Panthers have ‘so much forward depth.’ It’s a key factor in their high-scoring ways

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·3 min read
David Santiago/dsantiago@miamiherald.com
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It has been the Florida Panthers’ DNA all season, the factor most attributable to their success so far as they near the halfway point of the 2021-22 season.

The Panthers have dominated as a high-octane offense, thriving as goals come in flurries. Sometimes the success comes at the start of games as Florida cruises to victories. Sometimes, it comes in spectacular third-period rallies that has resulted in the “Comeback Cats” moniker.

Heading into Saturday, the Panthers are second in the league with an average of four goals per game and lead the league with 36.7 shots on goal per game.

And the production has picked up even more as of late.

Heading into Saturday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Panthers are outscoring opponents 45-21 in eight games since the Panthers’ scheduled resumed following a nearly two week hiatus that started by a COVID-19 outbreak inside the organization and rolled through the league’s holiday break. That’s an average of more than five-and-a-half goals per game. Florida, unsurprisingly, is 7-0-1 in this stretch, the lone defeat coming in a shootout on the road against the Dallas Stars.

“Confidence is growing,” said winger Anthony Duclair.

So what exactly is the root factor in Florida’s offensive prowess?

Let’s start with the sheer number of players who can contribute.

There are obviously the big names. Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers’ All-Star representative this season, is fourth in the league with 51 points (14 goals and 37 assists). Aleksander Barkov is tied with Duclair with a team-best 15 goals despite only playing in 24 of Florida’s 37 games.

But the Panthers’ goal-scoring extends far beyond them. Heading into Saturday, Florida seven players who have scored at least 10 goals this season: Barkov, Duclair, Huberdeau, Sam Bennett (14), Carter Verhaeghe (11), Sam Reinhart (11) and defenseman Aaron Ekblad (10).

Two others — rookie center Anton Lundell and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar — have 21 points apiece (Lundell has seven goals and 14 assists while Weegar has two goals and 19 assists).

“We have so much forward depth,” Verhaeghe said. “We just roll four lines all game. It doesn’t feel like there are many teams in the league that can keep up with us and every line brings a different element to the game. It is so much fun to play. The most fun I have had.”

Beyond the depth, there’s the chemistry each line has on the ice.

Most noticeable: The grouping of Huberdeau, Bennett and Duclair. At full strength, the Panthers have outscored opponents 10-1 when those three are on the ice together this season in just over 74 minutes of action.

“It’s been great. I’m really happy to be playing with those two guys,” Duclair said. “They’re so skillful. We’re more confident each and every game, and we get along well off the ice, too, so that helps.”

This and that

Duclair was on the ice for all six of Florida’s even-strength goals in its 7-1 win against the Stars on Friday and was not on the ice when Dallas scored its lone goal. He is the first skater to log a plus-six rating this season. His overall plus-26 mark this year, meaning the Panthers are outscoring opponents by 26 goals in even strength and shorthanded situations when Duclar is on the ice, is tied for the NHL lead entering Saturday.

Bennett on Saturday became the eighth player in Panthers history to record multiple hat tricks in a season. Alexander Wennberg (April 3, 2021, and May 8, 2021) was the most recent Panther to do it before Bennett.

The Panthers earned their league-leading 20th home win of the season in their 23rd home game. According to NHL PR, only three NHL teams in the past 65 years hit 20 home wins in fewer games: The 2013-14 Anaheim Ducks, 2008-2009 San Jose Sharks and 1986-1987 Philadelphia Flyers (all 22 games).

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