Panthers first NHL team to clinch playoff spot, plus a Claude Giroux review

Panthers first NHL team to clinch playoff spot, plus a Claude Giroux review
Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

As of this writing, the mighty Colorado Avalanche lead the NHL with 104 standings points. However, the Florida Panthers clinched a playoff spot before any NHL team this season after reaching 102 points and beating the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.

With the Panthers clinching a playoff spot, this seems like a good time to review Claude Giroux seven games into his run with the team, ponder where Florida’s at, and more.

Panthers first team in NHL to clinch playoff spot, could top the East

Remarkably, the Panthers could end up winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Again, the Avalanche boast the advantage (104 points in 69 games, and 46 regulation/OT wins). It would only take mild slippage for Florida to leap over them, though, as the Panthers sit at 102 points in the same games played (69 GP, 45 ROW).

If I had to guess, I’d say the Panthers care more about gaining home-ice advantage in the Eastern Conference, and in their Atlantic Division bracket.

With the Hurricanes stumbling (relatively speaking) at 4-3-3 in their last 10 games, the Panthers gained a nice buffer for home-ice in their conference. As of this writing, this is how the Panthers’ record compares to that of the Hurricanes, as well as the rest of the Atlantic’s top four:

Panthers: 102 points in 69 games played, 45 ROW

Hurricanes: 98 points in 69 GP, 44 ROW

Maple Leafs: 93 points in 68 GP, 42 ROW
Lightning: 93 points in 68 GP, 41 ROW
Bruins: 91 points in 68 GP, 41 ROW

Really, the Panthers could improve their odds of a deeper playoff run in two significant ways.

  1. Avoiding a 2/3 Atlantic Division matchup seems pretty crucial.
  2. Yet, with the way the Bruins have played lately (including an 8-2-0 record in their past 10 games), drawing the lower wild card might be almost as important. Mind you, no one’s dismissing the Capitals as a threat. Yet, in an Eastern Conference littered with dangerous opponents, that might be as “manageable” a matchup as you can get.

[More on the recent rise of the Bruins]

Really, that’s the scary part for teams with a lot on the line, like the Panthers. While the Maple Leafs face the pressure of running out of patience, the Panthers burned through first-rounders at the trade deadline. As much as this team seems viable for multiple pushes, a first-round failure would feel fairly disastrous after spending so big.

A brief Claude Giroux/Panthers trade deadline review

Speaking of that big spending, here’s a quick Claude Giroux review.

  • Through seven games, Giroux hasn’t scored a goal, but he’s collected seven assists. Overall, the goals should come, as he’s fired a solid 18 shots on goal.
  • His playmaking is already paying off. On Saturday, Giroux generated two helpers, including an assist on a Jonathan Huberdeau goal. Huberdeau set a new Panthers franchise-record with an impressive 97 points:

  • Looking at Giroux’s Natural Stat Trick gamelog, his underlying numbers mostly look strong. Aside from a game where Giroux was under water against the Blackhawks, he’s rested comfortably above 50% in expected goals. In three games, Giroux’s expected goals percentage was at 83% or higher, and he was above 63% two other times. That’s a formula for success, possibly pointing to even better times as he settles in.

How Chiarot looks so far in Florida

If you look at Ben Chiarot‘s goals for and against totals, you might lambaste the trade. After all, at 5-on-5, the Panthers have allowed nine goals with Chiarot on the ice so far, versus creating a mere six.

That seems to mostly boil down to bad luck. If this were over a season, the Panthers’ on-ice save percentage with Chiarot at 5-on-5 (83.02%) would easily mark his career-low. Overall, though, just about every important underlying stat shows promise for Chiarot.

  • For sheer volume, Chiarot checks out, including a strong Fenwick For/Against tally (116 FF, 78 FA).
  • The quality’s going the right way, too. He’s been on the ice for 37 high-danger chances for, and merely 20 against.

Curiously, the Panthers haven’t been going overboard throwing Chiarot out in defensive situations. At least not yet.

[2022 NHL Trade Deadline Winners and Losers]

This season, Chiarot began less than 40% of his shifts in the offensive zone with the Canadiens. So far with the Panthers, Chiarot’s begun a whopping 70.73% of his shifts in the offensive zone (58 offensive zone faceoffs vs. just 24 defensive zones).

Naturally, some of this might boil down to small sample sizes. It’s only been seven games. (Expand beyond 5-on-5 and it’s at least a bit more balanced, too.)

Still, it’s intriguing that he’s been used in a different role so far.

From Anthony Duclair to Carter Verhaeghe to Gustav Forsling, the Panthers keep getting the most out of a wide variety of players. At times, the transformations almost feel revolutionary. Could they have a different vision for Chiarot? They certainly gambled a lot, paying up a first-rounder for a defenseman who was really struggling.

Between Chiarot, Giroux, and battles for playoff positioning, the Panthers will be fascinating to watch down the stretch. Hey, it also doesn’t hurt that they’re about as entertaining as any team we’ve seen in years.

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.

Scroll Down For: