One of the hottest teams in the early stages of the 2011-12 NHL season is the Florida Panthers.
Yes, the same Florida Panthers that have won more than 40 games in a season only 3 times in their 18 years of existence. Add the fact that the Panthers have not qualified for the playoffs in the last 11 seasons, and you get a south Florida fan base that is overdue for a winner.
Kris Versteeg celebrates a Florida Panthers goal this season with teammates. Versteeg was a force in Chicago but was underestimated going into Sunrise, Fla., due to his slow performances in Toronto and Philadelphia. He's proven to be a critical part of the Panthers' early success.
One of those seasons, 1995-96, the franchise made it to their first, and only, Stanley Cup Final. That was a team lead by a veteran goalie named John Vanbiesbrouck. Currently, the Panthers are being led by veteran goalie, Jose Theodore.
That is where the similarities only begin. This team is being led by a myriad of seemingly anonymous stars. Names like David Booth, Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss.
The 95-96 team was led names like Scott Mellanby, Stu Barnes, Rob Niedermayer, Robert Svehla, and Bill Lindsay. The one constant between then and now, is the stalwart on defense: Ed Jovanovski.
Jovanovski is arguably the best defenseman in franchise history, and after 12 seasons away from the Miami area, he is back as a veteran leader.
The major difference this season that is carrying the Panthers is the amazing improvement of their power play. Through four games, the Panthers have scored a league high eight power play goals. Last season, they only scored a total of 35 PPG the entire season, which was worst in the league.
With the confidence created by a strong power play, and the new spark coach Kevin Dineen is providing, the Florida Panthers seem to be on the right track towards their first playoff bid in 11 seasons.
Article written by Paul Dorn, Southeast Division writer for Center Ice Chat. Follow him on Twitter @pdorn10