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From The Press Box


From The Press Box is a weekly column written by FloridaPanthers.com and NHL.com writer Alain Poupart. Poupart has been covering the Panthers and the NHL for 20 years.

Have a question for Alain? Be sure to ask him through twitter @apoupartFins.


Encouraging Signs Early On

This Panthers team could be deeper than the one that won the Southeast Division championship two years ago.

Wednesday, 10.09.2013 / 5:00 PM / From The Press Box
By Alain Poupart  - FloridaPanthers.com
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Encouraging Signs Early On
This Panthers team could be deeper than the one that won the Southeast Division championship two years ago.
Florida Panthers forward Tomas Fleischmann takes a shot on Steve Mason on Tuesday night in Philadelphia (Getty Images)

The final score didn’t show it, but the Panthers outplayed the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday night — and by a pretty good margin. This isn’t a Panthers fan talking, it’s fact.

Philadelphia’s two goals came after unusual bounces off the end boards, the second goal happening only because goalie Tim Thomas sustained a lower-body injury on the play. At the other end, Flyers goalie Steve Mason was nothing short of spectacular.

In his postgame comments, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said it best when he remarked, “We’re not displeased with the way we played.”

Then he added, “It’s a little early for moral victories; we’re looking for points and make sure we're headed in the right direction.”

Based on the game Tuesday and what we’ve seen from the Panthers over the first three games of the 2013-14 regular season, it most definitely appears they’re headed in the right direction.

Sure, the loss at St. Louis on Saturday night was a clunker, but every team will have those during the course of the season (see New York Rangers at San Jose, Tuesday night). Besides, the Panthers trailed only 1-0 midway through the second period before the game got out of hand.

Against the Dallas Stars in the regular season opener and against the Flyers, the Panthers played solid games and showed off what should be the key to whatever success they can achieve — balance.

I spoke to Kris Versteeg before the start of the regular season, but after the Panthers had officially signed a quartet of established veterans — Thomas, wing Brad Boyes, and defensemen Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney. Versteeg said he enters every season full of optimism but was especially excited about this one because of all the additions.

Versteeg then suggested this year’s Panthers have built up more depth than the team that won the Southeast Division title two seasons ago.

He’s right.

What the Panthers have now is a team with four solid lines anchored by four quality centers — Marcel Goc, Aleksander Barkov, Shawn Matthias and Scott Gomez. As proof of the balance, three of the four lines contributed at least one goal in the 4-2 season-opening victory at Dallas.

That depth will only increase once captain Ed Jovanovski and left wing Sean Bergenheim come off injured reserve, which could happen before too long.

Another difference between this year’s team and the 2012 edition is the presence of the two highly skilled young forwards — Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau. We already knew coming into this season about Huberdeau’s playmaking brilliance, but Barkov also has made a quick impression with his passing and his strength. Even though he just turned 18, Barkov has shown to be very difficult to knock off the puck and his decision-making also looks good.

As coaches like to say, the game doesn’t seem too big for him.

The Panthers were given a difficult assignment of opening the season with four consecutive road games, and they still can salvage a .500 trip with a victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

Aside from the defensive collapse against St. Louis, the biggest issue early on has been the power play, which has yet to produce a goal. But even then there were some encouraging signs against Philadelphia because the Panthers produced some quality chances with the man advantage.

The bottom line is that the Panthers easily could be — probably should be — 2-1 after their first three games. More importantly, though, they’ve shown very early on that they have the makings of a pretty solid team.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 TBL 48 30 14 4 156 127 64
2 NYI 46 31 14 1 151 129 63
3 DET 47 27 11 9 139 119 63
4 MTL 45 29 13 3 123 106 61
5 PIT 46 26 12 8 138 117 60
6 NYR 44 27 13 4 134 106 58
7 WSH 46 24 13 9 137 120 57
8 BOS 48 25 16 7 126 121 57
9 FLA 44 20 14 10 107 122 50
10 OTT 46 19 18 9 126 128 47
11 TOR 48 22 23 3 142 150 47
12 PHI 48 19 22 7 130 146 45
13 CBJ 45 20 22 3 113 142 43
14 NJD 47 17 22 8 107 134 42
15 CAR 46 16 25 5 98 120 37
16 BUF 47 14 30 3 89 167 31

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
N. Bjugstad 44 15 12 1 27
J. Huberdeau 41 8 17 1 25
A. Ekblad 44 6 19 7 25
J. Jokinen 43 4 20 0 24
J. Hayes 36 13 7 1 20
B. Boyes 42 9 11 1 20
S. Bergenheim 33 7 9 4 16
T. Fleischmann 38 5 8 9 13
V. Trocheck 28 4 9 6 13
D. Kulikov 39 1 12 -2 13
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 17 10 8 .923 2.32
A. Montoya 3 4 2 .887 3.09
 
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