Monday, January 21, 2013
Panthers improving in key area?
By Luke Lapinski
The Florida Panthers shocked a lot of observers when they not only made the playoffs for the first time since 1999-2000 last season, but did so by winning the Southeast Division outright. Heading into this year, expectations for the young club seem to be mixed. Some feel the team may drop back down a little in Kevin Dineen's second season behind the bench, while others see a group that is still on the rise.
If their opening night victory over Carolina is any indicator, it's the latter. And not just because they won by a convincing 5-1 margin. The Panthers came out strong early, got a very solid 41-save effort out of Jose Theodore and saw Jonathan Huberdeau -- their prized rookie among a staggering number of high quality prospects in the system -- break out with a goal and two helpers in his NHL debut. And, perhaps most importantly, they were effective on the penalty kill.
Even during their impressive run last year, this group struggled when down a man. They killed off penalties at just a 79.5 percent clip, good for No. 25 in the league and last among all playoff teams from the East. Over the weekend, however, they held the Hurricanes scoreless on six power play chances. Granted, that's only one game. But, if Dineen's group is able to perform better on special teams over the course of the season, they're going to be tough to knock off once again.