There was nothing unusual about the situation on the ice in Chicago last Thursday [31 March]. With 6:15 to play in the final period, Jonathan Huberdeau had the puck on his stick in the offensive zone and was toying with the Blackhawks.
The Canadian, taking advantage of a five-on-three power play, circled back into the high slot before scanning the ice, his head constantly on a swivel.
Then, having seen enough, Huberdeau pulled off his signature move – a no-look pass to the half wall. Two seconds later, Aleksander Barkov had the puck in the net – icing a 4-0 win for the Florida Panthers.
The most assists ever in a season by a left winger?
Jonathan Huberdeau. pic.twitter.com/B8ykKUSxpq
— Jameson Olive (@JamesonCoop) April 1, 2022
After the final buzzer, Barkov couldn’t speak highly enough of Florida’s assist king: “I’ve probably said enough good things about Huby in my career, we’re so lucky to have that type of person in our organisation.”
Jonathan Huberdeau Breaks Single-Season Positional Assist Record
The Finn’s late strike, though irrelevant to the outcome in Illinois, holds a place in NHL history. Huberdeau’s assist – his 71st of the campaign – secured him the single-season assists record for left wingers in the NHL.
It also reinforced his Hart Trophy credentials and put the rest of the league on notice heading into the playoffs. Huberdeau’s 94 points (23 goals, 71 assists) in 67 appearances slot him in elite company – and he shows no signs of slowing down.
“It’s fun,” Huberdeau said of tying Joe Juneau’s record with an assist versus the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday [30 March]. “I’m having a good year point-wise. I’m working hard. It’s good to get some goals on the PK. I’d never really done penalty killing, but it’s fun. You get more chances with that to take advantage of.”
“It’s pretty cool, especially doing it against Montreal,” Huberdeau said of the record. “I have a lot of family here, a lot of friends. It’s nice to get some milestones, but it was a big win for us.”
Florida Panthers: ‘All In’ at the Trade Deadline, Serious Contenders
This season, under the leadership of new head coach Andrew Brunette, the Panthers have taken another step towards Stanley Cup contention.
Florida’s 46-15-6 record leaves them six points clear at the top of the Atlantic Division and firmly in the Presidents’ Trophy race with 15 games left to play.
With one eye on the standings, GM Bill Zito was busy at the deadline – acquiring forward Claude Giroux, plus defencemen Ben Chiarot and Robert Hagg. The Panthers went all in.
And they were right to do so.
By winning 7-4 against the Canadiens on Tuesday, the Panthers increased their season goal total to 268 – breezing past their previous single-season record of 264.
Florida are offensively dominant and have averaged more than four goals per game this season. That’s partly a feature of their depth – eight players on Zito’s roster have at least 15 goals – but also because of their top-end quality.
Huberdeau isn’t the only Panther producing offence at an elite clip this year, Anthony Duclair, Sam Bennett and Barkov are chipping in with their fair share too.
“We have so much depth,” Huberdeau said of Florida’s goal-scoring exploits. “We know we’ve been scoring a lot of goals this year. It’s cool to set a franchise record with 16 games left. We’ve just got to focus and be better defensively. We know we can score some goals, but we can’t give up four or five every game.”
Could Aaron Ekblad’s Injury Derail Florida’s Season?
Heading down the stretch, the only major question mark hanging over the Panthers relates to star blueliner Aaron Ekblad.
Injured during the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks on 18 March, Ekblad is out for the rest of the season – leaving a significant hole to fill in Brunette’s line-up.
While the arrival of Hagg and Chiarot have made a positive impact, Ekblad’s absence is a huge blow for the Panthers. He registered 57 points (15 goals, 42 assists) in 61 appearances before his injury and was Florida’s key player on the blueline.
However, Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff has reported Ekblad is in line to return to the ice in time for the first round of the playoffs. If he does, he’ll be a massive asset for the Panthers.
NHL Weekend Preview: Florida @ New Jersey, Buffalo
Florida’s next pair of fixtures provides them with an opportunity to solidify their lead at the top of the Atlantic Division.
On Saturday [2 April], they travel to New Jersey to face the Devils. It’s a fixture the Panthers must win.
New Jersey are 2-3-0 over the last fortnight, including a heavy loss to the Boston Bruins last night.
However, the Devils have a wealth of offensive talent to call upon – including former first overall pick Jack Hughes, who is currently on a purple patch.
On Sunday [3 April], the Panthers will visit the Buffalo Sabres – another must-win game for Florida.
The Sabres, though firmly out of the playoff race, are 6-1-3 over their last 10 games and have enough in the tank to upset the Panthers.
Tage Thompson, in his first season as a centreman, has 53 points (30 goals, 23 assists) in 65 games this year – making him Buffalo’s main weapon in the O-Zone.
Join the conversation: will Jonathan Huberdeau register over/under 2.5 assists this weekend?
Tune in to the NHL Network at 17:30 on Saturday 2 April to watch the Florida Panthers face the New Jersey Devils.
Tune in to Premier Sports at 18:00 on Sunday 3 April to watch the Florida Panthers visit the Buffalo Sabres.