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Behind The Numbers

Panthers more than a one-man show

Numbers show Florida a solid team from top to bottom

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

One of the success stories of the 2015-16 NHL season is the Florida Panthers. The reasons for their turnaround that resulted in the Atlantic Division title go far beyond their legendary leading scorer, Jaromir Jagr.

Though it's impressive that Jagr, 44, is leading the Panthers with 64 points, his age-defying play is one of many reasons the Panthers clinched a berth in Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in four seasons, set a new team record for points and won their division for the second time in their 22-season history.

Outstanding goaltending, a strong blue line, improved secondary scoring and solid coaching have all been equally important contributions to Florida's standout season.

1. Goaltending

Florida is fifth in the NHL with a .917 save percentage, .932 at even-strength, which is a notable improvement from the League-average numbers from last season.

There's nothing new about starting goalie Roberto Luongo, whose steady .922 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average are almost identical to his career average, and the numbers he's had in three of the past four seasons. 

Video: FLA@MTL: Luongo slides over to make a great pad save

The real key to the turnaround is Al Montoya, who became one of the League's best backups this season. In 2014-15, his .892 save percentage ranked No. 14 among the 16 goalies to play between 15 and 25 games. This season his .921 save percentage ranks No. 4 of the 18 to play 15 to 25 games.

2. Defense

It has helped Luongo and Montoya having one of the League's stronger blue lines playing in front of them. The Panthers have allowed an average of 29.3 shot attempts this season, which ranks No. 13 in the League. 

In Brian Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson, the Panthers already had an existing core around whom to rebuild. Of the 41 players to suit up for the Panthers the last time they made the playoffs in 2011-12, these are the only three who remain. 

In particular, Campbell is the Panthers' two-way star, and his plus-31 leads all NHL defensemen.

Video: OTT@FLA: Ekblad gives Panthers the lead in 2nd

The seeds for this season's incremental improvements were planted in 2014 when the Panthers added an offensive spark in two-way defenseman Aaron Ekblad with the first selection in the NHL Draft. They solidified their defensive experience with Willie Mitchell, who signed as a free agent on July 2, 2014, after winning the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings. Mitchell has missed time with an injury, but his impact on and off the ice is undeniable.

3. Secondary Scoring

Perhaps the most important new weapon in Florida's arsenal has been the strong secondary scoring assembled behind Jagr's top line, which features center Aleksander Barkov and left wing Jonathan Huberdeau.

Reilly Smith was acquired from the Boston Bruins for Jimmy Hayes on July 1, 2015, and has been the key to unlocking what has become the hottest second line in the League. Since Jan. 22, Smith has 25 points in 34 games, Vincent Trocheck, currently injured, has 29 points in 30 games, and Jussi Jokinen is has 32 points in 33 games.

Video: FLA@TBL: Trocheck ties the game with a gorgeous shot

If that weren't already enough, GM Dale Tallon added more scoring depth at the 2016 NHL Trade Deadline, acquiring Jiri Hudler from the Calgary Flames and Teddy Purcell from the Edmonton Oilers. Playing together on a line centered by Nick Bjugstad, who was the Panthers' scoring leader in 2013-14, they have given coach Gerard Gallant a third strong scoring line going into the playoffs.

4. Coaching

Even with all of these new weapons, it still takes a skilled and experienced coaching staff to bring it all together. 

Gallant has 11 seasons of NHL coaching experience with four different organizations, and was one of the most successful coaches in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was 161-34-9 with the Saint John Sea Dogs between 2009-10 and 2011-12, leading them to the championship round all three seasons, and winning the last two. 

The Panthers took a solid stride forward in Gallant's first season in 2014-15, and their continued development helps make a solid case for Jack Adams consideration this season.

The Panthers were 8-9-4 through the first quarter of the season. Since then, they're third in the League with a 38-16-5 record, and it's not all because of Jagr's historic scoring numbers. 

Florida has made improvements across the board, has players who have won the Stanley Cup a combined 10 times and could advance out of the first round for the first time since they went to the Stanley Cup Final in the 1995-96 season. 

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