Since losing five games in a row after an opening night win, the Florida Panthers appear to have found a more consistent stride. Since a 5-2 loss at inter-state rival Tampa Bay, the Cats have earned 7 of a possible 10 points in their last 5 games (3-1-1).
Minus a 5-0 throbbing at the hands of the Washington Capitals in the Southeast division rivals’ first encounter of the 2013 season, the Panthers tallied multiple goals in their games thus far in February. During their five-game skid, the Panthers only scored more than a single tally, in one of those games.
Florida is also getting solid production out of it’s 11th-ranked power play as well. In three of their five previous contests, the Panthers scored at least one power play goal. The Cats have 10 power play goals, tied for seventh in the National Hockey League this season and second in the Southeast division.
Last Friday, the Panthers announced they traded defenseman Keaton Ellerby to the Kings in exchange for a 5th-round draft pick in this year’s draft. Ellerby who was the Panthers’ first selection in the 2007 draft (10th overall), had been scratched in the Cats’ game at Philadelphia and only saw over 20:00 of ice time once this season in the home opener against Carolina. Prior to this season, Ellerby had bounced back and forth between the Panthers and their AHL affiliate, San Antonio, for much of his career and never found a solid spot with the Cats. The move also makes sense as captain Ed Jovonovski is set to return from a knee injury, which with Ellerby would give the Panthers eight defenseman on their roster. The trade gives the Strathmore, Alberta native a new opportunity with the defending Cup champions and Ellerby can help fill the void left due to Matt Greene’s injury absence.
Newest Panthers Paying Dividends
In addition to the team’s consistency, three of Florida’s offseason acquisitions are beginning to mold and mesh into a solid second line for head coach Kevin Dineen. Jonathan Huberdeau, Peter Mueller and Alexei Kovalev hold are all in the top six in team scoring for the Panthers.
Huberdeau has six points split evenly in goals and assists. That puts the Saint-Jerome, Quebec native eighth in points amongst rookies and sixth in goal scoring. The Lightning’s Cory Conacher is the only southeast division rookie ahead of Huberdeau in these categories. Huberdeau also had a three game point streak prior to the Panthers’ shootout win at Philadelphia and scored the shootout winner against the Flyers last Thursday.
Peter Mueller is off to a solid revival year with Florida. The 24-year-old has five goals and an assist in the Panther’s first 11 games thus far. He had a four-game scoring streak where he scored the Panthers’ first goal twice. Mueller also is tied for third on the team with 24 shots on goal and is seeing increased time on the power play. Mueller may not score every night out, but he has certainly provided a middle ground of experience and youth alongside the elder Kovalev and rookie Huberdeau.
Alexei Kovalev was the last Panther to officially sign with the team for the year. His one-year bargain-priced deal looks to be a steal for Florida. Originially arriving in Sunrise on a pro-tryout, Kovalev has made the best of his opportunity and provided not only an offensive threat on the power play, but a contrast to Huberdeau’s youth on the second line. Kovalev has been the Cats’ healthy scratch the past few games which should come as no shock according to head coach Kevin Dineen. He told the Miami Herald that Kovalev would likely take a game or two off here or there during this shortened marathon of a season.
Overall, the Panthers’ second line has been a fun one to watch. The contrast of Huberdeau looking to make a name for himself and Kovalev showing the league he’s still a threat offensively along with the potential comeback story that is brewing in Mueller is one you don’t see very often in the NHL. Sure, Kovalev isn’t the first experienced veteran to be a mentor of sorts for a rookie, but throw in Mueller and his newly literally found flow, there’s something special brewing here. If there was an award given to the most surprising line in the league, the trio of Mueller-Huberdeau-Kovalev would definitely be tops in the category.
Next up the Panthers return to BB&T Center on Tuesday night for a rematch in the home-and-home series with Washington. The Cats then have three more home games against the Canadiens, Lightning and Maple Leafs to close out the homestand.