Tag Archives: Aaron Ekblad

Florida Panthers 2017-’18 Season Preview

Florida Panthers

35-36-11, 81 points, sixth in the Atlantic Division

Additions: W Evgeni Dadonov, C Micheal Haley, RW Radim Vrbata

Subtractions: G Reto Berra (signed with ANA), F Jussi Jokinen (signed with EDM), C Jon Marchessault (drafted by VGK), F Kyle Rau (signed with MIN), D Brent Regner (signed with DAL), C Michael Sgarbossa (signed with WPG), W Reilly Smith (traded to VGK), RW Paul Thompson (signed with VGK), W Thomas Vanek (signed with VAN)

Offseason Analysis: For some, the 2015-‘16 season feels like yesterday. To others, it was ages ago.

Then there’s Florida.

2016 marked the Panthers’ second playoff appearance since 2000’s sweep by Jersey, and Florida earned that berth in the most dominating way: winning the Atlantic by six points over archrival Tampa.

Though Florida was eliminated in the first round, the future looked bright. C Aleksander Barkov, C Nick Bjugstad, D Aaron Ekblad, C Jonathan Huberdeau, Smith and F Vincent Trocheck all had yet to turn 25-years-old, and they were led by ageless wonder RW Jaromir Jagr.

A year later, although that core remained intact, the Panthers found themselves golfing early, missing the playoffs by 14 points.

It’s one thing to narrowly miss the playoffs, but how could something like this happen?

One problem was Florida’s slow start. Former head coach Gerrard Gallant’s (now Vegas’ coach) Panthers started 11-10-1 before being infamously sacked after losing 3-2 at Carolina, but general-manager-turned-head-coach Tom Rowe proved unable to turn the squad around.

Maybe it was the slow start, or maybe it was the rash firing of the best head coach in franchise history, but since I’m a numbers guy (like Panthers management claims), I believe the answer lies in Florida’s goals against. During the 2015-’16 season, the Panthers scored 232 goals and allowed only 200 for a +32 differential. Last year, Florida scored 210 times (22 less than before) and allowed 237 tallies (37 more) for a -27 differential, a net change of -59.

Where did those opposing goals come from?

I believe the answer falls squarely on the front office’s shoulders. During the playoff season, Florida allowed 29.5 shots to reach G Roberto Luongo per game, tying for 13th-best in the NHL. Last season, that number climbed to 31.6 shots-per-game – the eighth-worst mark. To be fair, Luongo didn’t have the best of campaigns with a .915 save percentage and 2.68 GAA, but the fact that defensemen Brian Campbell, 25-year-old Erik Gudbranson and 26-year-old Dmitry Kulikov all departed the team before last season began, for no other apparent reason than supposed analytics, played a major role.

Trying to resolve this situation and get his squad back to where it belongs, re-anointed GM Dale Tallon elected to not resign 45-year-old Jagr (16-30-46), allow 26-year-old Marchessault (30-21-51) to be selected in the expansion draft (but, why?) and trade 26-year-old Smith (15-22-37) to Vegas.

You read that correctly: Florida thinks offense was the problem.

Don’t get me wrong: 28-year-old Dadonov (30-36-66, KHL) and 36-year-old Vrbata (20-35-55, Arizona) will be valuable additions in replacing Jagr and Marchessault, but it’s a question if Florida’s squeaking wheel didn’t receive the grease. Even if the plan was to draft the elite defenseman of the future, Tallon didn’t select one until Max Gildon of the US NTDP in the third round. Instead, he chose RW Owen Tippett with his first pick for a club with a lot of talent on that side already.

This preview isn’t an attack on advanced analytics – I’m a fan in most instances. However, this preview is an attack on GMs changing course while building arguably the most success the franchise has ever seen (yes, I know Florida won the 1996 Eastern Conference). Unloading young offensive talent – and Jagr – a year after keeping only half the defensive corps is a recipe for disaster, both now and for the immediate future of this organization.

Instead of building a team around a desired analytic, maybe management should have learned which stat was already working and build the rest of its team around that core. Now, Florida may be left in shambles for the foreseeable future.

Offseason Grade: F

First and foremost, letting, no, working out a deal with Vegas to ensure Marchessault was selected in the expansion draft was a crazy idea. That being said, even with the departures of him and Jagr, I still feel that the Panthers’ offense is capable of showing signs of growth with Dadonov and Vrbata in comparison to last year. But, until the blue line improves, Florida will not able to climb much further than seventh place in the Atlantic Division.

2017 NHL Expansion Draft: Protected Lists

30 of the NHL’s 31 teams submitted their protected lists on Saturday by 5 p.m. ET. The protected lists were made public at 10:30 a.m. ET (originally scheduled for 10 a.m.) on Sunday. Additionally, the available lists of players to choose from were released.

