What a start to the season the Panthers have had, and what a start to the season #DearDoug has had! Thanks everyone for the great questions. If you don't see yours here, it may be on-deck for a future edition! Either way, keep them coming, just like the Panthers have kept the wins coming this season.
Before I dive into this week's mailbag, what a week! The Panthers grabbed road wins over the stiffest competition in the Central Division, and Jonathan Huberdeau made his way into highlight shows everywhere. Huge congratulations are in order for Juho Lammikko on scoring his first NHL goal; he picked a great time to get it on Wednesday night in Raleigh! Regardless of how many times I see it happen, calling a player's first NHL goal is an indescribable thrill! I can't imagine the feeling of scoring a first career goal!
Now, it's time for this week's questions...
@unfgrad05: Do you think the Panthers can make the Playoffs? Tough division they are in.
Yes was my answer when you sent the questions earlier in the week, and yes is still my answer! In fact, I'll go one further… Not only can this Panthers team make the playoffs, but they're proving they can challenge for the Central Division title. The biggest test of the season to this point was the four-game stretch against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning and a very, very good Carolina Hurricanes team, and the Panthers won three-of-four in the span.
With a 10-2-2 record at press time (Even though online articles don't involve any kind of presses), the Panthers have positioned themselves to be able to spend the duration of the season protecting a playoff spot. As Bill Lindsay and I discussed on our radio postgame show Wednesday night, the Panthers are showing all the important traits of a good hockey team: production throughout the lineup with eight different players averaging a half-point or more per game; special teams and goaltending coming through in big situations; a 7-0-2 record in one-goal games, which is the league's best such record at this moment; and the ability to play a game that "looks the same" at home and on the road (I'll refer to the Panthers game "looking the same" all the time a bit later as well; this consistency is absolutely huge).
On that note, how about the fact that since Monday the Panthers have handed the Hurricanes (Previously 4-0-0 at home) and Lightning (Previously 6-0-0) their first losses on home ice this season? Joel Quenneville has made mention this season of the idea that the Panthers are willing to use any line in any five-on-five situation. First of all, that's an all-time great coach putting players in the right positions to succeed; many of whom haven't been teammates for all that long, all things considered. Secondly, it's a group that's totally on the same page. As I stated last week, Bill Zito and his staff deserve a ton of credit for identifying pieces that fit perfectly into the puzzle, and Coach Q has done an outstanding job configuring the lineup to maximize its potential early in the season.
In short, we have a lot to be excited about with this group. They can make the playoffs, and they have what it takes to make some noise when they get there.
@hlamp: #DearDoug Are the Panthers a grittier team than last year and if so, how do you measure that difference? Are hits and fighting penalties the only metrics?
"Gritty" (Not the Flyers mascot) is a word we hear all the time in hockey, and we tend to hear it more and more as we get closer to the playoffs, and into the playoffs. Therefore, grittiness is an important trait for any team that aspires to reach the playoffs and beyond. Last year, Tampa Bay identified a need to get more of this "grittiness", so they brought in Pat Maroon, Barclay Goodrow, and Blake Coleman, and it paid off for them. The year before, St. Louis was already assembled with a great deal of grittiness, and they won it all. Without question, it's an important quality.
As you mention, Harry, hitting and the willingness to stand up for teammates are certainly aspects of grittiness, and the Panthers have shown that this season. Newcomer Radko Gudas is the leading the hits category in the league and has dropped the gloves a couple times already. Off the top of my head, Ryan Lomberg, Aaron Ekblad, and Mackenzie Weegar have all been involved in some extra-curricular activity defending teammates this season. It's been a collective effort standing up for one another, and that's what you want to see, without question.
So to answer the first part of the question: yes. This Panthers team exhibits more grit than last year. But it's not just the physical elements that illustrate this. Along with the number of hits and occasional fighting majors, the tempo we see every night from the Panthers lends itself to this idea of 'grit'. The team never wavers, and throughout a vast majority of the 10-2-2 start, the Panthers game has looked the same whether they're ahead, behind, or tied; another sign of a good team. Patric Hornqvist paying a price in front of the net at even strength and on the power play, where he has scored four times this season, is part of the idea. The ability to perform so well in close games is part of this "grittiness." Take the Vegas Golden Knights, for example; they're not the '74-75 Flyers, who amassed nearly 2,000 penalty minutes during their second straight Stanley Cup season, but their style of play with the consistent speed, tempo, tenacious forecheck, and the added element of physicality when necessary, has made them a contender for the last couple of seasons. The current Panthers show all of these qualities, and they're the hallmark traits of all the great Joel Quenneville teams we've seen since the 1990's.
@fakejedega: #DearDoug @DougPlagens how long have you been calling @FlaPanthers games and what would you say is your favorite call that you have done?
The '20-21 season marks my 13th season in pro hockey, and my sixth in the National Hockey League with the Panthers. My first regular season NHL broadcast was opening night, '15-16, and that 6-1 Panthers win is easily one of the first games that comes to mind when I think of the most memorable games. Aside from my first game, witnessing Jaromir Jagr moving into second all-time in points with 1,888 on December 22, 2016 really stands out, for a number of reasons. First of all, it's NHL history; Jagr passed Mark Messier, and we may never see another player total that many points (And NOBODY will ever pass Gretzky, so second place on that list is quite a distinction). Secondly, Jagr was credited with the assist because the puck bounced off his pants, to Aleksander Barkov, who scored. Because it wasn't a highlight-reel sort of assist, there was some uncertainty as to whether or not Jagr touched the puck on the play. At least one person, though, was 1000% certain, and that was my broadcast partner Bill Lindsay. Without hesitation, he grabbed the roster sheet and emphatically pointed to #68 as I called Barkov's goal to let me know that Jagr touched the puck and should be credited with an assist for his 1,888th point. I immediately thought there was a chance Jagr would get the assist, but Billy's reaction was all the confirmation I needed to see! You can tell Billy spent a lot of time in scrums in front of opposing nets, because I'm not sure I've ever seen anyone with a better eye for identifying the parties responsible for deflected pucks than him.
@BarryARothman: @JamesonCoop #DearDoug - If Mrs. Moller hides the peanut butter on the top shelf, what will we find hidden on your top shelf? As a follow-up, can you attempt to explain why Randy recently said on a broadcast that there were chicken wings on Mrs. Moller's top shelf.
I'll put my investigative reporting skills to work and try to identify the reason for storing chicken wings on a top shelf (Hopefully it was the top shelf of a freezer or refrigerator, or we could have some bad, potentially smelly chicken wings!), but to answer your first question about my top shelf…
It depends what sort of top shelf we're discussing! On the top shelf of my closet, there are baseball cards! On the top shelf in front of me as I type this, I see a pile of DVD's, half of which are the great works of two of the finest entertainers of our time, Beavis & Butt-Head (All three volumes of the shows with the music videos, the movie, and the very underrated reboot from earlier last decade). There's also a Golden Girls trivia game, which I still haven't played because I haven't met anyone who'd be able to keep up with me.
I've kept my protein powder on top of the refrigerator for years! It's not a shelf, but when kept orderly, I've always found the top of the refrigerator to be very convenient storage spot for a daily-use item. You all should try it; highly recommended! Storing a frequently-used item on top of your refrigerator, in an orderly manner, can be great fun, and super accessible!
Thanks everyone for the great questions and interaction! I hope you're all having as much fun watching this team as we're having calling the games!