Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Three questions facing Florida Panthers

1. Can they pick up where they left off last season?
The Panthers tied the Winnipeg Jets for most wins in the NHL during the final 35 games of the season, going 25-8-2 after the All-Star break and closing the season with a five-game winning streak. But they finished one point shy of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth from the Eastern Conference.
They return all 12 players who had at least 20 points last season, as well as each of the seven defensemen who played for them. They also added forward Mike Hoffman (56 points last season) in a trade, so expectations will be high.
2. Will Roberto Luongo stay healthy and continue to perform at a high level?
Luongo's strong play was a big reason for the late-season surge. The goaltender had a 12-5-1 record in his final 18 decisions and allowed two goals or fewer in seven of his eight victories from March 1 through the end of the season. His .929 save percentage was the second best of his 17-season NHL career and his best since 2003-04 (.931). 
However, Luongo turned 39 on April 4 and was limited to 35 games (33 starts) because of injuries after playing 40 in 2016-17. The last time Luongo played fewer games in a full NHL season was 1999-2000, when he played 24 games as a rookie for the New York Islanders.
Veteran backup James Reimer, 30, has made 81 starts the past two seasons compared to 72 for Luongo.
3. Will they tighten up on defense?
The Panthers needed strong goaltending last season because they allowed the fourth-most shots in the NHL (2,838).
Florida signed veteran defenseman Bogdan Kiselevich from the Kontinental Hockey League, and he should get plenty of minutes. Aaron Ekblad, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, had a bounce-back season and will be counted on to lead the group. The Panthers hope defensemen Mike Matheson, 24, the No. 23 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Alexander Petrovic, 26, MacKenzie Weegar, 24, and Ian McCoshen, 23, can make strides.

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