There might actually be something to this numbers-defying Florida Panthers team

Updated: January 11, 2016 at 7:30 am by Cam Lewis

The Florida Panthers’ 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers last night extended the team’s winning streak to 12 games, the longest of the sort in franchise history, and has catapulted the team into a comfortable lead at the top of the Atlantic Division standings. Last night’s game had everything you would expect from the classic Oilers and Panthers rivalry, featuring a questionable open ice hit on Taylor Hall that was followed up by another questionable hit on Aaron Ekblad, all of which was eventually tied up by multiple fights and a very anticlimactic finish bogged down by a well executed trap. 

Lost beneath all that action was the fact the Panthers were absolutely eaten alive, as the Oilers posted a 65.7 corsi for percentage in all situations and also outshot Florida 24 to 14 overall. Anti-analytics people must be doing cartwheels. This has been a common theme for the Panthers who, while winning games at an elite pace, are in the basement of the league in possession numbers. When looking at Florida’s underlying stats, and watching them get hemmed down by the Oilers of all teams, it’s hard to imagine that this story is much more than a mirage like the ones we’ve seen so many times in the past. But digging down even further, there might actually be something there. 

I’ll start off by saying that I would love for this Panthers team to be legitimate. I mean, imagine being told in like 2007 that the 2016 Florida Panthers would be a legitimate Cup contender thanks to elite, Vezina-worthy play from Roberto Luongo, and solid offensive production from a 43-year old Jaromir Jagr. It almost seems satirical. 

But here we are. The Florida Panthers are well on their way to not only making the playoffs for the fifth time ever, but also putting up their best record in franchise history. 

Through this 12-game winning streak, the Panthers have rocketed up the standings. They’ve seen their record improve from a modest 15-12-4 that made them competitive in the Atlantic Division all the way to 25-12-4, which puts them on pace for a 50-24-8 record, which would be far and away the best we’ve ever seen in South Beach. 

Over that stretch, the Panthers have scored 38 goals and have limited their opposition to just 15 despite posting an unimpressive 47.3 corsi for percentage at even strength. What they do have, though, is an off-the-charts PDO (which is save percentage plus shooting percentage) of 107.5 that pretty much summarizes what’s been going on here. Before the winning streak, the Panthers had virtually identical possession numbers to what they’ve been putting up over the past few weeks, but their PDO was much more reasonable at 100.8. As a result, they scored 73 goals and allowed their opponents to score just as many, predictably leading to a record right around .500. 

I mean, Roberto Luongo is great and all, but I really can’t see him managing a 0.96 save percentage for the rest of the season like he’s been doing over the past 12 games. Even less likely is the idea that the Panthers can maintain the 11.5 shooting percentage they’ve been posting during their hot streak. It’s inevitable that it’ll all catch up to them. Eventually the high shooting and save percentages will settle back down to a normalized numbers, but when they do, how hard will the team crash?

That’s the difficult thing to predict. The most obvious guess is that they’ll go back to being the team that they were for the first 29 games of the year, as their possession numbers suggest they should. But then there’s also a chance that there’s more to this whole thing than their possession numbers suggest. 

According to War on Ice, nobody has allowed fewer high danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes at even strength since Dec. 15 than the Panthers, who are allowing just 7.7. Before that, Florida was just a mid-range team, allowing 10.5 high danger chances against per 60 minutes at even strength. So during their hot streak, they’re allowing nearly three less high danger chances against per hour than they were when they were just a ho-hum, middling team. 

Looking at the Edmonton game yesterday, the Panthers were absolutely murdered in shots and possession, but the two teams were nearly equal in high danger chances. Florida plugged up the middle of the ice, and while they didn’t generate a hell of a lot of offence, they made it very difficult for the Oilers to generate many legitimate scoring opportunities. 

With this considered, it’s reasonable to assume that Luongo can continue to post elite numbers like he has been over the past month. That said, while the goaltending part of their sky high PDO may be sustainable, the shooting percentage side of it sure as hell isn’t. The Panthers are generating 8.4 high danger chances per hour during their winning streak, while before that, they were generating 8.2, so it’s not like they’ve made some major systemic change that should result in an abnormally high rate of shot success. 

When it’s all said and done, I’m guessing the Panthers are a playoff team. They aren’t going to continue scoring 73 per cent of the goals at even strength like they have been, but a combination of scoring chance suppression and strong goaltending is more than likely going to be enough for them to at least squeeze themselves into the playoffs.