The Vegas Golden Knights will now spend the next few days constructing their roster, with the full reveal set for Wednesday night during the NHL Awards Ceremony at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

To recap, here’s all of the protected players:

Anaheim Ducks

Forwards: Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Antoine Vermette

Defensemen: Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm

Goaltender: John Gibson

Arizona Coyotes

Forwards: Nick Cousins, Anthony Duclair, Jordan Martinook, Tobias Rieder

Defensemen: Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Connor Murphy, Luke Schenn

Goaltender: Chad Johnson

Boston Bruins

Forwards: David Backes, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller

Goaltender: Tuukka Rask

Buffalo Sabres

Forwards: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Zemgus Girgensons, Evander Kane, Johan Larsson, Ryan O’Reilly, Kyle Okposo

Defensemen: Nathan Beaulieu, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Ristolainen

Goaltender: Robin Lehner

Calgary Flames

Forwards: Mikael Backlund, Sam Bennett, Micheal Ferlund, Michael Frolik, Johnny Gaudreau, Curtis Lazar, Sean Monahan

Defensemen: T.J. Brodie, Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton

Goaltender: Mike Smith

Carolina Hurricanes

Forwards: Phillip Di Giuseppe, Elias Lindholm, Brock McGinn, Victor Rask, Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen

Defensemen: Trevor Carrick, Justin Faulk, Ryan Murphy

Goaltender: Scott Darling

Chicago Blackhawks

Forwards: Artem Anisimov, Ryan Hartman, Marian Hossa, Tomas Jurco, Patrick Kane, Richard Panik, Jonathan Toews

Defensemen: Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook

Goaltender: Corey Crawford

Colorado Avalanche

Forwards: Sven Andrighetto, Blake Comeau, Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Nieto

Defensemen: Tyson Barrie, Erik Johnson, Nikita Zadorov

Goaltender: Semyon Varlamov

Columbus Blue Jackets

Forwards: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad, Alexander Wennberg

Defensemen: Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard

Goaltender: Sergei Bobrovsky

Dallas Stars

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Radek Faksa, Valeri Nichushkin, Brett Ritchie, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza

Defensemen: Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell

Goaltender: Ben Bishop

Detroit Red Wings

Forwards: Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg

Defensemen: Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green, Nick Jensen

Goaltender: Jimmy Howard

Edmonton Oilers

Forwards: Leon Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu, Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

Defensemen: Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, Andrej Sekera

Goaltender: Cam Talbot

Florida Panthers

Forwards: Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trocheck

Defensemen: Aaron Ekblad, Alex Petrovic, Mark Pysyk, Keith Yandle

Goaltender: James Reimer

Los Angeles Kings

Forwards: Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli

Defensemen: Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin

Goaltender: Jonathan Quick

Minnesota Wild

Forwards: Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund, Mikko Koivu, Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Jason Zucker

Defensemen: Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter

Goaltender: Devan Dubnyk

Montreal Canadiens

Forwards: Paul Byron, Phillip Danault, Jonathan Drouin, Alex Galchenyuk, Brendan Gallagher, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Shaw

Defensemen: Jordie Benn, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber

Goaltender: Carey Price

Nashville Predators

Forwards: Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen

Defensemen: Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban

Goaltender: Pekka Rinne

New Jersey Devils

Forwards: Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac

Defensemen: Andy Greene, John Moore, Mirco Mueller, Damon Severson

Goaltender: Cory Schneider

New York Islanders

Forwards: Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, John Tavares

Defensemen: Johnny Boychuk, Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock

Goaltender: Thomas Greiss

New York Rangers

Forwards: Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello

Defensemen: Nick Holden, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal

Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist

Ottawa Senators

Forwards: Derick Brassard, Ryan Dzingel, Mike Hoffman, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Zack Smith, Mark Stone, Kyle Turris

Defensemen: Cody Ceci, Erik Karlsson, Dion Phaneuf

Goaltender: Craig Anderson

Philadelphia Flyers

Forwards: Sean Couturier, Valtteri Filppula, Claude Giroux, Scott Laughton, Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek

Defensemen: Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning

Goaltender: Anthony Stolarz

Pittsburgh Penguins

Forwards: Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin

Defensemen: Brian Dumoulin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz

Goaltender: Matt Murray

San Jose Sharks

Forwards: Ryan Carpenter, Logan Couture, Jannik Hansen, Tomas Hertl, Melker Karlsson, Joe Pavelski, Chris Tierney

Defensemen: Justin Braun, Brent Burns, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Goaltender: Martin Jones

St. Louis Blues

Forwards: Patrik Berglund, Ryan Reaves, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, Paul Stastny, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko

Defensemen: Jay Bouwmeester, Joel Edmundson, Alex Pietrangelo

Goaltender: Jake Allen

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards: Ryan Callahan, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov, Ondrej Palat, Steven Stamkos

Defensemen: Braydon Coburn, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman

Goaltender: Andrei Vasilevskiy

Toronto Maple Leafs

Forwards: Tyler Bozak, Connor Brown, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Josh Leivo, Matt Martin, James van Riemsdyk

Defensemen: Connor Carrick, Jake Gardiner, Morgan Rielly

Goaltender: Frederik Andersen

Vancouver Canucks

Forwards: Sven Baertschi, Loui Eriksson, Markus Granlund, Bo Horvat, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Brandon Sutter

Defensemen: Alexander Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Christopher Tanev

Goaltender: Jacob Markstrom

Washington Capitals

Forwards: Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, Lars Eller, Marcus Johansson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin, Tom Wilson

Defensemen: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov

Goaltender: Braden Holtby

Winnipeg Jets

Forwards: Joel Armia, Andrew Copp, Bryan Little, Adam Lowry, Mathieu Perreault, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler

Defensemen: Dustin Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Jacob Trouba

Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck

December 10 – Day 59 – Gudbranson is Badbranson when he’s playing against your team

Welcome to the weekend. It’s been waiting for you.

