One division "central" to Panthers tough row to hoe, playoff-wise

Cats' record versus the tough Central has them on the outside looking in.

Even if the season ended today, it would have to be considered a pretty successful one in a lot of ways for the Florida Panthers. Mainly, the club has already eclipsed last year's point total of 66 with 72 in the bag with sixteen regular season games left on the slate. However, with the team unexpectedly closing to within two points of the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference a few times, expectations have become understandably heightened as we've progressed through the schedule.

The Cats, who are now six points behind the Bruins, will have to make a huge run to sneak into the postseason. Unfortunately, the odds are against them and chances are it will be close, but no cigar for the Panthers in 2014-15.

In breaking down Florida's current campaign, one could find plenty of reasons why they will likely fall just short of a coveted playoff spot. One of the reasons that may get lost among the main culprits (lack of goals, slow starts, power-play problems in the first half, fax mentis incendium gloria cultum, etc. etc., etc.), is the club's close to utter failure in games involving teams from the Central Division.

The Panthers have managed to win just once (1-7-5) in thirteen games against the geographically closer of the Western Conference's two divisions. That lone win came all the way back on October 21, a 4-3 overtime decision over the Avalanche in Denver. That was the team's first test against the Central, they have dropped twelve straight since then. One last chance for redemption against the division comes on Thursday night against the visiting Winnipeg Jets.

Florida has posted a lousy .270 points percentage against the Central this season. Compare that to the rather robust .613 they've garnered in their other 53 games and it's easy to see a problem, a big one. If the Panthers carried that .613 percentage throughout the entire 82-game schedule they would finish with over 100 points, more than enough to qualify for the playoffs, in this or most any other year. In 2013-14, the Cats went 6-7-1 against the Central. While not world-beating by any means, that type of performance would have them much closer to the Bruins. In a strange twist to the struggles against the used to be Norris, the Cats went a scorching 9-3-2 against the Pacific Division this year.

Here is a breakdown of how the Panthers have fared against each member of the Central Division:

Problem solved. In thirteen games played, the Cats were only able to score more than two goals just twice. Those two games account for almost half of the points they have picked up against Central competition. Getting shutout twice and accumulating a mere 22 goals, a 1.69 average, isn't going to result in many wins.

Not only has the record against the Central as a whole been detrimental, individual losses have come at inopportune moments, throwing a few monkey wrenches into spots where the Cats had or were building momentum.

There was the blown two-goal lead at home against Nashville on February 8th that snapped a two-game winning streak. A tough 2-1 defeat in Minnesota four days later kicked off a three-game losing streak. Back-to-back losses to the Blackhawks turned a two-game skid into a four game run without a win. And the granddaddy of them all, the 8-2 blowout in Winnipeg which finished off what had been successful road trip (4-1) up to that point on an extremely sour note.

That ugly loss to the Jets ushered in a season-high, five-game losing streak, and many among the fanbase feel the club just hasn't been the same since. The Panthers are 9-11-5 since that tilt, so the thought does have some merit.

Whether the Cats make the playoffs or not, they will need to find a way to compete better with the teams in the Central Division next season. Twenty-eight points are up for grabs in those games and compiling a single digital total again will likely leave them in the same lurch they find themselves in right now.

What's behind the Cats' struggles with the Central?

A mere statistical anomaly27
The Central clubs are too physical for the Panthers to handle21
The division's goalies are too good for the Cats pop-gun offense24