Since the NHL took the Covid pause, the Panthers have been firing on all cylinders going 4-0 and outscoring their opponents 24-10.
On top of that, their 2nd game back they dismantled the Lightning 9-3, then beat Montreal handily 5-2, and last night the Cats shellacked the Flames 6-2.
Besides the Canadiens, the Panthers last three games have come against teams that should be able to make a deep playoff push so it is not like they are speed bagging the Coyotes every night.
The real takeaway from these games was seeing what type of damage a healthy roster for the Panther can really do.
Since the return to play, Huby has been on an absolute tear scoring 9 points and earning the NHL’s 3rd star of the week.
On top of that, Duclair has tallied 6 points and really seemed to find great chemistry on the 2nd line with Huberdeau.
What is even crazier is the number of points being generated from the depth of the roster.
The 4th line has produced 9 points over the last 4 games with Lomberg notching 3, Luostarinen getting 4, and Horny getting 2 goals last night against Calgary. When your 4th line grinders are generating over 2 points per game, you know the team is rolling and playing well.
On top of that, there has been an emergence of some of the younger and less known players like Mamin, Luostarinen, Lundell, and Carlson.
Speaking of Lundell, he is quietly becoming Barkov Jr. as he is getting major minutes playing 2nd and 3rd line center, penalty kill 1, and the 2nd power play unit as a 20-year-old rookie. Much like Barkov was the most underrated player in the NHL for years, it seems like Lundell will follow in his footsteps as a relatively unknown player not getting the attention of the media like Zegras and other young players are getting.
And for all the naysayers out there, post-Covid Bob has been unreal. He stopped 47 of 49 shots (.959 SV%) last night against Calgary, 29 of 31 (.935 SV%) against Montreal, and 30 of 33 (.909 SV%) against Panarin and the Rags.
Sure, some of the games haven’t reflected a need for him to make big saves as the Cats have won by multiple goals; however, last night when down 2-1, had Bob not made a few key saves it could be a totally different outcome.
Keep in mind, the game last night was 3-2 until the last minute of the 2nd period when Lomberg slid one through Markstrom’s legs that reflected the Sunday night beer league game more than an NHL goal.
So, while the score was 6-2, the Flames were keeping up with the Cats and the outcome does not necessarily reflect how close the game really was.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I was a little worried last night with guys like Lucic and Thachuk in town as the Panthers do not really respond well to the bullies of the league. When the Flames went up 2-1 in the first and the bodies were banging, I even told my friends “this could go south quick”.
On top of that, Lucic is twice the enforcer Wilson could ever dream to be and Wilson seems to terrorize the Cats. In case you haven’t picked up on the trend, I think Wilson is a wannabe tough guy neanderthal who backs down from the real enforcers in the league.
But I am not afraid to admit when I am wrong. The Cats actually were able to bang back and not take Thachuk’s shit. Sitting lower level, I watched Matthew the entire game and he does not give his jaw a break. He ran his mouth, slashed, whacked, and was the rat he is known to be, but the Cats didn’t back down or shy away from this style of play.
On top of that, they were fighting back without two of the more physical players in Bennett and Reinhart. Bennett is still on suspension after the hit he laid on Cedric Paquette on Saturday, but you know he would have loved a shot at his old team!
While I do think the Panthers need to add a little more grit and sandpaper finish, I do believe they may be able to hold their own in the physical play department. Horny, Lomberg, and Gudas were throwing the body around and the boys were not afraid to take the hit to make the play.
In summary, the Cats have come out hotter than a two-dollar pistol and while I was critical of the Covid break, it did allow the boys to get rested and healthy. If they can keep this pace of play up, I do not see any reason why they are not Cup contenders at the end of this season.
As always, in Zito we trust!