I know you have big plans for these 48 hours, but make sure to make some room for hockey. There’s quite a selection of games today, starting with Dallas at Philadelphia (SN1) at 1 p.m., followed three hours later by Ottawa at Los Angeles (RDS). Five games start at the usual 7 p.m. time (Toronto at Boston [CBC/NHLN], Colorado at Montréal [CITY/SN360/TVAS], Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay, Vancouver at Florida [SN] and the New York Islanders at Columbus), trailed an hour later by Nashville at Arizona. The West Coast gets involved at 10 p.m. with Winnipeg at Calgary (CBC/SN) and tonight’s nightcap – Carolina at San Jose – drops the puck half an hour after. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Boston: Everybody loves an Original Six matchup!
  • Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay: Last season, it took seven games for the Penguins to best the Bolts in the Eastern Finals.
  • Vancouver at Florida: The first five seasons of Erik Gudbranson‘s career was spent in Florida, but since this offseason he’s called British Columbia home.
  • Winnipeg at Calgary: Tonight’s contest is the first meeting of the season between these rivals.

Since Gudbranson will only make one trip to the Sunshine State this season – barring an improbable CanucksPanthers Stanley Cup Finals – we’ll follow Vancouver to the BB&T Center.

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Welcome home Gudbranson. The defenseman was the third-overall selection in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and he made his NHL debut only a season later. It was a quick introduction to the senior club, as skipping an introductory stop in San Antonio, Florida‘s AHL side.

Gudbranson made an immediate impact on the club, always playing 64 or more games for the Panthers (barring, of course, the 2012-’13 lockout). Over the course of his tenure in Florida, Gubdranson was known as a violent player – the most physical in the dressing room. He threw an impressive 754 hits while playing for the Panthers (the 11th-most among the 484 eligible over that time-span), including a hit season in 2014-15 where he landed 2.8 hits per game.

He also performed his primary duties well, blocking 344 shots before catching a plane to Canada, the third-most for the franchise during his tenure.

He found his way to Vancouver this summer in a trade that included a total of three 2016 draft picks (evenctually becoming Jonathan Ang and Adam Mascherin for Florida and Cole Candella for Vancouver) and Jared McCann joining the Panthers.

He joins a 12-13-2 Canucks club that currently occupies sixth place in the Pacific Division. Much of the reason his team hasn’t found success is not his fault, as it is the offense that has not been producing. Vancouver has notched only 62 goals so far this season, the fourth-fewest in the NHL.

As usual, the Sedins are doing all they can to keep the Canucks alive. Daniel Sedin leads the squad with 18 points, but brother Henrik Sedin is right behind with 17. Bo Horvat joins D. Sedin for the scoring lead, as they both have lit the lamp eight times.

Unfortunately for Vancouver, neither 18 points nor eight goals breaks the top-50 in scoring this season – yet those are the numbers leading their team. That’s not a good sign for the other forwards expected to produce scoring.

Much of those struggles can be attributed to a lackluster power play. Vancouver ties for the fifth-worst power play in the league, converting only 14.1% of opportunities. Once again, who else to lead the Canucks but the Sedins? They both have six man-advantage points for top in the clubhouse, but D. Sedin probably deserves more credit as he has three power play goals.

Impressively, Vancouver has certainly buckled down on their own end when facing the man-advantage. Their 84.9% ties for seventh-best in the NHL, and was led by Alexander Edler and his 10 shorthanded blocks before he broke a finger. The man of the hour is right behind, notching nine for second-most, and has been expected to assume the role Edler left behind.

Playing host this evening are the 12-12-4 Florida Panthers, currently the sixth-best team in the Atlantic Division. Similarly to Vancouver, it has been their offensive struggles that have held them back from greater success. The Panthers have notched only 64 goals this year, tying for fifth-fewest in the game.

Jon Marchessault has been the man in charge of that offense, as he’s notched 19 points this season and 10 goals – already the best mark of his NHL career after only 25 games – to lead the squad. Unfortunately for the Panthers, he has been sidelined for the past week, and his status is unknown for tonight’s game. In his stead, Florida turns to Aleksander Barkov, who has 18 points on his campaign, and the three goalscorers (Aaron Ekblad, Jaromir Jagr and Vincent Trocheck) that tie for second-most goals on the team with six apiece.

If the Canucks‘ power play is bad, the Panthers‘ is much, much worse. They tie for worst in the league, successful on only 13.5% of their attempts. Once again, that was Marchessault’s responsibility before he got hurt, as his seven points and three power play goals both led the team. Florida is left with Barkov (five power play points), Jagr (three goals among five points) and Keith Yandle (five power play points )to pick up the slack while their breakout star is healing his lower-body injury.

Fortunately, the penalty kill has been outstanding, negating 85% of their infractions for the sixth-best mark in the league. Michael Matheson has headed that department with seven shorthanded blocks to his name.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Florida‘s Barkov (13 assists [leads the team]) and Trocheck (72 hits [leads the team]) & Vancouver‘s Gudbranson (61 hits [leads the team]) and D. Sedin (18 points [leads the team]).

