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How Tough Are the Florida Panthers? Opposing Coaches Open Up

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The Florida Panthers celebrate after Gus Forsling’s shot in overtime beat the Washington Capitals in Sunrise last week. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

Just how difficult are the Florida Panthers to play against? 

Analysts and opposing coaches alike have been vocal in their comments about the Panthers and their effective yet exciting style of play.

Almost every coach coming in to play the Panthers had similar comments to those of Washington’s Spencer Carbery prior to the third and final meeting last week between the Capitals and Panthers this season.

Carbery considers Florida and Carolina to be the two toughest teams to play against. 

He has the experience to prove it: Carbery’s Capitals were swept by the Panthers.

 “Everything that Florida gets, anything that Carolina gets, is coming to your net and there’s going to be a ton of traffic there,” Carbery said.

“Anything on their breakout is usually going to be punted, or it’s getting out into the neutral zone. It doesn’t have to be clean on the tape. They don’t have to find the middle. They are going to advance pucks, and they are going to put pucks in and forecheck. Being consistent through your entire lineup with that, I think, is the unique part about those two teams. It just comes line after line after line.”

He later added, “I think if you polled all the coaches in the league, those two teams have it dialed in, whether through their personnel, who they brought in as free agents, the drafting, all that stuff comes into play. Every single player knows exactly how the team will play that night, and it just happens consistently.”

Detroit coach Derek Lalonde, whose team plays host to the Panthers this afternoon, had plenty of praise for Florida on Friday afternoon.

“This might be the best team in the league,” Lalonde said. “It’s playing itself out like that.”

Perhaps the most flattering comment came from none other than TNT analyst Paul Bissonette, the inimitable ex-NHLer who is no stranger to rough-and-tumble hockey. 

He posted this on Twitter: If the NHL had 4 more teams that play like the Panthers the league could gain a boat load more in revenue. I haven’t watched one boring period out of them this season. Scoring, saucer passing, fighting, hitting, chirping, cheap shots, chaos, line brawls, Maurice emotions constantly, unreal post-game pressers. The list goes on. It’s theatre every night.

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Analysts have repeatedly commented on the Panthers’ swashbuckling manner and their ability to adapt to any style of play: Finesse, hard-hitting, run-and-gun, and defense-first are all in the repertoire. 

The Panthers have arguably been the best team in the NHL in 2024 and came into Friday atop the league standings after beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in a shootout

“Florida is one of the best teams in the league,’’ Montreal coach and former Tampa Bay star Martin St. Louis said. “You know, there is a lot to learn from their game. We are not as far along as they are, but we are trying to pick up things from any teams in the league who are better than us at this stage.”

Last season, it took an improbable rally after the All-Star break for the Panthers to squeeze into the playoffs. 

As a refresher, let’s make a comparison:

After 60 games this year, the Panthers are 40-16-4 and, according to moneypuck.com, have a 99.98 percent chance of making the playoffs. 

In the same number of games last year, they were 29-25-6 and one slot from a wild-card berth.

As good as the team that reached the Stanley Cup Final was last season, this year’s edition is better, notwithstanding considerable personnel changes.

A few factoids about the current squad:

  •  Florida It ran off a nine-game win streak earlier in the year. The Panthers then won 10 of 11. 
  • Overlapping those two streaks was a franchise-record eleven-game road win streak.
  • Since December 23, the start of the nine-game streak, the Panthers are 22-4-2, the best in the NHL. During that stretch, they outscored their opponents by a 104-60 margin and led the NHL in power-play goals and goals per game.
  • The Panthers had allowed two or fewer goals in 14 consecutive games before surrendering three to Montreal last night. During that run, they have been, by far, the best defensive team in the NHL.

So, just what makes the squad so good?

The team has improved each year since Bill Zito became general manager and turned over the roster.

No matter how successful the team had been the year before, he strived to improve it the following season, primarily with under-the-radar good performers.

This year was no exception. With the prospect of playing without Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour early in the season, Zito brought in, among others, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Dmitry Kulikov, and Niko Mikkola on defense.

Ekblad and Montour both returned to the lineup on November 17. In the sixteen games they missed, the Panthers were a respectable 10-5-1.

Ekman-Larsson and Kulikov are having comeback seasons. Mikkola is his usual shutdown and hard-hitting defenseman that you often overlook. 

All have met or exceeded expectations.

Sergei Bobrovsky is at his Vezina Trophy days form, and Anthony Stolarz has been an exceptional backup.

Sam Reinhart is having a career year, getting his 40th and 41st goal Thursday against Montreal.

After a slow start on the stat sheet, Matthew Tkachuk is red hot, with 40 points in 22 games in 2024. Carter Verhaeghe is on pace for another 40-goal season. 

Special teams are both in the top six. Zito’s acquisition of PK specialist Kevin Stenlund is a credit to the scouting staff.

And then you have captain Sasha Barkov, who does just about everything right and is the heavy favorite to win his second Selke Trophy.

The Panthers learned a painful lesson two seasons ago when they had a runaway regular season and collapsed in the playoffs.

Last year was another story, and they were more prepared for the playoffs but fell just short of their ultimate goal.

This year, they are looking to go one step further.

The Panthers have the team to do so.

ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ DETROIT RED WINGS  

  • When: Saturday, 3 p.m.
  • Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit 
  • Streaming/TV: ABC (Chs. 10, 25)/ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL/Panthers App
  • Last Season: Florida won 3-0
  • This Season (Tied 1-1) — At Detroit: Panthers 2, Wings 0 (Nov. 2); Saturday. At Florida: Wings 3, Panthers 2 OT (Jan. 18); March 30
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Florida leads 37-19-7, 5 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Monday at New York Rangers, 7 p.m.

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