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Florida Panthers a Very Well-Balanced Team: A Fan’s Take
The New Jersey Devils, led by former Panthers head coach Peter DeBoer, are certainly under no illusions that's true after being the losers of that fantastic come-from-behind contest that saw the Panthers overcome a 3-goal deficit that George Richards in his latest entry to the Miami Herald's On Frozen Pond blog notes was only the second ever in the team's history.
"These guys don't quit," said general manager Dale Tallon. "They are starting to believe in themselves. With four starters out of the lineup, I'm really impressed with these guys. We have more weapons than we've had in the past, but this was a special win."
Yet, Florida isn't doing it solely by pulling off miraculous and historic comebacks. The Panthers are now 11-6-3 through 20 games and atop the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference, a place they haven't been in a long, long time, and certainly not this deep into the season. How they've accomplished that is almost as important as the fact they have, though.
Under first-year coach Kevin Dineen, the Panthers have been playing one of the most well-rounded games in the league, and if that continues, this could just be the year Florida ends its drought of over a decade and makes the postseason. A good deal of that is because of the team general manager Dale Tallon has assembled, and the kinds of players he's brought to the club. Nevertheless, whoever or whatever is responsible for it, the players themselves are getting the job done.
The Panthers are able to score with the best of them, being tied for sixth-place in scoring in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins (a team they beat 3-2 on Saturday, Nov. 19), outscoring their opponents 26-14 over their last seven games. They also have four players among the top 32 scorers in the league. Contrast that with the 2010-11 season, when they only had one player—Stephen Weiss(notes)—in the top 100.
Their defense is sharp as well, with the Panthers keeping their opponents from scoring more than three goals over the past nine games. Add to that their defensemen—including Brian Campbell(notes), Dmitry Kulikov(notes) and Jason Garrison(notes)—are helping out offensively (the highest-scoring defensive unit in the NHL so far this year with 52 points), and it's easy to see it's not just the offense that's worrying opposing goaltenders.
Beyond that, two of the worries coming into the season have proven to not be worries at all. Florida's power play has been markedly improved over last year when it had a franchise-record low 35 power-play goals. In just 20 games this season, the Panthers have 14 such goals and rank sixth in the NHL in power-play efficiency.
The other concern coming into the season is proving to be almost ridiculous, with goalie Jose Theodore(notes) impressing almost nightly, racking up a 6-3-2 record, while stopping 92 percent of shots against him. Rookie Jacob Markstrom(notes) is showing he could be a superstar in the league eventually after he stopped 94 percent of the shots he faced, while going 2-2-1 in the five games he tended the net. Then, of course, there's veteran Scott Clemmensen(notes), who is just returning from a preseason injury that's kept him out of the lineup.
I don't know how far Florida will take this great run it is on, but right now it is playing spectacularly, and considering baseball is over for the year, the NBA isn't playing at all, and the Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes are rather mediocre football teams at best this season, the Panthers could be the one thing that can excite the city of South Florida area and its fans.
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Read more by Daniel Barber aka Hotnuke at TFS Sports.
*Daniel Barber has been a fan of all Miami teams since he was a child or since their inception having been born right above Miami.
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