Vegas has marked Florida a -205 favorite this evening, but I think that’s a little strong given both teams play a similar style. If Marchessault can go, I think the Panthers can win, but without him I think the Canucks can pull off the road victory.

Hockey Birthday:

  • Rob Blake (1969-) – Los Angeles drafted this defenseman in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft, and he played 805 games over 14 seasons for the Kings. He was a member of the 2000-’01 Colorado club that hoisted the Stanley Cup, as well as on the coaching staff for the 2013-’14 champion Kings. His number 4 hangs in the Staples Center rafters for being a seven-time All-Star and winner of the 1998 Norris Trophy.
  • T.J. Hensick (1985-) – A 2005 NHL Entry Draft selection by Colorado, he’s appeared in 112 senior-level games. His longest stint in the NHL was in 2008-’09, when he played 61 games for the Avs.

When your first goal of the season is a game-winner, you’re going to have a good night. Ask the Ducks, who beat San Jose 3-2 in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Anaheim got the scoring started relatively quickly, as Rickard Rakell‘s (Third Star of the Game Shea Theodore and Corey Perry) wrist shot found the back of the net only 4:44 after beginning play. With 4:54 remaining in the frame, the Ducks doubled their score with a wrister from Second Star Antoine Vermette (Theodore and Nick Ritchie), but Brent Burns (Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski) and San Jose reeled them back in with six ticks remaining in the frame, setting the score at 2-1 going into the first intermission.

The Sharks knotted the score at two-all 8:40 into the second period with a Kevin Labanc (Logan Couture and Joel Ward) snapper, only his third tally of the season. That score held to the end of the frame, setting up an exciting third and final period.

With 5:38 remaining in regulation, First Star Hampus Lindholm (Ritchie and Ryan Kesler) buried his first goal of the season to break the tie and earn the Ducks first place in the Pacific Division.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 22-of-24 shots faced (91.7%), while Martin Jones takes the loss, saving 29-of-32 (90.6%).

This entire business week has been dominated by the home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as their fifth-straight victory gives them an 11-point advantage over the roadies for a 34-19-8 record.

November 29 – Day 48 – Rowe says it’s Tommy Time!

Welcome to the last Tuesday of November. I know, it’s not very momentous on its own, but the NHL is helping out with a dozen hockey games to watch. The action starts at – you guessed it – 7 p.m. with a couple of games (Carolina at the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay at Columbus), followed half an hour later by three more (Boston at Philadelphia [NBCSN/TVAS], Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS2] and Dallas at Detroit). New Jersey at Winnipeg starts at 8 p.m., with Florida at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before beginning. 9 p.m. marks two puck drops (Nashville at Colorado and Toronto at Edmonton [NBSCN]), with tonight’s tri-nightcap getting green lit at 10 p.m. (Minnesota at Vancouver, Montréal at Anaheim [RDS] and Arizona at San Jose). All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Carolina at New York: Last season, Viktor Stalberg played in Madison Square Garden on the regular. Tonight, he’s just visiting.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: A rivalry game, with the chance to be made more special by the return of Jack Eichel.
  • Florida at Chicago: Tom Rowe coaches the first NHL game of his career.

Stalberg will return to Manhattan again, and rivals will be rivals, but you only make your coaching debut once. Let’s see what Rowe’s got.

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Rowe’s carer in the NHL began after being drafted 37th-overall in the 1976 NHL Amateur Draft. By the time he hung his skates up the last time, he’d played 357 career games with three different franchises, most of which with Washington, the club that drafted him. His best season was the third of his career, when he scored 31 goals and notched another 30 assists to become the first-ever American to bury 30 or more tallies in a season.

Rowe had been a coach at multiple levels, but he took his first head coaching job in a senior-level league in 2012 when he took command of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, replacing Brad McCrimmon who died in the Lokomotiv plane crash. He led a team of all new players to a 24-18-0 season.

He only kept the job for a year before returning to the States to begin his tenure with the Panthers‘ organization. He took the same job he had with Lokomotiv, but with the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL. He stuck with the team in their move to Portland before being promoted mid-season to associate general manager on New Year’s Day 2016. By the time he departed Portland, he’d amassed an 88-66-17 record.

If only normal people not involved in sports could get promotions as quick as Rowe. He was associate GM for only four-and-a-half months before replacing Dale Tallon as the man in-charge.

That brings us to Sunday’s move. Gerard Gallant entered PNC Arena as head coach of the then 11-9-1. By the time he exited, he added another loss, had a pink slip in hand and was in search of a job.

It turns out, Rowe already had a new coach in mind: himself. It seems to be the trend in Miami of late, as Dan Jennings did the same thing with the Marlins for most of the 2015 season. If the baseball team in town is any indication, the future doesn’t look bright for the Panthers.

That being said, Jennings had one specific thing playing against him: no managerial experience. Rowe has been a consistent winner, so it will be interesting to see how the Panthers‘ season unfolds.

Rowe completely takes over a 11-10-1 Florida club that sits in fifth in the Atlantic Division. Statistically, they’ve been simply average this season, scoring 55 goals (19th-best) against 57 allowed ([t]15th-best). Given their rankings against the league on those numbers, we’ll pin the poor start to the season on the offense.

