The Florida Panthers caught the attention of hockey fans everywhere in the early weeks of the season, and despite not being as highly discussed now, the Cats are still taking care of business.
As February winds down, the Panthers are leading the Atlantic Division and are the top team in the Eastern Conference with a record of 35-10-5. Florida is five points ahead of the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the division and one point better than the Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes in the conference.
In terms of the league standings, the Panthers come in at number two behind a Colorado Avalanche team that has a one-point edge over the team from Sunrise. Statistically, they have been powered by their goals per game (4.1) and goal differential (+63), both of which lead the NHL.
The reason I say that Florida has quietly kept its hold on the East’s top position is that the team really hasn’t been on display much in recent weeks. The Panthers have only played four games in February and went nearly two weeks without a contest at one point.
In addition, NHL headlines have simply had other focuses, such as All-Star Weekend, trades and rumors leading up to the deadline, and the return of Jack Eichel to the ice. It also sort of feels as though we’re now expecting Florida to be at or near the top, so with the novelty effect having worn off, the headlines are less frequent.
The Panthers have shown no signs of slowing down.
With that said, let’s not understate what it is that the Cats have been doing. The team has lost only three games in regulations since Christmas, going 17-3-1 over the last couple of months. That includes a 3-0 mark since returning from the previously mentioned hiatus in the first half of February.
One of the most impressive team accomplishments during that span was the completion of a season sweep over the Hurricanes. Last week’s 3-2 victory in Florida’s first game since February 1 sent the Cats to 3-0 against the Canes this year.
Individually, forward Jonathan Huberdeau is still very much in the MVP conversation, as he currently leads the league in assists (53) and is tied for second in the NHL in points (70). He is currently on a seven-game point streak, during which he has recorded four multipoint games (including three in a row) and a total of 12 points (one goal and 11 assists).
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad is on a streak of his own, as he has points in each of his last five contests (three goals and five assists). As a result, Ekblad was named the NHL’s Second Star of the Week on Monday.
Things continue to go according to plan for the Panthers this season, and while trade deadline rumors and other headlines steal your attention, Florida will go about its business, solidifying its spot as one of the league’s best teams this season.