The Montreal Canadiens trail the Florida Panthers by just one point in the Atlantic standings, but they also have the benefit of having a game in hand, not to mention being amid a rebuild.
There is still a lot of hockey left to play in the season, but with over a quarter of the schedule in the books, pressure is mounting quickly.
And that should be music to Kent Hughes’ ears.
Montreal traded veteran defenceman Ben Chiarot to the Panthers at the trade deadline last season, receiving a king’s ransom that included prospect Ty Smilanic, a fourth-round pick (2022), and a first-round pick (2023).
What’s more, even though Chiarot only played 30 games for the Panthers, including a disappointing 10-game playoff run, the first-round pick sent Montreal’s way was not lottery protected.
As it stands, the Panthers’ pick is set to take place in the middle of the first round, but given their rocky start to the season, there is concern from fans the team is on the verge of a complete tailspin.
Consequently, newly-appointed head coach Paul Maurice is the target of their ire.
/r/FloridaPanthers losing their minds 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/6GP4c88r4S
— d (@JetsPope) November 29, 2022
For his part, Maurice seems to have adopted a direct approach when discussing what his team needs to take their play to the next level. It may not be a very popular response among fans, but there is an element of truth to his statement.
Paul Maurice was asked what the team needs to hit the next gear.
His answer: “Get Barkov back.”
— David Dwork (@DavidDwork) November 29, 2022
Statistically speaking, even though the Panthers are a mid-pack team in the standings, they do currently own some of the best underlying numbers in the league.
They sit third in the league in shot share (55.8 percent), expected goal share (55.6 percent), and scoring chance share (59.2 percent).
All things considered, the Panthers should eventually rally, but there are no guarantees in the NHL.
What should happen does not always line up with what will happen.
However, hockey insider Frank Seravalli does believe the results will eventually catch up with the process.
“I don’t have concern from an offensive standpoint,” he said. “That team is averaging over 40 shots per game. But they haven’t necessarily gotten the results. They are still thin on the backend and probably do miss MacKenzie Weegar. I think they’ll find a way to figure it out.”
While the underlying numbers do suggest an imminent uptick in points earned, history is not on their side.
A staggering 76.3 percent of the teams that were in a playoff position on U.S. Thanksgiving made the playoffs since 2005-06, which does not bode well for Maurice’s team, but could net a significant asset for the Montreal Canadiens at the upcoming Draft, which is projected to be one of the deepest Drafts in recent history.