At this time last year, the Panthers were one of the lowest scoring teams in the NHL.
Florida was averaging two goals per game and most nights needed a terrific performance from its goaltender to win.
These days, the Panthers are still getting great goaltending and are scoring goals as well. Florida is 12-0-1 this year when scoring three goals or more.
“I think it makes my job a little easier,’’ goalie Roberto Luongo said Monday, a day after the Panthers scored four regulation goals in a 5-4 shootout win over Vancouver. “This is a low-scoring league and when you get three, four or five goals, we need to make sure we win those. It doesn’t happen very often. It’s nice to see guys getting it done. It starts with defense, but we’re scoring with a balanced lineup. That makes it harder on the opposition. We like our group in here. We have four lines contributing.’’
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The Panthers came into Monday holding the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference while being two points back of Boston for second place in the Atlantic Division and three behind Montreal for first.
“You don’t want to, but you look at the standings every day,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said.
In Florida’s recent winning surge in which it has won 10 of 13 and its past four, scoring has been up. Over its past 13 games, the Panthers are averaging 2.7 goals per game, a huge improvement over last season.
During its four-game winning streak, Florida is averaging four goals. Overall, the Panthers are 13th in the league by averaging 2.6 goals per game.
At this point last year, the Panthers’ power play was ranked 27th. On Monday, it was 12th in the league, clicking at close to a 20 percent success rate.
New additions Jaromir Jagr (he came to the team last February) and Reilly Smith have definitely helped things out. Those two lead the team with a combined 21 goals.
“We don’t play a real risky game, up-and-down trying to outgun the other team,’’ said Jagr, who is a goal behind Smith for the team lead with 10. “We play with structure, and our game is cycling the puck, create scoring chances in the offensive zone. Teams change strategy on you and you have to find a way.’’
A big reason for Florida’s increased offensive production is its improved defensive play. The Panthers are generating turnovers by using their speed to pick off the puck. Once Florida has possession, it doesn’t give it up very easily.
Possession in the offensive zone is up this year, and scoring is much more spread out. Last year at this time, the Panthers had one 10-goal scorer in Nick Bjugstad with only Jimmy Hayes (seven) close by.
This season, the Panthers have three players with 10 goals (Smith, Jagr and Vincent Trocheck) and five others — Aaron Ekblad, Sasha Barkov, Jussi Jokinen, Brandon Pirri and Bjugstad — with seven or more.
“Our goal is to be able to win games, even if it’s like Carolina and it’s 2-0,’’ Jonathan Huberdeau said. “Scoring power-play goals has been huge for us. We added some scoring and that has helped. We have a few guys over 10 goals and that’s good for us. Guys are working hard.’’
▪ Bjugstad has been out the past month with migraines but has started skating again and worked out Monday before practice. General manager Dale Tallon told SiriusXM radio Monday that Bjugstad could return in the next week.
▪ Center Dave Bolland’s trip to the minors is over after the Panthers brought him back from the AHL on Monday. Gallant said Bolland will not play Tuesday. Florida also activated defenseman Alex Petrovic (foot) off the injured list and returned Dylan Olsen and center Rocco Grimaldi to its AHL team in Portland, Maine. Derek MacKenzie and Petrovic return to the lineup Tuesday.
Tuesday: Senators at Panthers
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210.
Series: Ottawa leads 47-30-3.
Scouting report: The is the second of five meetings between Florida and Ottawa, with the Sens taking the opener 4-2 two weeks ago. Ottawa has lost four of six since and are a point back of the Panthers in the standings.