Of the Panthers‘ 55 goals, center Jon Marchessault has been involved in 17 of them to lead the team. 10 of those points have been goals, which also is tops in the dressing room. Perhaps that is the biggest problem for Florida: goal distribution. Aaron Ekblad and Vincent Trocheck tie for second-place in the goal-scoring race, but with only six tallies apiece.

Not surprisingly, the power play has been especially poor for the Panthers. They’ve been successful on only 14.7% of their attempts to rank 10th-worst in the NHL. Leading the team’s special team is – you guessed it – Marchessault, as he has three power play goals among six points.

Hosting them this evening is the best team in the Western Conference – the 14-6-3 Chicago Blackhawks. As usual in an even-numbered Stanley Cup year, they’ve been led by their impressive offense which has notched 65 goals – second-most in the conference and seventh-most in the league.

Who else to front the Hawks‘ attack than right wing Patrick Kane? The former first pick has 23 points to his credit, 21.7% of last season’s total a little over a quarter of the way through this year’s campaign. He hasn’t always been the goalscorer, though. That title goes to Marian Hossa, who has 11 tallies on his resume.

Every team has a weakness, and the Windy City‘s is the penalty kill. The Blackhawks rank dead-last in the NHL, stopping the opposition’s man-advantage only 70.8% of the time. Niklas Hjalmarsson may have a dozen shorthanded blocks to his credit, but more Hawks need to get involved to avoid another early playoff exit.

Some players to keep an eye on tonight include Chicago‘s Corey Crawford (two shutouts [tied for sixth-most in the NHL] among 10 wins [tied for eighth-most in the league]), Hossa (11 goals [tied for seventh-most in the NHL]), Kane (23 points [tied for fourth-most in the league] on 15 assists [tied for fourth-most in the NHL]) and Artemi Panarin (21 points [tied for eigth-most in the league]) & Florida‘s Aleksander Barkov (12 assists [leads his team]), Derek MacKenzie (52 hits [leads his team]), Alex Petrovic (+8 [leads his team]) and Mark Pysyk (30 blocks [leads his team]).

Chicago is marked by Vegas with a -135 next to their name, a line they’ve certainly earned. Rowe is not going to solve all the Panthers‘ plane ride from Raleigh to Chicago, so I am leaning towards the Hawks continuing their great season.

Hockey Birthday

  • Neal Broten (1959-) – A center drafted 42nd-overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft by the Minnesota North Stars, he played 17 NHL seasons and hoisted the Stanley Cup once with the 1994-’95 Devils. Of course, he may be even more remembered for being a part of the Miracle on Ice at Lake Placid. Either way, he was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000, two years after his No. 7 was raised to the Stars‘ rafters.
  • Brad May (1971-) – The 14th-overall pick in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft, May played 18 seasons in the league – most of which with Buffalo, the club that drafted him. He won the Stanley Cup in 2006-07 with Anaheim.
  • Pavol Demitra (1974-2011) – This left wing won the 1999-00 Lady Byng Trophy while skating for the Blues, the team he spent most of his 16 seasons with. He was one of the 44 people that died in 2011 Lokomotiv plane crash.
  • Tanner Glass (1983-) – A scrapper currently skating for Hartford in the Rangers‘ system, he’s played in the past nine NHL seasons. Most of his time was spent in Vancouver, where he helped the Canucks qualify for the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Finals.

For the second time in the last three days, the DtFR Game of the Day has required more than 60 minutes to declare a winner. This time, it was host St. Louis beating the Stars 4-3 in overtime.

With 6:24 remaining in the opening frame, Third Star of the Game Robby Fabbri (Robert Bortuzzo and Jori Lehtera) gave the Notes a 1-0 lead with a wrister to beat Antti Niemi.

Only 4:17 into the second period, that lead doubled when Alex Pietrangelo (Patrik Berglund and Colton Parayko) scored a power play backhander. Dallas returned the differential to one with 3:39 remaining in the period with a Second Star Jamie Oleksiak (Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin) wrister.

The Stars must have received quite the motivational speech during intermission, as Benn (Julius Honka and Jason Spezza) buried a power play wrister to level the game at two-all. 11:25 later, St. Louis took the lead again with a First Star David Perron (Jaden Schwartz and Jay Bouwmeester) wrister. That lead nearly lasted to the final horn, but not before Oleksiak (Honka and Benn) buried a slap shot with with Niemi pulled. To three-on-three overtime we went.

The extra period lasted only 3:24 before Vladimir Tarasenko (Lehtera and Kevin Shattenkirk) scored a wrister to end the game.

Jake Allen earned the victory after saving 18-of-21 shots faced (85.7%), forcing Niemi to take the overtime loss, saving 27-of-31 (87.1%).

The Blues‘ win sets the DtFR Game of the Day series at 27-16-7, favoring the home squads by seven points over the roadies.

Colby’s Corner World Cup of Hockey Predictions

This year the World Cup of Hockey makes its long-awaited return and it has many excited. It’s an eight-team spectacle and show of nationalism on a different platform than the usual tournaments.

world cup of hockey

The eight teams are Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, USA, Canada, Team Europe and Team North America. Team Europe is made up of all of the best players from Europe, who don’t have teams represented in the tournament. Team North America is made up of American- and Canadian-born players under the age of 23.

All of these teams played three exhibition games against the other teams. Most of the teams finished with a record of two and one, except for team Finland, team Russia and Team Europe, as all three teams went 1-2.

