Why the Florida Panthers Will Make the Playoffs
The Florida Panthers are hot, and that's not just because they play in the Sunshine State.
After registering a devastating overtime loss to the Arizona Coyotes on January 23rd, we were left with a question: "What has happened to the Florida Panthers?"
Since then, everything has changed, as the Panthers have won eight of the past nine games and currently sit in contention for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. According to our algorithm, the Cats have upped their playoff probability to just under 40% and have only done themselves well over the course of February.
Let's take a look at what has been a remarkable month for the Panthers and see what the outlook for the rest of the season is like.
According to Corsica, the Panthers are currently fifth in the league in Corsi For percentage, showing that, over the course of the season, they are a better than average possession team.
Being better than average in possession gives the Panthers a better chance to win games where it matters, and with being projected to finish with 90.6 points by our algorithm, the Panthers need to string as many wins together as they can.
HockeyViz projects the Panthers to amass around 93 to 94 points and, from this chart, are expected to pass the "cut line" as predetermined by a playoff probability algorithm.
This chart for all four divisions is posted below.
Red Hot Offense
In winning eight of their past nine games, the Panthers have been able to score 35 goals, for a remarkable average of 3.88 goals per game, while giving up an average of 2.88 goals a game.
So as we can see, goaltending has not been the key piece as to why the Panthers are succeeding (although Roberto Luongo and James Reimer have played well). Rather, the offense has soared through nine games, particularly being led by Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov, and Jaromir Jagr.
Since returning from his injury that kept him out for the entire month of January, Barkov has posted impressive numbers, he has recorded eight points in seven games (5 goals and 3 assists) and has played an excess of about 19 minutes a game, patrolling the first line for the Cats.
Trocheck, who was a member of the Atlantic Division's All-Star Team, has not disappointed the entire season -- he has consistently put up points and is on pace to break his season highs in goals and assists from last season. He currently sits with an even 21 goals and 21 assists.
Jagr, the ageless wonder, has done nothing but prove his immortality as one of the National Hockey League's greatest players, by posting 11 goals and 23 assists in 58 games, a remarkable statline for someone 45 years of age.
You can see the dominance Jagr is bringing to the ice in this effort against the Anaheim Ducks here.
Now of course, points, goals and assists are important, but how do these players produce in possession metrics -- and without the puck?
For this, we'll take a look at a full team With or Without You presented by HockeyViz's Micah Blake McCurdy. This chart shows how the Panthers, as a team, play with and without each other and is a great benchmark to show why they are succeeding over the course of the past month.
This chart is defined by shots for and shots against in even-strength situations, and the red line shows the determination between above and below average.
In the illustration, note the position of Jagr, Barkov, and Trocheck, denoted by their jersey numbers in the right sector of the chart shown below:
As we can see, the Panthers have a valuable number of their roster playing above average, showing that they are producing well as a team, and are able to produce points in streaks like that of what they are throughout the month of February.
In the same boat, if we isolate Jagr and Trocheck's numbers, the Panthers' play is hindered when they are not in the lineup.
How Can the Panthers Stay Hot?
For the Panthers to have the best shot at making the playoffs, it's obvious that their play as of late must continue.
At this rate, they have moved closer to league averages, which at one point in the season, they were well below. We take a look at their current statistics compared to that of the league average, to show how they will be able to bounce back to continue their path into the playoffs.
|Value||Florida Panthers||NHL Average|
|Shot Rating System||-0.24||0.00|
|Strength of Schedule||-0.01||0.00|
|Power Play Goals||29||34|
|Power Play Opportunities||194||182|
|Power Play Percentage||14.95%||18.78%|
|Power Play Goals Against||27||34|
|Power Play Opportunities Against||182||182|
|Penalty Kill Percentage||85.16%||81.22%|
So, as we can see, the Cats are moving back towards the rolling averages of the NHL though 58 games played, and this is in part of the coaching of Tom Rowe, who has brought the Panthers to a 17-11-9 record since the firing of Gerard Gallant, after starting out 11-9-1.
We've seen in recent games that the Panthers power play has gotten better, and we've seen many positive things of the course of the past nine games, but in order for them to keep their current pace, they have to increase the dial on certain things, like that of their power play and shooting percentage.
Can Teams Magically "Shoot Better?"
Readers may ask, how can the Panthers just increase the quality of their shots and power play? And the key thing we have to focus on here is location, location, location.
If we take a look at another chart from HockeyViz, we can see that the Panthers take a majority of their even-strength shots from the outsides of the "house area" where chances are considerably the most dangerous.
Now why is this important? It's simple, really, because in higher danger areas, the defensive side of the game has to work much harder to keep the puck out of their own net. More shots in these areas should lead to a better conversion rate for goals.
Now, that's not to say that the lower in the zone, the better the opportunity, but it definitely helps to get the puck down low in the "dirty areas" to give your team a great opportunity at scoring.
The Panthers, as we can see, take a majority of their shots from the left and the right walls at the blue line area, as well as in the top of the circle slot area, which shows an increasing trend towards the front of the net, thus leading to an eventual better conversion rate.
Will the Panthers Make the Playoffs?
From a non-fandom analyst standpoint, I think the Panthers will indeed make the playoffs despite a nERD rating of -0.14.
With numberFire's projection of 90 to 91 points and a record of 39-30-13, along side HockeyViz's projection of 93 to 94 points with the cut at 92, the Panthers have more than an ample chance to make it into the postseason, and with their current play, they have the ability to make some noise.
Perhaps a trade deadline deal will give them an extra boost, but even without it, we should be buying into the Panthers' ability to make it to the playoffs and into at least the second round.