February 8 – Day 116 – Wait, I thought Detroit was slated to play Tampa Bay…

Both Ben Scrivens and Cam Ward played exceptional games, but it was the Montréal Canadiens that took home the bonus point after an extended shootout.

The Carolina Hurricanes scored the first goal of the game rather quickly, after only 2:27 of play.  After an initial shot from Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner tipped in Carolina’s only puck to tickle the twine.  The 1-0 lead held to the intermission.

Montréal leveled the score at the 8:11 mark of the second when Max Pacioretty converted a wrister after assists from Andrei Markov and P.K. Subban (his 37th helper of the season).

The one-all tie held through the third period, as well as the three-on-three overtime.  It took five rounds of the shootout, and only one goal was scored courtesy of Sven Andrighetto, effectively a game-winner.

Scrivens earns the win by saving 34 of 35 (97.1%), while Ward loses, saving 33 of 34 (97.1%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 52-24-10, favoring the home squad by 38 points over the roadies.

Today’s schedule is only one more game than yesterday’s, and they are all nice and early in the evening!  Two games drop the puck at 7 p.m. eastern (New Jersey at the New York Rangers [NHLN] and Anaheim at Pittsburgh) with the other two following only 30 minutes later (Tampa Bay at Ottawa and Florida at Detroit).

Most of tonight’s games are between division rivals (New Jersey at New York, Tampa Bay at Ottawa and Florida at Detroit), and another set of two are between teams both qualifying for the playoffs (Anaheim at Pittsburgh and Florida at Detroit).

Although Erik Condra is making his first return to the Canadian Tire Centre, where he spent the first five seasons of his career, the game I’m most interested in involves the other team from the Sunshine State.

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Both teams have played five games before tonight in the Game of the Day series, but it is the Panthers with the better record in such games (4-1-0 and 3-2-0, respectively).  Florida‘s most recent game in the series was a 5-2 victory over the Lightning on January 23, while Detroit played more recently in Tampa Bay, falling 3-1 on Wednesday.

The 31-15-6 Florida Panthers currently lead the Atlantic Division and trail only the Washington Capitals for the Eastern Conference lead.  They play the second best defense in the league, paired with the ninth-best offense.

With Willie Mitchell’s team-leading 70 blocks, Florida has allowed 1553 shots (10 more than the league average) to reach 23-13-5 Roberto Luongo and co., of which they collectively saved a solid 93% for only 115 goals against, second-fewest in the league.  Part of that defensive success has been the Panthers‘ penalty kill, which ranks seventh-best in the league.  They’ve killed 83.33% of opposing attempts, allowing only 29 extra-man tallies against.

As good as the defense has been, the offense isn’t too far behind.  Led by Jonathan Huberdeau’s 121 attempts, Florida has fired only 1454 shots so far this season, but connected on a whopping 9.8% for 143 goals (led by Vincent Trocheck’s 17 tallies), ninth-most in the league.  One spot where the Panthers would still like to improve would be the power play, which ranks 10th-worst in the league.  They’ve capitalized on only 17.78% of opportunities for 32 power play tallies (led by Aleksander Barkov’s seven extra-man goals).

Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Penguins was Florida‘s first since resuming play after the All-Star Break, and their first in the last six games.  A win tonight pulls the Panthers into an even 10 point deficit behind the Capitals for the Eastern Conference lead, but more importantly, improves their lead over Tampa Bay to at least six points in the Atlantic Division.

The 26-18-8 Detroit Red Wings currently sit in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference, good enough for the first wildcard position.  They play the 12th-best defense in the league, paired with the ninth-worst offense.  A more in-depth analysis of the Wings‘ game can be found in Wednesday’s post.

Detroit finally won their first game since returning from the break on Saturday, besting the Islanders 5-1 in Motown.  While a win today does not change the Wings‘ position in the standings, it does have the potential to improve their lead over New Jersey should they fall to the Rangers.

Detroit and Florida have already played twice this season, with the Panthers winning both, although they needed overtime for the first meeting in Detroit in November.  They most recently met on Thursday in Sunrise, where the Panthers won 6-3.

Today’s game very well could be a preview of a first round matchup in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but of course things can change with a couple months remaining in the season.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Detroit‘s Dylan Larkin (+25 [tied for best in the league]) and Petr Mrazek (.932 save percentage [second-best in the leauge] and 2.03 GAA [tied for third-best in the league]) & Florida‘s Aaron Ekblad (+21 [sixth-best in the league]) and Luongo (four shutouts [tied for third-most in the leauge], .93 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league], 23 wins [tied for sixth-most in the league] and 2.13 GAA [tied for seventh-best in the league]).

Although the game is in Motown, the Florida Panthers are playing some of the best hockey in the league this season.  I think it is a tough ask to expect the Wings to do much to this great team.

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