The Florida Panthers are sitting pretty. After a long season in which they were defeated in the Stanley Cup, the Panthers were set to have a short offseason and an injury-riddled squad going into the 2023-24 season.
The Cats opened up the season having nine new faces in the lineup during the season opener in Minnesota on October 12th.
Since then, head coach Paul Maurice has eventually gotten his guys back and Florida holds a 22-12-2 record, sitting four points behind the Boston Bruins for the lead in the Atlantic division.
The Florida Panthers had a lot of success in the calendar year of 2023
The first line for the Florida Panthers has stepped up in a big way. Sam Reinhart leads the team and settles into the NHL’s top five in goal scoring through the 36 games played.
On the left side is newcomer Evan Rodrigues, who has scored seven goals this season for the Florida Panthers. The top line for the Cats has an average of +18 which is the highest of any line on the team.
The second line for the Panthers is the most dynamic on the roster, offering speed, skill, and physicality. While Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett have only combined for 11 goals, linemate Carter Verhaeghe has found the net 18 times, the second-highest on the team.
Although Tkachuk has played the entire season so far and may still be banged up, he has amassed five points in the last three contests. He is looking to pick up his strides from last season.
Despite lower scoring numbers from the bottom two lines, Eetu Luosterainen seems to be a bright spot with seven goals and becoming one of Florida’s lowest penalty-takers. The Finland native has 8 PIMs while playing all 36 games so far this season.
General Manager Bill Zito had some work to do in the offseason, getting his blue line to a different level.
Zito did this extremely well, as the defensive core seems to be the biggest strength on Florida’s team.
Niko Mikkola is a 27-year-old, big-frame defenseman who has taken over Gudas’ role in being aggressive but has done so while also producing 12 points, which is just one shy of his career-high. Mikkola plays in the second defensive pairing with offensive defenseman Brandon Montour.
The Panthers also brought on its wild card in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. “OEL” has been in the league for 13 years and this may be his best one yet. The 32-year-old lefty is the most productive defenseman on the roster in terms of points. He has seven goals and 11 assists in the young season.
Finally, the Panthers brought back a formerly tenured Panther Dmitry Kulikov who played for the Panthers from 2009 to 2016, had short stints for seven other franchises in between, and now sports the Florida sweater yet again.
Kulikov gets the job done, as he utilizes his veteran leadership in the locker room and on the ice.
The Florida Panthers have done well on the power play and the penalty kill so far this season.
On the man advantage, the Panthers sit in the middle of the pack, scoring 20% of the time on the power play. This largely has to do with Sam Reinhart’s breakout year as he leads the league with 10 power-play goals.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been the workhorse in the crease for the Panthers this season, playing in 27 of the team’s 36 matchups. He’s currently on pace for his best season in his five years down in South Florida.
Bobrovsky has a 2.50 goals-against average which is barely outside the top 10 in the National Hockey League. His save percentage is steady at .911 which is about his average throughout his career. The Panthers are 17-9-1 when playing in front of Bobrovsky.
When it comes to backup goaltenders in the NHL, there is always some inconsistency. However, for Anthony Stolarz and the Florida Panthers, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Stolarz signed a 1-year deal with Florida, as former first-round pick Spencer Knight continues to get starter reps down in the AHL.
Stolarz has notched a 5-3-1 record with a 2.05 goals allowed per game average when he’s defending the cage. Although it may seem that the team plays harder when Stolarz gets the call, he sure does hold his own when he’s the starting goalie for the Cats.
What to look for in 2024 for the Florida Panthers:
- Reinhart’s continued goal scoring
- Ekman-Larsson, Mikkola, and Kulikov’s contributions to the defense
- Increase in power play production
- Bobrovsky to keep his momentum
- Stolarz to contribute when called upon
The Panthers head out for another west-coast road trip where they will take on Arizona, Colorado, Vegas, and St. Louis to open up the new year.