The Florida Panthers are finally starting to look like the team that most thought it could be heading into the season.
The offense is clicking. The goaltenders are holding strong.
And, the key to it all, they’re winning.
The Panthers (6-5-3) are riding a four-game win streak as they head into a six-game road trip that starts Tuesday against the Philadelphia Flyers after starting the season 2-5-3.
After the offense struggled early in the season, Panthers coach Bob Boughner decided a couple weeks ago to switch up his forward lines, specifically the right wings of the top three lines.
Mike Hoffman moved from the second line to the top line, pairing him with left wing Evgenii Dadonov and center Aleksander Barkov.
Nick Bjugstad, who previously manned the right wing on the top line, moved down to Line 3, and Frank Vatrano moved up to the second line.
So far, the move has been a success.
Since Boughner made that switch, the Panthers’ top line has been dominant. The trio has combined for seven of the Panthers’ 17 goals during the four-game win streak. Dadonov leads the team with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) and has recorded at least one point in 11 consecutive games. Hoffman has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) and is riding a 12-game point streak, which is one shy of tying the franchise record.
And don’t forget Barkov, who put up his first multigoal game in Sunday’s 5-1 rout of the Ottawa Senators and has 13 points early in the season.
“I think they have some good chemistry,” Boughner said. “Hoff’s fit in there nicely, and I think Vatrano has fit nicely with Trocheck’s line and Bjugy’s done a great job where he is at, too. It seems we finally have found some balance and some chemistry on some lines, and we were looking for that early.”
While the offensive flurry is one focal point of the Panthers’ recent success, it can’t be understated how important Roberto Luongo’s return — and improved play in goal overall — has paid dividends during the past four games.
Luongo, who missed nine games after injuring his right knee in the second period of the season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning, has gone 3-0 since his return on Nov. 2. He has saved 87 of 91 shots in that span for a .956 save percentage.
James Reimer, who went 1-4-1 as Luongo’s primary replacement, had his best statistical performance on the season Sunday, stopping 34 of 35 shots on goal to pick up his second win of the year.
The Panthers have excelled on the power play after a struggling start.
After their first four games — a stretch in which they went 0-2-2 — Florida had just one power-play goal on 15 chances.
In the 10 games since, their efficiency in the man-up opportunity has jumped to 25.5 percent (12 for 41), a mark that would be tied for the sixth best in the league.
When looking at just the four-game win streak, the Panthers have converted on 7 of 22 power play opportunities, a 31.8-percent rate that is third in the NHL behind only the Senators (33.3 percent) and Winnipeg Jets (41.7 percent) in that time frame.
Consistent playing time
The Panthers have played a league-low 14 games as of Sunday. Their first month of the season included three different stretches with at least four days off between games, which players have said can get them off rhythm when they’re used to playing every two or three games.
Florida won’t have to worry about that happening the rest of the way. The Panthers are in the midst of a 24-day stretch where they will play 14 games, including this six-game, 11-day road trip.