Welcome to The Puck Under the Sun’s preview of the 2018-19 season. I enter my third full season as a Panthers blogger when October starts and this upcoming season is looking pretty bright. The metropolitan division is looking weaker and while the atlantic has 3 titans above the Panthers which will be tough challenges, the Panthers could squeak into a wild card spot. Now let’s take a look at the keys to this year:
Last year the forward core was very healthy which was good for the Panthers following many consecutive years of being decimated by injuries including the record setting 103 point season in 2015-16. If Barkov, Trocheck, Huberdeau and at least one of these three: Hoffman, Dadonov and Bjugstad play more than 75 games, a playoff spot should be guaranteed. Roberto Luongo has had injury troubles the last couple of years. However with Michael Hutchinson now on the team and the Panthers wanting to develop Sam Montembeault more, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hutchinson stay on the big league roster. A healthy Luongo is very critical.
The Panthers finished last year with tons of momentum. The Panthers have not started well the past five years with their best first 21 games coming in 2016-17 which saw them going 11-10-1 which was also the point where Gerard Gallant was fired. The Panthers slow start doomed them last year. The Panthers need to have a strong start in order to think of having a chance. The Panthers first 21 games feature 7 home games, 12 road games and 2 neutral location games in Finland. The Panthers were very good at home last year. 10 of those 21 games are against playoff teams from last year.
The Panthers have 17 back to backs this upcoming year.
Honestly how do we look?
Well here is what it is. Tampa, Boston and Toronto are the only surefire locks. At least three teams from the metro will make it but the only surefire lock there is Pittsburgh. In the Atlantic, Florida and Buffalo will be very competitive and the Metro will see competitiveness from Philadelphia, Washington, Columbus (if they keep Panarin and Bobrovsky) and New Jersey. Montreal could surprise some people too. Honestly I think we have good odds. This year’s expectation is a playoff berth and anything short of that is unacceptable.