Don’t look now, but the Florida Panthers are the most dominant team in the National Hockey League.
In a market typically glanced over by most of the hockey world, Florida is forcing the national audience to notice. With a 32-10-5 record through 47 games, the Panthers sit atop the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference and hold the top spot in the entire league. Colorado, a potential Stanley Cup Final opponent, sits just one point behind them, playing in three fewer contests thus far.
A powerhouse on home ice, the Panthers hold a 23-3-0 record at the FLA Live Arena. Though nowhere near as dominant, Florida is also improving their performance on the road. They are 9-7-5 away from home, splitting their most recent back-to-back road swing with a win in Columbus and a loss against the Rangers.
More than just winning frequently, Florida runs the show against the opposition. Scoring a league-high 194 goals, the Panthers typically light the lamp bunches, challenging teams to try and keep up. A goal differential of +55 is all the evidence one needs to prove that teams typically cannot maintain pace with the Panthers.
One of the major factors to Florida’s dominant first half is the roster depth. Especially at forward, the Panthers have a plethora of talent up and down the roster. With Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett scoring 21 goals already, the Panthers potentially have seven or eight 20-plus goal scorers in their ranks. Barkov, Sam Reinhart, and Aaron Ekblad have already surpassed the 40-point mark, while Jonathan Huberdeau is experiencing a Hart Trophy-caliber campaign with 64.
Florida is also experiencing the luxury of some players outperforming preseason expectations. With 32 points in 43 games, rookie Anton Lundell is cementing himself as a future star and cornerstone of the franchise. The NHL’s Rookie of the Month for January, Lundell recorded three goals and 14 assists in 15 games to kick off the new year.
Whenever a team performs at a pace similar to Florida’s, doubters typically surface, questioning whether this level of play is realistically sustainable. Even if the Panthers remain this hot throughout the regular season, there is no way it translates to the playoffs, right?
In truth, the Panthers show no signs of slowing down. With so many players having career years, it’s plausible to imagine this high-octane offense holding steady (to some extent). Of course, other factors are at play when contemplating their Stanly Cup chances. The blueline could use a little more defensively-sound assets, and postseason goaltending will remain a question until it proves it should not be.
Even though the Panthers are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, they are far from the only team in that conversation. In just the Eastern Conference, Tampa Bay and Carolina are powerhouses in their own right. Counting out the likes of Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, Toronto, and the New York Rangers would be foolish as well. Shifting over to the Western Conference, Colorado is breathing down Florida’s neck, producing very similar numbers. They, too, are an offensive juggernaut with no signs of slowing down. Keeping in mind, Vegas should obtain Jack Eichel’s services, and you are looking at two other teams that can give the Panthers a run for their money in a seven-game series.
Off until February 16th, the Panthers now have plenty of time to rest up and rejuvenate themselves for the second half of the season. With so many talented teams ready to compete for a Stanley Cup Championship, Florida cannot afford to slow down. Luckily, it doesn’t look like that is in the cards for the cats of South Florida.