February 20 – Day 124 – Check out these cool cats

After a busy weekend of 22 games, it’s understandable that there’s only two this evening as we begin a new week. Tonight’s action starts at 8 p.m. with Florida at St. Louis (NHLN/SN/TVAS), followed an hour later by Anaheim at Arizona (SN1). All times eastern.

If you haven’t checked the standings recently, the one and only Florida Panthers have been on a bit of a surge of late and forced themselves into the Eastern Conference playoff discussion.

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Thanks in part to their current four-game winning streak, the 27-20-10 Panthers currently occupy fifth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth in the East, just a point behind Toronto in the second wild card. The simplest reason for why Florida is on the outside looking in has to be the offense, which has managed only 144 goals – the eighth-fewest in the NHL.

Vincent Trocheck has been charged with leading the Panthers‘ attack, and he has 41 points to show for it. 20 of those have been goals, which is also a team-high total. His numbers are indicative of the Panthers‘ situation overall, as many of the leading forwards’ numbers are only slightly lower than Trocheck’s. Then again, Tom Rowe did not build this team to be an offensive juggernaut, so maybe everything is going according to plan.

Regardless, it’s safe to assume that Rowe would like a little bit more productivity on the power play, as the Panthers rank fourth-worst in the league with a 15% success rate. Jon Marchessault has led that attack with 12 power play points, but Reilly Smith is the skater that’s imposed the biggest threat – he’s buried six markers on the man-advantage, the best total in Florida.

Instead, the Panthers earn their pay on the penalty kill, where they rank third-best in the league by stopping 85% of opposing man-advantages. That effort is led by Mark Pysyk, who has 12 shorthanded shot blocks to lead the squad.

Playing host this evening is 31-23-5 St. Louis, the third-best club in the Central Division. When the Blues have found success this season, it’s been on the offensive end, as their 168 tallies are 10th-most in the NHL.

The man behind that attack is exactly who you’d expect him to be. Vladimir Tarasenko not only leads the Notes with 56 points, but he also has the 10th-highest mark in the league. As the Russian continues to grow into being one of the elite scoring threats in the league, the versatile right wing’s game has evolved as defenses have worked extra hard to limit his looks at net. Those 56 points are split evenly between goals and assists, with his 28 tallies leading the club and the assists ranking second on the team.

St. Louis continues that success when they’re provided the man advantage, as their 21.6% success rate ties for sixth-best in the league. Although Tarasenko continues his scoring ways on the power play, it’s actually proven to be Kevin Shattenkirk‘s point of expertise. His 20 points with the extra man lead the team, and he ties Tarasenko with seven power play goals for tops in St. Louis.

The special teams success continues for the Blues on the penalty kill, where they rank fourth-best in the NHL. Led by Captain Alex Pietrangelo‘s 29 shorthanded shot blocks, the Notes have properly stopped 84.6% of opposing power plays.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Florida‘s Aleksander Barkov (+12 [best on the team]) and Trocheck (20 goals among 41 points [both lead the team]) & St. LouisCarter Hutton (four shutouts [tied for eighth-most in the league]) and Tarasenko (28 goals [tied for third-most in the NHL] among 56 points [10th-most in the league])

Vegas has marked St. Louis a -135 favorite, but I think that might be a little strong. While I do think the Blues will pull out the victory, Florida‘s defense is the reason they’ve surged through the Eastern table. The Notes will certainly have their hands full this evening.

Hockey Birthday

  • Phil Esposito (1942-) – If this center was the type to put his awards and trophies on his mantle, he probably had to install another fireplace. In addition to his two Stanley Cups and 10 All Star games, he also won five Ross Trophies, two Harts and two Pearsons. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984, followed three years later by his #7 being retired by Boston.
  • Pierre Bouchard (1948-) – If you’re drafted fifth-overall by Montréal in the 1965 NHL Amateur Draft, you should expect some trophies coming your way. Spending eight of his 12 seasons with the Canadiens, this defenseman hoisted five Stanley Cups.
  • Glen Hanlon (1957-) – Vancouver selected this goaltender 40th-overall in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, but he spent most of his 14 seasons with the Red Wings. He retired with a 167-202-61 career record.
  • Niclas Wallin (1975-) – Selected in the fourth-round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, this blueliner played most of his 10-year NHL career with the club that drafted him: Carolina. He was a member of the Canes‘ 2006 Stanley Cup-winning side.

No matter how hard Columbus tried, it was not able to get ahead of former Ryan Johansen and the visiting Predators, who won yesterday’s back-and-forth DtFR Game of the Day 4-3.

Ryan Ellis (Roman Josi and James Neal) got the Predators‘ scoring stared early, firing a pure slap shot only 2:24 into the game that found the back of the net.

Nashville‘s lead doubled to two thanks to a Kevin Fiala (Mike Fisher) backhander at the 9:38 mark of the second period, but Brandon Saad (Seth Jones and Second Star of the Game Zach Werenski) buried a tip-in only 58 seconds later to pull the Blue Jackets back within a goal. That theme repeated, as First Star Calle Jarnkrok (Neal and P.K. Subban) scored a snap shot with 4:20 remaining in the frame to give the Preds another two-goal lead, followed by Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s (Alexander Wennberg and Werenski) slap shot only 1:59 later to set the score at 3-2, which held into the second intermission.

Columbus finally pulled even when Werenski (Wennberg and Jones) scored his snapper 3:41 into the final frame, but Mattias Ekholm‘s (Filip Forsberg and Subban) snapper proved to be the winner, struck 5:28 later.

Third Star Juuse Saros earns the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (92.1%), leaving the loss to Sergei Bobrovsky, who saved 28-of-32 (87.5%).

With that victory, road teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have pulled within a point of the 64-44-18 homers.

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