December 22 – Day 76 – Would a Miami Vice also be considered a Sen?

Dallas may have waited until they were down two goals, but they ended up beating Minnesota 6-3.

On the same day he signed a four-year, $20.75 million contract extension, Jared Spurgeon celebrated by scoring his fifth goal of the season at the 4:57 mark of the game.  The Wild‘s second goal came 3:19 later, when Justin Fontaine and Third Star of the Game Nino Niederreiter assisted First Star Charlie Coyle to his seventh score of the season.  Minnesota‘s 2-0 lead held into the first intermission.

While the first 20 minutes was all about the home squad, the second period favored the road StarsDallas scored their first goal of the game at the 14:59 mark of the second period, courtesy of Jordie Benn, assisted by Jason Spezza, his 12th helper of the season.  3:31 later, Dallas tied the game at two-all with a power play tally from Vernon Fiddler, assisted by Patrick Eaves and Alex Goligoski, his 11th of the season.  The Stars‘ final goal of the period came only 59 seconds later, as Patrick Sharp and Jamie Benn assisted Tyler Seguin to a wrister to take the lead.  Dallas‘ 3-2 lead held into the second intermission.

Dallas‘ fourth straight goal, the eventual game-winner, came only 3:41 into the final period when Johnny Oduya assisted Antoine Roussel to a backhander.  The streak ended at the 10:26 mark when Coyle and Fontaine assisted Niederreiter, setting the score at 4-3.  The comeback could not be completed though, as Cody Eakin scored the first of two empty netters for the Stars at the 18:07 mark.  The second came with only 14 seconds remaining in the game when Seguin assisted Fiddler to his second goal of the game, and the final tally of the night.

Second Star Antti Niemi improved his record to 14-5-2 after earning the win, saving 30 of 31 (96.8%).  He replaced Kari Lehtonen, who saved only two of four shots faced (50%) in only 8:16 played.  14-9-2 Devan Dubnyk earns the loss after saving only 28 of 32 (87.5%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 28-12-6, favoring the home squads by 24 over the roadies.

Tonight is the last set of games before the NHL takes their Christmas break, with action resuming this Saturday.  Due to that, there’s a total of 10 games occurring this evening, with the first two getting started at 7 p.m. eastern (St. Louis at Boston and Anaheim at the New York Rangers [SN1]).  Three more get started 30 minutes later (New Jersey at Detroit, Vancouver at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Ottawa at Florida [RDS2]), followed at 8 p.m. eastern by Montréal at Minnesota (NBCSN/RDS).  Chicago at Dallas gets started at 8:30 p.m. eastern, followed half an hour later by two more (Winnipeg at Calgary and Toronto at Arizona).  Finally, the nightcap drops the opening puck at 10:30 p.m. eastern when Los Angeles hosts San Jose (NBCSN/SN).

Three of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (Ottawa at Florida, Chicago at Dallas and San Jose at Los Angeles), and they are joined by two others (St. Louis at Boston and Montréal at Minnesota) to make five games between current playoff qualifiers.

The game that deserves our attention is the one that will have the biggest effect on the standings going into the three-day break, so let’s focus in on the Sunshine State.

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This will be Ottawa‘s fourth time featured in DtFR’s featured matchup.  When the focus of our attention, they have a 1-2-0 record, with their most recent showing a 4-2 victory over the Sharks on Friday.  The home Panthers have only been featured once before, when they visited Boston on December 12 and lost 3-1.

The 17-12-5 Ottawa Senators are currently in fifth place in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, which qualifies them for the second wild card position.  Their most recent contest was a 5-2 loss in Tampa Bay on Sunday.  The Sens are certainly an offensive-minded team, as they’ve had to cover up mistakes on the other end of the ice.

So far this season, the Senators have only put 953 shots on net (led by Mike Hoffman’s 94), they’ve scored on a whopping 10.6% of those attempts for 101 goals, including Hoffman’s team-leading 17 tallies.  Although Ottawa employs a strong offense, an interestingly average aspect of their attack is their power play.  On 106 attempts, they’ve scored 20 goals (led by Hoffman’s four), for a slightly sub-average 18.87% success rate.

The offense has needed to be good, because the other end of the ice has been lacking.  Although Erik Karlsson has a team-leading 69 blocks, 1140 shots have made it to 15-9-3 Craig Anderson and co.  Although the goaltenders have allowed 99 goals, they do have a combined 91.8% save rate that slightly exceeds the league average, implying that the defense needs to do more to disrupt plays and block shots, potentially by being active before or at the trade deadline.

An even more distressing number is Ottawa‘s penalty kill rate: 76.99%.  They have allowed 26 power play goals to the opposition on 113 attempts.  This also points to Ottawa being very active at the trade deadline to bolster their blue line.

Their opposition this evening are the 18-12-4 Florida Panthers, who currently sit in fourth in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference, which qualifies them for the first wild card.  They are currently riding a four-game win streak, with their most recent showing a 5-4 shootout victory over the Canucks on Sunday.  Florida plays well on both ends of the ice, but their strength is certainly their defense.

Although the Panther defense has allowed more shots on net than average, they have been much more stingy than Ottawa, allowing only 998, helped by Willie Mitchell’s team-leading 49 blocks.  The real strength has been 13-11-3 Roberto Luongo an co.  While his personal record is not indicative of their success, the goaltenders have a combined 92.6% save rate that leads the league average.  One spot where Florida still needs to improve is on the penalty kill.  They have allowed 20 goals on 106 attempts for a 81.13% kill rate that barely exceeds the league average.

The Panthers‘ offense may have put only 953 shots on goal (led by Aaron Ekblad’s 88), they’ve scored on 9.3% of those attempts for 89 goals, led by Reilly Smith’s 11.  The power play has been an extension of that success, as they’ve scored 22 goals on 113 opportunities for a 19.47% success rate that leads the league average by .55%.

Tonight’s result could have major implications on the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference Wild-Card standings.  Should Ottawa pull off the upset on the road, they will move into a tie with Detroit (who has a game against the Devils tonight) at 41 points.  A Florida win puts the Panthers into a tie with Boston (who is hosting the Blues this evening), while an overtime loss puts them into a tie with Detroit and Ottawa.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Florida‘s Ekblad (+11 and 88 shots [both lead team]), Erik Gudbranson (84 hits [leads team]) and Jaromir Jagr (24 points [leads team]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (15 wins [tied for fourth in the league] and two shutouts [tied for seventh in the league]), Hoffman (17 goals [tied for fifth in the league]) and Karlsson (28 assists [second in the league] and 37 points [fourth in the league]).

Due to Ottawa‘s poor defensive game and being on the road, I expect the Florida Panthers to win tonight’s game.