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Is This the Year the Panthers Go All the Way?

By many metrics, the Panthers have started their year as great as possible. But of course, the questions arise for Florida: do they have the team stamina to continue to play this well? And does star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky get the job done?

The Florida Panthers are a very good hockey team. They currently have more standings points (27, to be exact) than any other NHL team. They have generated 66 goals, three more than the high-octane Edmonton Oilers (although Edmonton has one game in hand on the Panthers). They have a goal differential of +23 – tying them with Carolina for the best number in that category this year. They have lost only twice in regulation time, tying them with the Hurricanes and Washington Capitals for the lowest number in that stat this season.

By many metrics, the Panthers have ideally started their year. But of course, the questions arise for Florida: do they have the team stamina to continue to play this well? And does star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky have it in him to continue to be the backbone of the team?

Certainly, Bobrovsky has been better thus far this year than he has been in his first two seasons as a Panther: this season, the 33-year-old has posted a 7-0-2 record, as well as a 1.78 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage. That’s a major improvement on the .906 SP Bobrovsky had last season, and the .900 SP he had in 2019-20. He looks sharper and more determined than ever to justify the seven-year, $70 million contract he signed in July of 2019.

Bobrovsky is approaching the wrong side of 35 years old, but for now, at least, he is demonstrating that interim Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette can rely on him on a regular basis. Now, it’s important, as it is with every NHL team, to have a No. 2 goalie who can step in and provide above-average results, and Bobrovsky has a solid backup in Spencer Knight. The 20-year-old Knight has posted a 5-2-0 record, a 2.98 GAA and a .904 SP. He’s not been as good as Bobrovsky, but he hasn’t been bad, either.

Bobrovsky will need support from Knight, but the Russian has shown he can be a workhorse, playing at least 62 games in each of his final three seasons with Columbus, just before he became a Panther. Florida hasn’t ridden Bobrovsky as hard, playing him in 50 games in 2019-20 and 31 games last season. Management is likely thinking they’ll need Knight to appear in far more than the eight games he played for Florida last season, and his performance will help to dictate how much they’ll lean on Bobrovsky.

The Panthers have dealt with injuries this year, but they suffered a big blow Tuesday when star captain Aleksander Barkov was sidelined by a knee-on-knee hit. Barkov doesn’t need surgery, but his absence from the lineup will turn the pressure up on forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Bennett and leading goal-scorer Anthony Duclair to amass enough offense to make life easy on their defense corps and their goalies. And Florida’s play in its own end will have to be tighter without Barkov, the reigning Selke Trophy winner as the game’s best defensive forward.

In the short-term, the Panthers may take a small dip without Barkov, who is listed as week-to-week with his injury. They’ve got home and away games against the strong Washington Capitals, and home games against Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Seattle and Buffalo. The Wild and Caps games will be a big test, but Florida has already beat Washington and Philly this season, and there’s still enough talent in the lineup to give the Panthers a shot at winning most, if not all of their games.

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: the expectations for the Panthers were sky-high heading into the season, with most analysts seeing terrific regular-season and playoffs success for them. They have lived up to those expectations at this point in the year. They have some tougher obstacles to handle now, but to bet against them is to set yourself up for ridicule. They’re well-regarded for good reason. They have an excellent mix of veterans and youngsters.

And they have every chance to continue their domination of the league.

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