With all of this being said, I am here to share my final four teams and who I think the favorite is to win it all.

My first semi-finalist isn’t a big surprise as I have Canada.

Canada is the powerhouse in all of the national tournaments and will be in the semis, and I don’t think anyone will argue with me on this point. Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Toews all on one team. These are three of the best leaders in the league and they are all one team.

Not to mention the best goaltending issue ever, they have Braden Holtby, Corey Crawford and Carey Price. I think I wouldn’t mind any of these goalies being my number one goalie. However Canada is not my favorite to win it all. Sorry Canada!

My second finalist is kind of surprise as I’m backing the young guns with Team North America.

North America is going to surprise a lot of people when they make the semis of this tournament. Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin and others have a point to prove as the youth movement is coming and they can compete with these vets. They are extremely fast and I think will blow the doors off some of these aging teams.

They have Aaron Ekblad, a kid who plays like 10-year veteran. They also have the hottest goalie in the NHL in Matt Murray. I don’t think he’ll have any issues in this tourney, but again, North America isn’t my favorite to win it all.

 

My third finalist, and my favorite to win it all, is team Sweden

Sweden is my favorite to win it all strictly because they are the best-rounded team in my opinion. They have Henrik Lundqvist in goal, and we know how good he is at the start of the year. They have the strongest defense core with Victor Hedman and Erik Karlsson looking to lead the way.

Let’s not forget the Vancouver 1st line with the Sedin twins (Daniel and Henrik) and Loui Eriksson. I think this will be the best line of the tournament and you will see them in the end with the highest point totals. Sweden will win the tournament and they will get back on the top of the world.

 

My fourth finalist was the hardest to pick, however, I’ll take team USA.

I choose USA based off of heart and grit… No I am not Don Sweeney! I chose USA because they have a point to prove. They aren’t the biggest underdog, but many people don’t think USA will have a good showing in this tournament.

The best part of team USA is John Tortorella. He is a quote machine and makes a good tournament from a media perspective. A lot of team USA’s hope will rely on Patrick Kane, and after a 100-plus point season, I am interested in finding out if he can do it again.

Numbers Game: Top-5 Pending UFA Defensemen

By: Nick Lanciani

12:01 PM ET on July 1st (precisely) marks the start of the NHL’s free agency period, so of course, you’ve found yourself scavenging the Internet for the freshest hot takes and the best indications of where players will end up. Likewise, you probably just want to know who’s available out there (and I’m not talking about Tinder).

Well fear not, because I’m here to set things straight with a short series of posts about the Top-5 free agents in every category you can think of (UFA forwards, UFA defensemen, UFA goalies, RFA forwards, RFA defensemen and RFA goalies) in this latest edition of Numbers Game posts. So let’s continue our journey with the lackluster UFA defensemen market this summer.

Down the Frozen River- Smaller Circular Logo

1. D Jason Demers (7-16-23 totals with the Dallas Stars)- $3.400 million cap hit, 27 years old

Look, none of these defensemen are spectacular, but they’re all about to be paid ridiculous sums of money because of that good ol’ supply and demand factor. A lot of teams need to fix their blue line, not a lot of defensemen can do that for them. Your best bet is to trade for a defensemen if you can’t at least patch some wounds (and hope they turn out better than expected) with these guys.

To start, let’s take a look at Jason Demers who is the best of this group, in terms of age, experience and a chance to supply you a little more depth and stability. His season was cut short due to injury, but he managed to put up a respectable 23 points on the season in 62 games played, which almost matched his 25 point season in 2014-2015 in 81 games played with Dallas and the San Jose Sharks.

His career year was in 2013-2014 when he notched 5-29-34 totals in 75 games played for the Sharks, but judging from how he was tracking this season, despite the injury, he might have been able to pace, if not better, his career best totals.

A healthy Demers at only 27 years old is a risk worth taking if you are in desperate need of a guy or you cannot find a trading partner. His value will be driven up immensely compared to some of the other older UFA defensemen. Likewise, he’s better at the defensive aspect of the game than Kris Russell, so he’s sure to be a hot commodity if teams are smart.

2. D Brian Campbell (6-25-31 totals with the Florida Panthers)- $7.143 million cap hit, 36 years old

Brian Campbell was an almost 40 point scorer in 2013-2014 and he’s certainly nothing like his former self in 2007-2008 when he had 8-54-62 totals in 83 games for the Buffalo Sabres and the San Jose Sharks.

Although age doesn’t appear to be an issue for his competitiveness.

With proper balance on a lineup with some already mature defensemen, like the Chicago Blackhawks, where he has a distinct interest in returning, Campbell could have his minutes easily distributed and become a clutch asset for an organization in the waning years of his career. Because of that, a short term contract only seems logical.

In 82 games this season, Campbell had 6-25-31 totals with the Florida Panthers. That’s only five points shy of Aaron Ekblad’s sophomore season 36 points in 78 games, but one defenseman is sure to shine and the other will soon decline. Though it can’t hurt to take on Campbell while he’s still capable of producing.

3. D Luke Schenn (4-12-16 totals with the Philadelphia Flyers/Los Angeles Kings)- $3.600 million, 26 years old

Chalk Luke Schenn up as one of the best “why not, maybe he still has something to prove” potential UFA defensemen. Schenn’s been in the league since the 2008-2009 season and has played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings.

