Panthers’ Huberdeau is playing best hockey of his career
Those who follow hockey closely were already aware that Florida Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau is a really, really good player. His red-hot start to 2018-19 brings up a question, though: is he even better than we realized?
If you’re putting together a list of the hottest players in the NHL, quite a few of the top-end Panthers would be on there, including recent import Mike Hoffman. But don’t forget about Huberdeau ... you know, scratch that. Huberdeau is forcing people to take notice.
The Quebec native generated three points (one goal, two assists) as the Panthers crushed the Boston Bruins 5-0 on Tuesday. With that, Huberdeau extended his multi-point streak to six games, giving him three goals and 11 assists for a whopping 14 points.
This isn’t merely a matter of a hot six games. Consider that, since Nov. 21, Huberdeau’s 16 points in eight games ranks second only to Nikita Kucherov, who’s managed a remarkable 18 in his own eight games.
Overall, Huberdeau has seven goals and almost an assist per game (24 in 26) to give him 31 points this season.
The third pick of the 2011 NHL Draft isn’t sacrificing all-around play to boost his offensive numbers, as Huberdeau remains as strong as ever when you consider his possession stats, including relative ones.
Huberdeau’s hot start doesn’t merely revolve around lucky bounces. His 11.7 shooting percentage is right around his career average (11.2), and Huberdeau’s on-ice shooting percentage (8.4) is actually below his career mark (8.9).
Goals like these paint a picture about this not just being about playing alongside Mike Hoffman and probable future Selke winner Aleksander Barkov, either:
Speaking of that mega-line, Thursday presents a treat even if you don’t want to bask in the explosive offensive glory of the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s because the Huberdeau - Barkov - Hoffman line will get to make its case as the best (or at least the hottest) line in the NHL, as they’ll face the Colorado Avalanche, employers of the deadly Mikko Rantanen - Nathan MacKinnon - Gabriel Landeskog trio.
Even with Vincent Trocheck sidelined thanks to that grisly injury, you’d think the Panthers would sport a better record than 11-10-5, considering the brilliant work by Huberdeau, Hoffman, Barkov, and Keith Yandle. Sitting four points out of the East’s final wild card spot (tied with the Penguins and Senators for 12th place with 27 points) isn’t just disappointing, it’s at times confounding.
Maybe we’ll look at that 5-0 win against the Bruins as something of a turning point for a Panthers team that’s been in quite a few tumultuous, close games lately?
“We have had some games where we had the lead and it went to overtime or we lost in the final minutes,” Mike Matheson said, via The Athletic’s George Richards (sub required).
“To have a game that I would call a no-doubter is a good feeling. This is a confidence booster and we have to keep it going, do it again. But this was huge for our team.”
Perhaps it will be, as Roberto Luongo was finally back in action, pitching a shutout and possibly hinting toward the Panthers receiving the goaltending they’ve been sorely lacking.
A Florida team that combined solid-to-great goaltending with an already impressive arsenal? Sure, that would be scary, but we’ve seen that dream disintegrate plenty of times before, often as Luongo goes down with another injury. It remains to be seen if the Panthers can finally put it together after multiple false alarms.
That said, even if they fail to do so, it should be a lot of fun to watch Huberdeau and their other top players conduct some harmonic hockey, including against the Avalanche’s tremendous top trio on Thursday.