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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.

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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.

Wednesday, 10.9.2013 / 5:00 PM ET / From The Press Box
By Alain Poupart  - FloridaPanthers.com
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Encouraging Signs Early On
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 WSH 51 38 9 4 166 114 80
2 FLA 52 31 15 6 143 115 68
3 NYR 52 29 18 5 148 134 63
4 TBL 51 29 18 4 137 118 62
5 BOS 52 28 18 6 151 137 62
6 NYI 51 27 18 6 143 127 60
7 DET 52 26 18 8 130 131 60
8 PIT 51 26 18 7 132 130 59
9 NJD 53 26 20 7 119 120 59
10 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
11 MTL 54 26 24 4 143 143 56
12 PHI 51 23 19 9 121 133 55
13 OTT 53 24 23 6 148 165 54
14 BUF 53 21 26 6 120 139 48
15 TOR 51 19 23 9 117 140 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 49 16 21 11 37
J. Huberdeau 52 10 27 10 37
A. Barkov 42 16 19 13 35
J. Jokinen 52 10 25 12 35
V. Trocheck 52 17 16 4 33
R. Smith 52 16 15 11 31
B. Pirri 48 10 13 -4 23
A. Ekblad 48 10 12 21 22
B. Campbell 52 4 16 17 20
N. Bjugstad 37 9 8 -3 17
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 23 13 5 .930 2.13
A. Montoya 8 2 1 .931 1.93

 
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