Although he was kind of an afterthought in the late season acquisition by the Kings in the Vincent Lecavalier trade, we’re talking mostly depth guys that can solidify your top-6 defensive scope on the blue line this offseason.

Schenn usually ends up with somewhere around 20 points a year, ranging from a career low 3-8-11 totals in 47 games played during the 2012-2013 lockout shortened season to a career high 22 points in 2010-2011 (82 games played) and 2011-2012 (79 games played). His numbers this season could have been around 20 points or more, had he not played in only 72 games. Maybe there’s still hope if you find him the right pair.

Whatever you do, just don’t over pay or let him over stay. Give Schenn another chance to prove his worth and maybe things will work out. If not, he’ll be trade bait once again around the trade deadline, when teams are searching for just about any depth defenseman.

4. D Patrick Wiercioch (0-5-5 totals with the Ottawa Senators)- $2.000 million cap hit, 25 years old

Highly underrated and touted as a “should have been traded at the deadline while you still could’ve gotten an asset in return,” Patrick Wiercioch is a defenseman that might be able to help you now, but still has plenty of room to grow, develop and be groomed properly.

If you’re the Ottawa Senators you have got to be kicking yourselves for not trying. If you’ve seen the asset management around the league lately when it comes to trades, who knows, maybe the Senators would have been able to walk away with two or three decent draft picks and maybe even a roster player had they moved Wiercioch in March. I mean, I’m sure Don Sweeney would’ve taken that deal, based on how the Boston Bruins acquired John-Michael-Liles.

But enough about other guys, more on Wiercioch’s playing ability.

If there’s one positive for sure to signing Wiercioch in free agency it’s that he’s 25 years old. Defensemen normally start to reach their prime around 27 years of age and until then are very malleable in the right circumstances. The question is how much are teams willing to pay and how much is he going to drive the price up for his services because the ball is in his court— or should I say the puck is in his zone?

His services were dismal this season though, notching five assists in 52 games played. Granted, Ottawa juggled him in and out of the lineup more times than he could have been able to get any rhythm going. In 53 games in 2013-2014, Wiercioch had 4-19-23 totals as a young 23-year-old hungry for more.

5. D Kris Russell (4-15-19 totals with the Calgary Flames/Dallas Stars)- $2.600 million cap hit, 28 years old

In this year’s “bound to be overpaid, but since there’s no one else available, he’ll easily get overpaid and sign a long contract, reminiscent of Brooks Orpik’s deal with the Washington Capitals” category, we have Kris Russell.

In 62 games played he had 4-15-19 totals among his time with the Calgary Flames and the Dallas Stars this season. The trade deadline pickup by Stars GM Jim Nill didn’t pan out as well as he had been performing in Calgary, though, when Russell went from a top-4 to a top-6 defenseman (if that in Dallas).

Yes, his scoring was up in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 from 29 points to 34 points, however, the secondary assist is still a thing that exists and the Flames as a whole have dramatically improved their offense with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and company.

Buyer beware, Russell might be a top-5 pending UFA defenseman, but he’s really one of the worse options and has traveled around the league a bit from his rookie year with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007-2008. He’s since made visits with the St. Louis Blues, Flames and Stars as the 28 year old has yet to play a full 82 game season and faces a shaky performance.

Honorable Mentions

D Eric Gryba (1-5-6 totals with the Edmonton Oilers)- $1.250 million cap hit, 27 years old

In 53 games played with the dismal Edmonton Oilers, Eric Gryba put up 1-5-6 totals, which is not good, but not bad either. If anything, it shows you that Gryba is an average guy, who, when not injured or out of the lineup as a healthy scratch, can be a dependable top-6 defenseman when you need a quick fix.

He’s no end all solution to any problem, by any means. He’s just a guy that in the right environment, could really take his career best 0-12-12 totals in 2014-2015 and at least match it, if not improve it and/or double it. A lot of teams see no more second chances in Gryba, but clearly Peter Chiarelli wanted him for something in Edmonton when he acquired him. Maybe now Gryba can find a better roster at his discretion.

D John-Michael Liles (6-15-21 totals with the Carolina Hurricanes/Boston Bruins)- $3.875 million cap hit, 35 years old

When you’re in a jam like Sweeney was, you go out and get a veteran defenseman to give you a better chance than a bunch of pylons. Okay, jokes aside about the Bruins defense, John-Michael Liles actually had a lot to contribute, before missing the last game of the regular season due to injury.

Liles floats around 20 points a season as one of those sturdy top-6, bottom pair, defensemen, that can play top-4 minutes when you need someone to step up. In 2010-2011 with the Colorado Avalanche, Liles had 6-40-46 totals in 76 games played. Likewise, his career best 14-35-49 totals in 82 games came back on a very different looking Avalanche roster of the 2005-2006 season. Liles was also a lot fresher then and highly underrated. But nowadays, he’s that quality veteran defensive voice on your roster that absolutely still has a place in this league for a few more years.

D Zach Trotman (2-5-7 totals with the Boston Bruins)- $625,000 cap hit, 25 years old

If you’re willing to take a risk on any pending-UFA defensemen and you don’t get one of the highly coveted players already mentioned, why not take a risk on young Zach Trotman? It’s perplexing when one analyzes Boston’s depth chart and their use of Trotman as to why they are not giving him at least one more year, but maybe he’s the next Matt Hunwick.

