins” territory, he’s closing the door; but the team can’t continue expecting late-game heroics to happen often enough to win a postseason berth.
The Next Seven Games
Realistically, Florida could be in a great spot in the standings come mid-February. They just dominated Columbus and have the second game of that series next. Then, four of their next six games come against the Detroit Red Wings. If they can get even marginally better goaltending, those five games are surely winnable. The pair of games between the Wings series comes against the Nashville Predators; they may be 4-3-0, but have a number of underperforming scorers thus far.
If they really want to turn heads, they’ll probably need to pick up at least 10 points of the possible 14. Then they’ll start facing teams like the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Carolina Hurricanes. Given that those three teams rank as the favourites in the division, Florida needs to bank as many points as they can against everyone else. So far so good, but much remains to be seen.