For the Florida Panthers, three is a magic number

Goal-starved Cats must find a way to turn on the red light more often.

After twenty-one games, it's become painfully apparent that the Florida Panthers are going to have their fair share of trouble scoring goals this season, especially 5-on-5. Sure, there was the opening night 7-1 romp over the Philadelphia Flyers, that six-goal game in Dallas, and some other four-goal outings, but for the most part, the Cats offense has sputtered so far. It seems funny to type this, but if it wasn't for the 5th-ranked power play, which has produced 17 of the team's 55 total goals, where would they be right now? Looking up at Columbus? Yikes!

The Panthers have been held under three goals in 13 out of 21 games. Their record in those games: 1-9-3, with the one win coming when Roberto Luongo posted a 1-0 shutout over the Lightning in Sunrise. Conversely, when they do find the back of the net three or more times, their record is a stellar 7-0-1; only a Rick Nash hat trick away from a perfect mark. So, it's pretty easy to surmise that points are being left on the table due to the general lack of scoring we are seeing 62% of the time.

Let's take a look at the laundry list of Florida's losses this season and see what a few more goals here and there could have meant to the club in the standings.

  • 10/12 Flyers 1, Panthers 0
  • 10/17 Stars 4, Panthers 2
  • 10/20 Penguins 3, Panthers 2 (OT)
  • 10/22 Blackhawks 3, Panthers 2
  • 10/30 Bruins 3, Panthers 1
  • 10/31 Capitals 2, Panthers 1 (OT)
  • 11/4 Ducks 3, Panthers 2 (SO)
  • 11/5 Sharks 5, Panthers 2
  • 11/7 Kings 4, Panthers 1
  • 11/12 Sabres 3, Panthers 2
  • 11/19 Ducks 3, Panthers 1
  • 11/23 Kings 3, Panthers 1/

We'll stay on topic to start and see where the Cats would be had they actually lit the lamp three times in all twelve (0-9-3) of these games. Four of the games now turn into outright wins: the 1-0 loss in Philadelphia, the 3-2 loss to the Penguins, the 2-1 loss to the Caps, and finally, the 3-2 loss in Anaheim. In three of those games, Florida did pick up a point in reality by getting to overtime. So, that's a possible five extra points from those four contests In addition, there are five games that were lost in regulation where three goals would have meant the Cats would have picked up at least a loser point. That leaves the losses to the Stars, Sharks, and Kings at Staples Center that would have remained the same, even if Florida would have struck the magic number of three. That's a total of at least ten possible points had the Panthers been more potent offensively, and even more if they had managed to hypothetically win any of the five games that now would have went past sixty minutes. When you add that to their current total of 20 points and take a fresh look at the Atlantic Division standings, well... you are now talking about a second place team chasing the Montreal Canadiens.

The paragraph above constitutes a best case scenario of those twelve games. In some of them, the Panthers were simply outclassed and didn't deserve to win or even get to overtime; and let's face it, even the best NHL teams don't score three goals every night. Now, let's get a little more realistic and see what would have happened if the Cats had managed to come up with just one additional goal in these games. Out of the twelve losses Florida has suffered, half of them have been by two or more goals, so those obviously stay the same. As for the other six: the three games that were originally overtime or shootout defeats now turn into victories in regulation, while the three regulation losses (to Philadelphia, Chicago and Buffalo) each produce at least point as those tilts now go into the extra session. So, adding an additional goal to each of Florida's losses produces a minimum of six points, with another potential three up for grabs in overtime. Add those six potential points to their current 20 and the Cats would be in third place in the Atlantic and also ahead of the fourth and fifth place teams in the Metropolitan Division teams, meaning they could afford to slide a spot in their own division and still be in a wildcard slot.

I'll throw out some random observations here as we come to a close. The Panthers have either won or lost by a single goal in 15 of their 21 games. Maybe things aren't as bad as some of us are thinking right now, coming off convincing losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles, and the club mired in a 3-6-3 funk. Sure, there are games where they collected points while being outplayed (the shootout loss in Anaheim comes to mind, as does the rally against the Rangers), but there are also losses like the ones to Philadelphia and Buffalo, where the Cats were clearly the better team and came away with nothing due to a showstopping performance by the opposing goaltender. As I pointed out previously, they have lost by a two or more goals six times, with just two of those defeats (by three goals in San Jose and Los Angeles) constituting the "or more" portion. So, the numbers bear out that the Panthers have been in most of the games they've played thus far. Another thing that stands out when looking at the loss list is their 0-4-1 mark versus the NHL's trio of California teams. Let's toss that for a second and look at Florida's record against everyone else: 8-5-3. That's pretty good, so maybe there is a match-up component we need to take into stronger consideration when reviewing where the club is at right now.

The bottom line is the Panthers need to score more goals, and soon, to keep up with the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Sure, they are currently only a handful of points out of a playoff spot, but on the flip side, they are also a handful of points from the conference basement. So, the time is now. It's up to Gerard Gallant to find a way to squeeze more scoring out of his roster; and for certain top-six players, I'm looking at you Jonathan Huberdeau and Brandon Pirri, to start finding the back of the net more often. As a team, the Panthers not only need to shoot more, they need to produce higher-quality chances. The have to get dirty and start crashing the net harder, screen the goalie, and actually knock in a rebound once in a blue moon. As we've seen from this simple breakdown, a little bit means a lot; and that little bit could be the difference between playing playoff hockey or yet another early end to the season.