The Florida Panthers feel like a different team so far in the first half of the season.
Quietly, the recognition is beginning for South Florida’s NHL team.
A wave of prolific achievements and high scoring affairs have cast a spotlight on Sunrise.
Perhaps that light shines brightest to the Panthers’ diehard fans, but the rest of our market should be taking notice.
The Panthers have won two in a row after a shellacking of Toronto on Sunday, and they sit poised for an extended season.
After 45 games the Cats stand at 24-16-5, good for 53 points and a spot in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff mix.
Coach Joel Quenneville has brought a renewed energy and attention to detail which has led to more consistent play.
While the dynamic offense led by Jonathan Huberdeau continues to be the catalyst.
Florida’s top two forward lines are as good as any in the NHL.
With Huberdeau, along with Sasha Barkov, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Davodov, and Vincent Trocheck the Panthers don’t let up.
Leading into the NHL All-Star break, this seems like as good of a time as any to assess the Panthers so far in the 2019-20 season.
This team can light it up.
After their eight goal onslaught against Toronto this week, the Panthers have scored the second most goals in the NHL (163).
Florida’s 3.62 goals per game is tops in the league as of Monday, and the prolific power play is starting to heat up even more.
After going without a power play goal in three straight, the Panthers have converted with the extra man in their last two victories.
Currently they rank 6th in the NHL at 23.4% on the power play.
Hoffman has been on a tear with at least one point in six straight, while Huberdeau has been a consistent spark with an assist in four of his last five games
Huby ranks 7th in the NHL with 61 points (18 goals, 43 assists) and his assist total ranks 3rd league-wide.
Barkov is also in the top-15 in scoring with 49 points and the Panthers have 10 players with at least 20 points.
Evgenii Davodov leads the team with 19 goals, while Vincent Trocheck brings all the intangibles.
He has also been on a tear during game action with six points in his last five contests.
Florida is an excellent fore-checking team that applies constant pressure, the Panthers’ 33.7 shots per game rank 5th in the NHL.
Noel Acciari has quickly become a fan favorite in his first season with the team and his energy on the second line is a tremendous asset.
Teamed up with Trocheck and Brett Connolly, who by the way is also having an excellent season, has given the Panthers two solid scoring lines.
Connolly has 16 goals in 45 games in his first year after coming over from Washington, and is on pace to eclipse his career high of 22 goals last season.
The Panthers defensive struggles have been a point of contention for a few years.
They may finally be turning the corner, or at least approaching it.
However the Panthers still rank in the bottom third league wide in shots allowed per game (32.2, 21st) and goals allowed per game (3.31, 27th).
The communication on the blue line is better but there are still stretches where the team gets blitzed and on their heels.
Clearing rebounds and keeping clean ice in front of whomever is in goal must remain a priority.
The defense must also focus on slowing high powered teams down through the neutral zone.
Penalty killing has also been an issue, currently the team ranks 21st in the NHL killing 78.8% of their penalties.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad is enjoying a solid season, leading the team in +/- (+11) and time on ice per game (23:03).
Florida has only outscored their opponents by 14 goals despite being tops in the league in scoring per game.
The Panthers have won a lot of high scoring games and are tied for 5th in the NHL with three shoot out wins.
However they must balance the scales and keep opponents off the scoreboard more.
Sergei Bobrovsky (16-12-4, 3.29 GAA, .896 SV%) has been better of late but has not put together a string of consistent games yet.
Bobrovsky has only won three consecutive games once this season and has been prone to the onslaught in close losses.
He must find a way to gain some rhythm as the second half approaches, especially if the offense cools somewhat.
Meanwhile the Panthers actually have some depth in net behind Bobrovsky, with Chris Driedger emerging as a nice second option.
Driedger (5-2-0, 2.40 GAA, .931 SV%) has looked sharp for the most part, although he has given up four goals in two straight starts.
Joel Quenneville has brought a level of credibility and stature to the Panthers bench that has been missing.
His resume speaks for itself and the players are responding to his style tremendously.
Quenneville has taken a tremendous foundation of talent at the forward spots and built an offensive system that plays to strengths.
Florida has started games out with more energy and focus which has translated to the team only losing twice all season when scoring first.
The team has also avoided the devastating prolonged losing streak, with the longest being three games.
However, that has happened three times while the longest win streak is also three games – which has happened just once.
Florida could use a run in this upcoming stretch against teams such as Los Angeles and Detroit, who are both NHL bottom feeders.
Quenneville has kept the team on the same page and has the championship experience to push the right buttons.
If Florida can even things out on the blue line and in goal, the NHL playoffs should be on this year’s schedule.
Follow us on Twitter for more Florida Panthers @SportsWaveDave and @5ReasonsSports.