December 20 – Day 69 – Getting Kul in Florida

As usual, you’d better have your remote ready for tonight’s onslaught of games, because there’s a bunch of good ones. As usual, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four games (the New York Islanders at Boston [SN], Nashville at New Jersey, the New York Rangers at Pittsburgh and Los Angeles at Columbus), followed half an hour later by another trio of contests (Anaheim at Montréal [RDS], Detroit at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Buffalo at Florida). Colorado at Minnesota drops the puck at the top of the hour, and a pair of games (Ottawa at Chicago [RDS2] and St. Louis at Dallas) wait until 8:30 p.m. Winnipeg at Vancouver gets the West Coast involved at 10 p.m., with our nightcap – Calgary at San Jose – waiting 30 minutes before getting underway.

Short list:

  • New York at Boston: Dennis Seidenberg called the TD Garden home for seven seasons, but he’s gotten a new start in Brooklyn.
  • New York at Pittsburgh: An important duel in the Metropolitan Division is also a rematch of last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.
  • Detroit at Tampa Bay: Another Eastern Quarterfinals rematch, but last season’s success is still eluding both these clubs.
  • Buffalo at Florida: Dmitry Kulikov is in the same homecoming boat as Seidenberg. He returns to his old stomping grounds of seven years with his new club.
  • St. Louis at Dallas: Yet another rematch, but this matchup occurred in the Western Semifinals.

I’m torn between featuring Kulikov or Seidenberg, as both spent considerable portions of their careers in the building they’ll be playing in this evening. Since the game in the Sunshine State will probably be much more competitive, we’ll focus on Kulikov.

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With the 14th-overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Florida Panthers selected Dmitry Kulikov from Drummondville in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

That was the last the Voltigeurs saw of the defenseman, as he signed a contract with the Panthers the following September to begin play in the NHL only a month later.

Barring the 2012-13 lockout season, Kulikov has played at least 58 games in each of the remaining six seasons of his career. While he’s been unable to fully maintain his scoring reputation from his junior days (his 138 points are 75th-most among the 603 defensemen to appear in a game since he’s joined the league), he’s still been very effective for his club as the second-highest points earner among Panthers blueliners.

Leading that group of defensemen from 2009-’16 was Brian Campbell, whose 175 points were 37 more than the Russian’s in 84 fewer games (he joined Florida before the 2011-’12 season). Both skaters notched 28 goals during their tenure with the Panthers.

Kulikov began making his way to the KeyBank Center during this season’s draft. He and Vancouver‘s second round pick that was in the Panthers‘ possession was exchanged with Buffalo for Mark Pysyk, Buffalo‘s second round pick and St. Louis‘ third round pick then in possession of the Sabres.

It’s proven to be a tough transition for Kulikov. He has yet to even notch an assist this season, much less a goal, due in part to injuring his back during the preseason. He played 12 games before taking a leave of absence that left him out of the lineup for a month. Tonight’s game is only his fifth contest back in the lineup, and he’ll certainly want to score on the team that didn’t value him enough to keep him off the trading block.

The Sabres enter tonight’s game with a 12-11-7 record to sit in last place in the Atlantic Division. They’ve gotten in that position by playing some very poor offense that has scored only 65 goals – tying with Colorado for fewest in the NHL.

Hurling insults at the Sabres offense is a difficult thing to do given Jack Eichel was injured for nearly two months. That being said, the offense did not gel without him and has put the Sabres in a tough spot to start the season. Kyle Okposo, with his 22 points to lead the team, and Rasmus Ristolainen effectively carried the team on their backs, as they are the only two skaters with more than 18 points to their credit. Okposo especially deserves credit, as his nine tallies are the most on the team.

One part of Buffalo‘s game where they did not suffer during Eichel’s absence was their man-advantage. Led by Okposo and Ristolainen’s dozen power play points, the Sabres have converted 22.9% of their advantageous opportunities, the third-best rate in the league.

As good as the power play has been, the penalty kill has been the reverse. Even with Josh Gorges‘ 14 shorthanded shot blocks (which ties him for 22nd-most in the league), the Sabres have prevented their opposition from scoring only 73.6% of the time, the worst effort in the league.

Playing host this evening are the 14-13-5 Panthers, the fifth-best team in the Atlantic Division. Just like Buffalo, their struggles are found on the offensive end of the ice, where their 75 total goals are sixth-fewest in the NHL.

The similarities between tonight’s clubs continue. Just like the Sabres, Florida has two players who have stood out among a mediocre offense. Aleksander Barkov (22) and Jon Marchessault (20) are the only two players with more than 17 points to their credit so far this season. Marchessault has been especially impressive, as his 10 goals are also the best on the squad.

The power play has really suffered during this season’s scoring slump. Florida has only potted 14.8% of their man-advantage opportunities, the seventh-worst rate in the NHL. Marchessault has been active in this situation too. His seven power play points are most on the team.

Before we go any further, there’s one more matter we need to address: Marchessault, as great has he’s been, is currently listed on the Panthers’ injury report. He’s missed the last two games with a lower body injury, and hasn’t played since last Tuesday in Minnesota.

If anything has gone right for Florida, it’s been their defense – specifically their penalty kill. Successful on 86% of attempts, the Panthers are the fifth-best team when down a man, led by Michael Matheson‘s seven shorthanded blocks.

These squads have already met up once this season at the KeyBank Center. It was a very successful night for the Sabres, as they kept the Panthers off the board, compliments of Anders Nilsson, en route to a 3-0 victory. Johan Larsson‘s first goal of the season was the winner.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Buffalo‘s Nilsson (.933 save percentage [sixth-best in the league]) and Florida‘s Barkov (15 assists among 22 points [both lead the team]).

Florida has a -150 next to their name, which is bad news for the Sabres. It’s tough not to side with the Panthers given the fact that they’re at home. Regardless of who wins, you can certainly assume it will be a low-scoring affair.

Hockey Birthday

  • Cory Stillman (1973-) – The sixth-overall pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by Calgary, this left wing played 1025 games over 16 seasons. He spent most of his days with the club that drafted him but won a Stanley Cup with both Tampa Bay (2004) and Carolina (2006).
  • Andrei Markov (1978-) – This defenseman was selected by Montréal in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft, and he’s played with the Canadiens ever since. Tonight could mark his 960th career game, provided his lower body injury sustained Sunday in Washington isn’t too severe.

It took a two-goal third period for the Ducks to knock-off the Maple Leafs, winning 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It took 27:27 before Third Star of the Game Auston Matthews (Nikita Zaitsev and Zach Hyman) scored a tip-in goal to give Toronto a 1-0 advantage, but Anaheim was able to level with 1:59 remaining in the frame. Ryan Getzlaf‘s (Sami Vatanen and First Star Cam Fowler) snapper was aided by the fact that Zaitsev was serving two minutes in the penalty box for roughing.

The Ducks when right back to work upon returning from the second intermission. 1:21 after taking the ice for the third period, Nick Ritchie (Ondrej Kase) fired a wrister to give Anaheim a 2-1 lead. It lasted 10:21 before Nazem Kadri (Matt Hunwick) scored a wrister of his own to once again level the contest. With 6:52 remaining in regulation, Fowler (Ryan Kesler) buried a power play snapper to give the Ducks a 3-2 lead they would not yield.

Second Star John Gibson saved 33-of-35 (94.3%) shots faced for the victory, leaving the loss to Frederik Andersen, saving 25-of-28 (89.3%) in the loss.

Anaheim’s victory pulls the road teams within five points of the hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series, who have a 37-23-11 record.

One thought on “December 20 – Day 69 – Getting Kul in Florida”

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