Jason Lewis is a writer for Hockey Prospectus. He also contributes to Hockey Buzz.
Credit where credit is due. The Cats are hot. White hot. Easily the hottest team in the NHL right now.
They have won nine straight, which is going to be a new record for the team once the winning streak is over. The last winning streak they had came back in March of 2008 when they won seven games in a row. They have done so two other times in franchise history in 2006 and in 1995. Nine games, however, is brand new territory.
They are also the tenuous leaders of the Atlantic division due to that streak. It is also due in part to the slumping Montreal Canadiens and a Tampa Bay team loaded with talent but still trying to find themselves in 2015-16.
Be that as it may, there are a lot of things to like about the Florida Panthers. They are not in this position by sheer luck, but there are a lot of things going their way that may not go their way for too much longer. Let’s go down the list and decipher what things there are to like, but also what you should be scared of if you are a fan of the Florida Panthers and this glorious run they are on.
Roberto, freaking, Luongo.
The 36-year old is having a renaissance year in the Sunshine State. As of the start of play on January 4, the Montreal native had a .929 save percentage, which is .010 above his career average, and the best season he has had since 2003-04 when he posted a .931 with..the Florida Panthers! The 2.09 goals against sits at the lowest goals against currently in his career. This is assuming, however, that these numbers stay the same.
Amongst the 30 most regularly used goaltenders in the NHL right now (850 5v5 minutes played min.), Loungo sits sixth in 5v5 adjusted save percentage. Only Mrazek, Holtby, Fleury, and Mason sit ahead of him as starters. The other goalie was Greiss, who just meets minimum minutes. He is also seventh in the league in all-situations adjusted save percentage with a .925. His numbers tend to dip when it comes to penalty killing, but that is not much of a problem considering Florida is on the bottom half of the league in powerplay opportunities allowed, although slightly.
All of the goaltending numbers are well above career averages for Roberto Luongo. Is there any way he keeps this up? Belief is going to be a common theme with the Florida Panthers. Do you believe in Roberto Luongo continuing this good run? It does not seem likely given many of the above average numbers surrounding him right now. BUT, there is a big thing helping Luongo out right now……
The Panthers currently give up the fewest goals in the league at a 2.15 goals against per game. They also give up the seventh fewest shots in the league at 28.3 against per night. Even strength shots against per 60 is rated at 13th in the league, even strength goals against per 60 is 2nd overall, and fenwick against per 60 is at 14th in the league. Finally, they sit in third in even strength scoring chances against and fourth in high danger chances against. These are all really good numbers if you abide by the “defense wins championships” mentality. Florida does not give up a whole lot in their own end for the most part. They are in the top half in most of the key defensive categories in the league.
The offense is very touch and go, and the shooting percentage is sitting at a 7.9%. That is good enough for 9th in the league. They muster up 55.6% of the goals for at even strength, while putting forth the fourth lowest shots in the league per 60 minutes of even strength ice time. None of these offensive numbers are boosted by their powerplay either, as it currently sits at 23rd in the league. They regularly get outshot, and they also get out chanced on a regular basis. The Panthers are in a bearish part of the league in corsi and fenwick for intone start adjusted 5v5 play. They are sub 50% in both categories and seem to be riding the fifth highest PDO in the league to a division lead. They have the second fewest scoring chances for in the league per 60, at 20.9. That is just .1 out of last place holding New Jersey.
Continuing on in the vein of offense, on an individual basis, the Panthers have one player on pace for over 25 goals this year: Jaromir Jagr. They really do not have an offensive workhorse on this team.
Nevertheless, there is a positive part to this if you can get past the lack of a primary goal scorer. They have several secondary scorers and are a score by committee style team. They are one of few teams in the league that does not have at least one player over a goal per 60 minutes of even strength play. They share company with the likes of Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers .
However they have many players in the .80 and .90 range which is pretty good when compared to other teams.
A few samples of the goal scoring drop off rate from Florida compared to others.
You can take this a couple of ways with a few questions. Do the secondary scorers keep scoring at the rate they are currently scoring? They currently have many hands pulling on the rope, but if one or two slip, that top group becomes thin rather fast. The other thing to consider with that group is that almost all of them have PDOs over 100, and many have shooting percentages in the 8% and beyond range. Those are numbers sustainable for an entire season, no doubt, but the question probably remains: Do you believe in guys like Quentin Howden, Vincent Trochek, Reilly Smith etc. etc?
It is a question that is hard to answer given the relative age and experience of some of these players. Because it is a club of young and developing talent you would like to be a glass half full person and say yes. The reality remains though that a drop off from one or more of these players is highly likely, which would leave Florida with too few scorers.
In a wide open Atlantic division, the Panthers may very well be a playoff team. Heck, they might even do a bit of damage if they get the right match up in the division series and can maintain even a portion of some of these numbers. They play with a very delicate balance though. The offense currently scores just enough, and the defense and goaltending prevent just enough. Teams like the L.A. Kings have ridden this strategy to some pretty good success in recent years. It is not impossible. However, the Panthers are not a prime possession team, which could definitely hurt their overall chances in maintaining such a fine line.
They have been on a spirited run here through the last month of the season, but if you were a betting person I would not throw down on the Panthers just yet. The will come down off of this high. How far they come down from it will remain in the hands of a grizzled, older leadership group and a young and burgeoning core.