Streaking Panthers Turn Heads
The Florida Panthers have caused some heads to turn in the NHL’s Atlantic Division. They’re turning upwards, because the Panthers are leading it. That’s right; classic powers such as Montreal, Detroit and Boston, as well as last year’s Stanley Cup finalists in Tampa Bay, are all seemingly left in the Panthers’ wake.
The question is, will it remain that way? All of the people who are tilting their faces as if to ask, “how can this be?” are digging up all of the statistics they can find to prove the Panthers are a fluke. The Cats shouldn’t even be considered in the betting odds to reach the finals of the Eastern Conference, much less win it, they say. They may be right. Stats like possession percentage and shooting numbers are coming up as proof that the Panthers are sure to fall flat on their faces before the end of the season.
But the fact remains that going into Tuesday’s game at Buffalo, the Panthers were 23-12-4 with 50 points. That’s three points ahead of the Canadiens and Bruins, six up on Boston and a full eight on the Lightning. They were riding a franchise-record nine straight wins and shooting for a league-record 12 straight.
The gang from South Florida hasn’t done it with a tidal wave of scoring. Their leading scorer, 36-year-old Jaromir Jagr, has just 13 goals and 28 points. But they’ve put up a barrier reef on defense, in the form of goal keeper Roberto Luongo. He’s turning in a .929 season at age 36, and when he's out of the lineup 30-year-old Al Montoya is coming in hot at .930. Along with a rugged defensive crew led by Brian Campbell, the Panthers rank atop the league in goals against average at 2.2, and 10th penalty kill percentage, at 81.5.
This all may mean nothing when it comes down to the nitty gritty of winning playoff games against top competition. The Panthers are currently 10-1 to win the Eastern Conference in the NHL futures betting odds, and that’s no bargain now. But take a look at how they fare in the six-game road trip that carries into mid-January. If they maintain a decent pace, value may emerge. And with the hot goalies, an under play is always in consideration.
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