Jason Parker

Florida Panthers Looking to Make (and Gain) a Point This Season

What to Know

  • Over the season's final 35 games, Florida was one of two teams to post 25 victories — Winnipeg being the other.

The Florida Panthers have a point to make this season.

A point to make up, too.

Ordinarily, 96 points in the standings gets a team into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since the league went to its current points format — where a tie after regulation guarantees both teams one point — 99 percent of clubs who fared that well got into the postseason. Last season's Panthers fell into that other 1 percent, joining the 2014-15 Boston Bruins as the lone 96-point clubs to miss the playoffs.

So once again, the goal in Florida going into a new year is the same — change the narrative and make the playoffs, something that hasn't happened in 15 of their last 17 seasons.

"It got a little frustrating hearing it all the time, but we were, we were one point out," said Panthers center Vincent Trocheck, who led the club with 31 goals last season. "We were the second team in NHL history with 96 points to not make the playoffs. Sucks even more when you hear something like that. But there's only so many teams in the NHL that make the playoffs and we were one team short."

The Panthers figured things out a bit too late last season, their first under coach Bob Boughner.

Over the season's final 35 games, Florida was one of two teams to post 25 victories — Winnipeg being the other. The problem was, over the first 47 games, Florida had the fifth-fewest wins in the league with only 19. In the end, it added up to the third-best regular-season record in franchise history, and nothing else.

"I do think we went from probably not a lot of structure to having a ton of structure," said Panthers forward Derek MacKenzie, the team's captain last season. "That probably did take a little bit of time. This coaching staff is super-prepared, super-detailed and that was definitely a learning curve for a lot of the guys."

Aleksander Barkov, Florida's leading scorer last season — and someone the Panthers believe is right up there with the very best players in the NHL — has taken over for MacKenzie as captain. Trocheck, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau and Keith Yandle will assist Barkov as assistant captains, two of them for home games, the other two on the road.

The Panthers go into this season with Roberto Luongo, who turns 40 in the final week of the regular season, as their No. 1 goalie. The plan is for him to share time again with James Reimer, and Boughner doesn't plan on having either play both ends of back-to-backs. It would help if the Panthers let whoever is in net see fewer pucks — Florida allowed 2,838 shots on goal last season, third-most in the NHL behind the Islanders (2,918) and Rangers (2,898).

Florida was 25-1-3 when scoring at least four goals last season. When held to three goals or less, the Panthers went 19-29-5. And as one might expect, the inverse held true on the defensive end — when allowing four or more goals, Florida went 6-23-3. When allowing three goals or less, Florida was 38-7-5.

Florida set a franchise record with 27 victories on home ice last season, despite routinely playing in a building that is far less than filled — though, to be fair, the Panthers' attendance situation has gotten considerably better in recent years. "Even when the building isn't that full, our fans get loud. You can hear it and feel it," Luongo said.

The big offseason move by the Panthers was adding top-six forward Mike Hoffman, who general manager Dale Tallon called "a perfect fit for our team." Hoffman averaged 26 goals over the last four seasons in Ottawa, which traded him to San Jose (the Sharks then flipped him to Florida) this summer after allegations of Hoffman's fiancee being accused of cyberbullying former Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson and his wife. Hoffman and his fiancee have denied those claims.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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