Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Florida Panthers, A Gamblers Recall, and Hope

2009 has been a good year for the Florida Panthers. The Cats have compiled 19 points with an 8-2-3 record since January 1. They’re tied for Second with Boston behind New Jersey for most points for that time period.

If the Panthers continue their strong play, they can finally remake an appearance to the playoffs and have a chance to capture Sir Stanley’s Cup.

The first of three times that Florida made it to the playoffs was back in 1996, where they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche in the NHL Championship.

Promise came to the Panthers in the form of Tomas Vokoun. The first time I heard of Vokoun, was February 4th, 2003 on a game that I made a friendly wager on. I can never forget that game. He became my favorite goalie from thereon.

That year Nashville finished in last place, but I knew there was something special in Vokoun. The next year he took the Predators to a winning record and their first playoff appearance. Since 2003, he improved his record every year.

Back to before the 2007-08 season started, the Florida Panthers made a trade for Vokoun. I, knowing the type of beast that was coming to town, prepared for a return to the playoffs. Things did not go as planned. New year, same results. Vokoun finished with a 30-29-8 record. He gave up personal high 180 goals, but he is not the only one to blame.

The Panthers defense didn’t help by giving 2,213 shots on goal during games that Vokoun was in front of the net. That was a league leading 37.5 shots per game. The wait for a post season in South Florida continued.

During the summer of 2008, Florida’s management made changes. What came was a new coach and some improvements on defense. This was going to be the year we made a push, but an early season stumble sent us whirling into another playoff-less season.

The Panthers failed to play defense and the role of starting goalie was up in the air even though Vokoun’s ranked in the top 10 among goalies who have played 30 or more games in GAA, save percentage and GAA per game - almost all starting goalies meet the mark. On the other hand, he didn't do too well in wins, goals for and shots on goal. These three stats summarize the Panthers' play as a whole.

Good Ranks
• 5th in least goals allowed in NHL - 78
• 6th in Save Percentage in NHL - .917
• 10th in Goals allowed a game in NHL - 2.66

Bad Ranks
• 15th in the NHL in Goals for
• 4th fewest wins in NHL - 14
• 1st in Shots on Goal per game - 32.6

I don’t know what happened on New Year’s Eve, but the team must of had an epitome as they came out the gate blazing. Their defense improved and Vokoun was asserted as the number one goalie after posting a 6-2-2 record in his last 10 starts. Chris Anderson assisted with a 3-0-1 record himself.

The Panthers are currently sitting in the 8th and final playoff spot, but that’s a spot the Panthers can't feel comfortable at with Carolina and Pittsburgh in the hunt right behind them.

Three of the next five games are against a strong Washington Capitals, New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes team - all of which are in the playoff chase. Their play will be a testament to their will and commitment to being contender. Now we can only wait and see if the playoff draught since 2000 is going to end or will it be another long summer of ifs and buts.

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