The Florida Panthers got clobbered by the Minnesota Wild 5-1 last night, dropping them to a depressing 11-13-6 on the season. With 28 points in 30 games, the Panthers are on pace to finish the season with 77 points, which would be the lowest total the team has had since the 2013-2014 season. That year, the team finished 29th out of 30 teams and missed the playoffs by 27 points.
To say that this season has been a massive disappointment is an understatement. Let’s take a look at three different teams, shall we?
So, Team A is clearly better than Team B. Sure, there’s a bit of puck luck driving the strong 5v5 results for Team A, but their underlying metrics aren’t poor, and they’ve got some strong goaltending, so it’s not all that surprising to see them outscore their opponents at even strength. They also draw way more penalties than they take, and a strong power play helps them turn that penalty differential into a strong special teams goal differential. A 122 point pace may be difficult to sustain, but even if the percentages drop a bit, there’s still plenty to suggest that Team A is a playoff team, and they might even be favorites to top 100 points over the course of an 82 game season.
Team B, on the other hand, gets out-shot, out-chanced, and out-scored at 5v5. Their goaltending is poor, and the team is a bit snake-bitten at 5v5. Their special teams are rather underwhelming. Over the course of a full season, they’re shooting luck might turn around, or their goaltending could improve, but without a change to their underlying metrics, it would be surprising to see Team B drastically improve their overall points pace. All things considered, Team B really just isn’t that great of a team.
Team C looks... well, they look a lot like Team A, but with a few key differences. For starters, they’re getting severely outscored at 5v5 because their goaltenders can’t make a save and their shooters can’t buy a goal. In 301 full seasons from 2007-2018, there have been just 4 teams to finish with a PDO of 97.5 or less, so it’s a pretty safe bet to assume that the team will see some puck luck start to turn in their favor, especially if there’s any decent shooting talent on the roster.
In terms of shot attempts and scoring chances, though, Team C is identical to Team A, give or take a couple of percentage points. Over the long run, with similar goaltending, you could reasonably expect these two teams to have similar results at 5v5, or at least goals for percentages closer together than 56.1% to 44.1%.
Team C’s penalty kill is also significantly worse than both Team A’s and Team B’s, to the point where it almost eliminates any advantage Team C gets from their excellent power play and strong penalty differential. Given Team C’s poor goaltending at 5v5, it’s really not surprising that the difference in penalty kill results stems directly from SV%. While Team A and Team B both had a penalty kill save percentage of 89.7%, Team C gets a mere 81.1% save percentage from their netminders.
So, Team A is a good (albeit lucky) team that won games at a 122 point pace for almost half of a season. Team B is a poor team that got out-shot, out-chanced, and out-scored at both 5v5 and on special teams. They played to a 77 point pace for 47 games and given their underlying metrics, there’s not a lot of reason to believe fortune would turn in their favor. Team C is essentially Team A, but with considerably worse goaltending.
For those that are still confused, Team A is last season’s Florida Panthers... after the All-Star break. The last 35 games the season saw the Panthers average a higher points pace than every other team in the league (tied with Winnipeg) as the team made a mad dash up the standings in an attempt to make the playoffs. Unfortunately, due to the terrible play of Team B (last season’s Panthers BEFORE the All-Star break), it was too little, too late, and the Cats missed the playoffs by one point.
Team C is this season’s Panthers. They share a lot of similarities to the team from last season, especially in terms of possession numbers, penalties drawn, and power play. The addition of Mike Hoffman has boosted the team’s power play production and helped them stay above 50% in possession despite losing Vincent Trocheck.
The biggest difference is goaltending, and at this point, the poor goaltending has put the Panthers in a massive hole. In all situations, the Panthers have given up an expected goals value of 86. They’ve given up a total of 102, and that massive gap in actual vs. expected is the biggest reason the Panthers are nine points out of a playoff spot just 30 games into the season.
It’s important to note that even though the defense has been poor, the defense has not been this team’s biggest issue. At 5v5, the Panthers rank 20th in expected goals against per 60 minutes, but 30th in goals against per 60 minutes. On the penalty kill, the Panthers are ranked 1st in the entire league in xGA/60, but they’re 11th overall in goals against. The defense has not been great.
The defense looks so awful, however, because the goaltending has been much, much worse. There are games where it feels like every shot against has the potential to go in and every little mistake results in a goal against. Of course the defense looks bad - they’re not being bailed out, so every mistake they make gets burned into our minds. When the goaltenders are making the saves, we forget about some of those mistakes, and the defense looks better, even if they really haven’t been better.
Fact of the matter is, it’s hard to win hockey games when your opponents are scoring on 11% of their shots. If the Panthers are going to turn their season around, they need to get better results from their goaltenders. Roberto Luongo’s injuries certainly haven’t helped, as he’s actually been slightly better than expected, while James Reimer and Michael Hutchinson have been much worse than expected.
Last season, the Panthers took too long to get going, and even though they were the best team in the league after the All-Star break, it wasn’t enough to make up for their terrible start to the season. Time is running out on the 2018-2019 season, and calling up a player like Henrik Borgstrom likely won’t fix anything - the team needs goaltending, not another center. If the front office wants to make a move, they should target a goalie, and act fast. A couple more losses, and it might just be too late.