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Panthers Q&A w/ Litter Box Cats

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Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks to Kevin Kraczkowski over at Litter Box Cats for reaching out to PensBurgh to do this three question Q&A in preparation of tomorrow's game against the Florida Panthers.

Kevin and others over at LBC do a great job covering the Panthers, we highly recommend checking them out to learn more about this up and coming hockey team.

Click here to read my answers to Kevin's Q&A about the Penguins.

PensBurgh (Eric Bowser): It is early in the season but what have you noticed about Florida's team approach to generating offense?

LitterBoxCats (Kevin Kraczkowski): After scoring seven goals in their first game (a 7-1 win over the Flyers), the Panthers have combined to total nine in the following four contests, an average of 2.25 per game. Better puck movement across all four lines has been key in generating offense.

A point of contention would have to be an over-reliance on Jaromir Jagr. He’s still an elite player, true, but with all the top-to-bottom talent on this roster, he shouldn’t be leading the team in points.

Florida’s fourth line (currently Shawn Thornton, Quinton Howden, and Derek MacKenzie) has looked able to add some secondary scoring punch to complement the Jonathan Huberdeau/Aleksander Barkov/Jagr line. In addition, for a 22 game stretch last season, Brandon Pirri scored 17 goals (and almost inexplicably, just one assist). His linemate Nick Bjugstad led the Panthers with 24 goals, and they’re bordered on the right side by new addition Reilly Smith.

Including defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Florida has perhaps seven players on the roster who could challenge 50 points this season, and maybe as many as three 30 goal scorers. It’s a relative embarrassment of riches for a Panthers’ franchise who have traditionally ended up in the bottom third in the NHL in scoring.

PensBurgh (Eric Bowser): Roberto Luongo's first four games might only be a 2-2 record but he's sporting a 1.77 Goals Against Average and .948 Save Percentage. Al Montoya was good in his lone start with 1 goals against stopping 22 of 23 shots. Are the Panthers starting to insulate their goaltenders better by possessing the puck more or is it their approach in the defensive zone?

LitterBoxCats (Kevin Kraczkowski): Florida’s defensive corps has taken years to get to the point they are at now. Ekblad should continue to improve on his already impressive early career resume, bordered by the solid if unspectacular Brian Campbell (who has never missed a game since joining the Panthers.

Dmitry Kulikov, Florida’s currently longest-tenured player, has showed steady improvement in both puck possession and shot-blocking capabilities through each of his first six seasons with the club, while Willie Mitchell, if not the fastest skater, is a skilled puck handler. What behemoth Erik Gudbranson lacks in skill he makes up for with a mean-streak that makes some forwards dread challenging him in Florida’s zone. The only weak spot thus far this year has been Alex Petrovich, who’s plus-4 rating is aided no doubt by a 110.4 PDO.

Behind the defense, Roberto Luongo is still playing at a high level, and should continue to keep Florida in some games that they maybe shouldn’t be. Al Montoya is a capable backup, good for every fourth game or so, or at least on the second night of back-to-back matches. Their save percentages won’t stay where they’re at, obviously, but Lou’s should be better than his career average (.919) at least, with the unaccustomed protection in front of him.

PensBurgh (Eric Bowser): Since last season's arrival of Jaromir Jagr, what has it meant to the Panthers and more directly, how has it affected the development of Aleksander Barkov?

LitterBoxCats (Kevin Kraczkowski): Barkov has been a sponge, soaking up all of the future Hall-of-Fame goodness from Jagr. I’ve almost run out of superlatives to describe Jagr’s longevity at this point, and he looks to be good enough to play for another three years – or maybe more. He has averaged a point per game through his first 25 contests with the club.

Correspondingly, Barkov has racked up 21 points since Jagr joined the club, a 0.84 point per game average. Pretty good, but it really reflects on the old guy considering that before Jagr, Barkov scored just 45 points in his first 105 games, which is exactly half of his current per-game output.

When you add in Huberdeau’s numbers (92 points in 176 pre-Jagr contests, 23 points since), Jagr’s impact is even more evident. Frankly, I’ve noted that Jagr looks like a destroyer out there with the puck amongst frigates – although he’s easily and always the oldest person on the ice. He’s still fast, he’s still strong, and he has a lot left to leave on the ice. I hope to see him play until he’s 60.