Riding the wave: the Florida Panthers’ relentless offense

Riding the wave: The Florida Panthers' relentless offense
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

After scoring a stunning six points as the Panthers clobbered Columbus on Monday, Mason Marchment said something simple, if striking.

“I’m just riding the wave,” Marchment said, via Jameson Olive.

To some extent, Marchment’s comments probably rank as typical hockey “humble-bragging.” But you can excuse just about any Panthers player if they feel a bit swept up in all of the elements that feed into their incredible offense.

Panthers defense to offense: from a pond to a lake to an ocean

Look at the Panthers’ heat maps at Hockey Viz, and it looks like Florida’s offensive output goes from a pond (2019-20) to a lake (2020-21) ….

Riding the wave: the Florida Panthers' relentless offense Hockey Viz 1
via Hockey Viz

… All the way to the surfer-smashing ocean that is this season’s offense:

Riding the wave: the Florida Panthers' relentless offense Hockey Viz 2
via Hockey Viz

No doubt about it, a deep offense powers much of a Panthers’ attack that ties the Avalanche for the NHL scoring lead with a blistering (and historic) 4.09 goals per game.

Most obviously, top stars Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov lead the way. With Barkov injured, Huberdeau’s taken center stage, entering Wednesday’s games with the NHL scoring lead at a burly 64 points in 47 games.

But the Panthers offense hasn’t missed a beat, in part, because of its deep arsenal.

[Where Panthers stand in PHT’s Power Rankings]

Three other Panthers rank in the NHL’s top 50 with 40+ points: Sam Reinhart (44), Aaron Ekblad (41), and Barkov (40). Four additional Panthers have already reached 30: Carter Verhaeghe (37), Anthony Duclair (35), NHL Rookie of the Month Anton Lundell (32), and the rejuvenated Sam Bennett (21 of his 30 points are goals).

Amid all that, the Panthers pull off something that, at times, feels like an eye-rolling cliche. They create a ton of offense from their defense.

Check out how off-the-charts the Panthers are in the transition game, created what Corey Sznajder labels “firewagon hockey.”

Highlighted — but not limited to — Aaron Ekblad and the deeply underrated MacKenzie Weegar, the Panthers overwhelm opponents in the transition game. They’re willing to pinch and take chances, seemingly comfortable with the thought that the good will outweigh the bad.

As Alison Lukan captured in a Kraken context, more and more offense is being created off the rush. When defenses have the chance to get set (and get more skaters in their own zone), they become increasingly difficult to solve. It’s great to dream about imposing your will with a synchronized cycling game, but good luck actually pulling that off.

Can the Panthers keep scoring at this pace?

So, will the Panthers slow down?

The easiest answer is to say “Yes, at least technically.”

Truly, the Panthers and Avalanche have been scoring goals at a historic pace this season. With their matching 4.09 goals per game, the Panthers and Avalanche are the first two teams to average 4+ goals since the Penguins did it in 1995-96.

Since the abomination of a missed 2004-05 season, the 2018-19 Lightning lead the way with a 3.89 goals per game average during a full campaign.

Things like a fairly high even-strength shooting percentage point to at least some cool-down for the Panthers.

The wear and tear of a season, and the inevitable arrival of cold streaks, may pull the Panthers under that 4+ average. But their process is still quite sound overall.

Just consider how they’ve rarely missed a beat without Aleksander Barkov. And, last season, handled Aaron Ekblad’s absence remarkably well.

[Some appreciation for Jonathan Huberdeau]

Ultimately, this is a well-oiled machine of offense that’s creating waves of chances, from sheer quantity (36.6 shots on goal per game) to premium quality (tying the Hurricanes for the league lead with 3.08 expected goals per 60 at 5-on-5).

Considering their just-fine power play, they’re not relying too much on the whims of special teams, either.

In a dream world, the rest of the NHL would go all-out trying to copy their style, and capture their high-scoring spirit. Honestly, even other teams operating at, say, 85% of that Florida firewagon level would make for a better sport, and maybe a better world.

The biggest threat would be the Panthers possibly losing to a strong first round opponent like the Lightning or Maple Leafs, and then abandoning the firewagon for the safe house of standard-issue, risk-averse hockey. That concept is almost as scary as slowing Florida down right now.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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