The keys to the Panthers’ absurd scoring binge? Talent, ‘joy’ and one bad ‘funeral suit’

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·5 min read
Daniel A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com
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Lately, Andrew Brunette has been hearing from people around the sport who want to tell him how much they enjoy watching his Florida Panthers. The Panthers, they tell him are clearly having fun and the joy Florida plays with permeates their television screens.

“I’ve had people that just watch them on TV, that aren’t even around them every day, telling me, Hey, you can tell your group loves to play together,” the interim coach said Saturday after a 9-2 rout of the Columbus Blue Jackets. “That’s a huge compliment for coach, for an organization, for a fan base to pick up on the love they have for each other.”

For evidence away from the ice, look no further than those occasional photos of Panthers walking into FLA Live Arena, decked out in their best suits. Pay close enough attention and notice Weegar’s is always the same. It’s his “funeral suit,” he joked, and he’s going to keep wearing it until Florida slows down, even if his teammates continue to make fun of him as the worst dressed on the team.

For evidence on the ice, the six goals per game since the season restarted last month speak for themselves. The way the Panthers are doing it only adds to spectacle.

Panthers’ insane offensive surge continues with nine goals and another blowout win

In three of its last nine games, Florida (26-7-5) has scored at least seven goals in Sunrise, prompting their fans to chant, “We want 10!” as early as the first first period. The Panthers have won eight of those nine games since the season restarted after an uptick in COVID-19 cases prompted a pause around Christmas and scored at least four goals in every one. Their only loss came on the road in a shootout against the Dallas Stars and then they avenged the loss Friday by pouring seven on the Stars on Friday in Florida.

Right now, no one in the NHL attempts more shots and puts more shots on goal than the Panthers, and only the Colorado Avalanche is scoring more frequently. They rank second in the league in scoring chances and high-danger chances per 60 minutes, and the result is Florida leading the league in expected goals. The Panthers are one of only two teams in the NHL averaging more than four goals per game and they entered Sunday with a 0.46-goals-per-game edge on the league’s third highest scoring team.

All year long, Florida has been one of the best teams in the league. In the last three weeks, it has gone to another level.

Brunette, who was a rookie in 1996, said he can’t remember anything quite like this during his time in the NHL and he’s right: With 50 goals in their last eight games, the Panthers are in the midst of the NHL’s best eight-game scoring binge since the 1995-96 NHL season.

“I’ve seen the Oilers back in the day, but in my time of playing and coaching: No. It’s been a while,” he said, “but we’re rolling. All four lines are going, D are going. Again, a tribute to the group. The joy that they’re playing with is contagious throughout the bench and throughout the lineup.”

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In some ways, Florida has taken on the identity of its best player.

On Thursday, left wing Jonathan Huberdeau officially earned a spot in the 2022 NHL All-Star Game. He’s now tied for second in the league with 53 points and his 38 assists are three more than anyone else. He’s one of the league’s most creative passers, capable of turning any rush into a highlight-worthy goal, and his teammates have tried to follow suit.

It’s only possible because of their skill, but also their chemistry. In the first period Saturday, Florida combined its well-established position-control ability with their expanding offensive creativity and piled up 19 shots on goal, 14 scoring chances and eight high-danger chances. They scored four times and probably could have had even more.

“We’re very fortunate to have some great players that see the ice the really well,” Brunette said. “When you see a lot of the passing, what I enjoy of it is the support that they have, meaning they’re always supporting the puck, they’re close together, they create space for each other, so they’re doing a lot of things which all equals chemistry.

“You’re always worried about being too cute, but at the other end it’s really entertaining to watch from my position and for anybody that watches our team.”

Inevitably, this explosion will slow down. The Panthers begin a five-game road trip Tuesday and they have a losing record away from South Florida this year, which has everyone wary about how long this run can go on.

Whenever it does end, this streak will be a reminder, though. When the Panthers are rolling, there’s no one better and Florida knows it.

“It’s a long year,” Weegar said Saturday. “I’m not saying this is going to happen and I know we’re not going to put up seven, eight goals every single night, but we’ve got a confident group in there.”