Disregarded as a potential top-4 defenseman, Hunwick and Trotman have a lot in common. They weren’t utilized properly. Hunwick’s now found his stride, albeit older and as a top-6/depth defenseman with the Maple Leafs, while Trotman has the chance to double his career totals, if only someone would let him play more than the 38 games he played this season. Perhaps the last pick of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft could be more valued than the top six picks of that draft year? Only time will tell, but one thing remains for sure, all six of those guys got traded.

The Islanders Takes Game 3 in Overtime

On Sunday April 17th the New York Islanders defeated the Florida Panthers 4-3 in overtime. Thomas Hickey scored the winner in overtime. The New York Islanders have a 2-1 series lead now. Both Thomas Greiss and Roberto Luongo had strong nights. Reilly Smith had a great night for Panthers, as he had 1 goal and 2 assists in a losing effort. New York Islanders Logo

The Barclays Center saw its first ever playoff action and it didn’t take long for the arena to see its first playoff goal. Unfortunately, it came for the visitors, as Reilly Smith scored his 4th goal of the playoff just around 2 minutes into the game. Alex Petrovic and Michael Matheson picked up the assists on the play. Florida was dominating play, getting a lot of chances and peppering Thomas Greiss. As the period went on, the Islanders got their feet going and began exchanging chances, but Roberto Luongo was up to the task. Both teams were throwing their weight around as there were 34 hits thrown in the first.

The second period was much more eventful with 5 goals being scored. The first goal of the period went to Florida as Aleksander Barkov scored just a minute into the game. He turned the puck in off the back wall after a missed shot by Reilly Smith. Aaron Ekblad thought he had his first career playoff goal as he beat Greiss. Upon a coach’s challenge they saw the play was offside, canceling his goal. The Islanders scored the next goal as Ryan Pulock got his first career playoff goal on a 5-3 powerplay. Pulock shot from the point, beat Luongo, and Kyle Okpose and John Tavares picked up assists on the goal.

The Panthers were able to regain their two goal advantage with Nick Unknown-2Bjugstad getting his second of playoffs. Dmitry Kulikov and Reilly Smith picked up assists on the goal giving Smith 3 points on the night.  The Islanders weren’t going to be denied however, as Shane Prince got his first career playoff goal with just 8 minutes remaining in the 2nd period. The comeback was completed with three minutes remaining as Frans Nielsen scored on a backhand for his second of playoffs. Both Kyle Okposo and John Tavares picked up their second assists on the game.  

The 3rd period saw both teams exchanging chances but neither team could find the back of the net, thus we head to overtime. Both Luongo and Greiss had a strong overtime period making some great saves keeping their teams in it. The game ended with Thomas Hickey finding the back of the net 12:31 into overtime.  

The next game will be Wednesday, April 20th 8pm at Barclays Center. The game can be seen on USA network.

Roberto Luongo, Bjugstad, and Smith Overpower New York to Even Up the Series.

The Florida Panthers defeated the New York Islanders by the score of 2-1 on Friday night in front of a rocking 18,373 at the BB&T Center. The Panthers were led by their All-Star goaltender Roberto Luongo who made 41 saves in their winning effort.

Both teams started off the game by sending their 4th line to the opening faceoff to try to gain momentum. This worked in favor of both sides being that just 42 seconds into the game there already was a scrum. The scrum involved the two team’s enforcers Shawn Thornton and Matt Martin but didn’t amount to anything. Just three minutes later on the Panthers sixth shot, Rielly Smith (his 3rd goal in just two games) scored the game’s first goal off a juicy rebound from Thomas Greiss, assisted by Nick Bjugstad and Johnathan Huberdeau.

Rocco Grimaldi took the game’s first penalty just two minutes later after he took down Islanders center, Alan Quine. This would send the Islanders to the power power where they looked to even up to score. They were able to sustain a good amount of pressure, but with just one weak shot from the point, it never amounted to anything great. Then 12 minutes later Panthers left winger Garret Wilson tripped Islanders left winger Shane Prince resulting in their second power play of the period. Unfortunately, this PP was worse than the first one resulting in no shots. So, the first period ended 1-0 in favor of the Panthers.

The second period started just like the first, with both coaches sending out their 4th line to set the tone, but this time nothing happened. The first prime scoring chance and momentum went to the Panthers at 17:04 of the second period from veteran defenseman Dmitry Kulikov after Greiss shut down his first shot from the slot with a great toe/blocker save. Then just 3 minutes and 21 seconds later Dmitry Kulikov found Reilly Smith behind the net who then found a cutting Nick Bjugstad (who slipped poor coverage from Islanders right-winger Josh Bailey) with a spinning backhand pass and Bjugstad roofed his first of the playoffs to open the Panthers scoring tab in the second period.

With 1:27 remaining in the second period we had our games first major altercation. Of course, you might have even guessed it, it involved both teams 4th line again! The Islanders enforcers went at it trying to gain energy for their team who were down 2-0 at the time. It seemed that everyone on the ice had a man tied up and were going back and forth. Before it all started, the pesky Casey Cizikas gave Panthers D-man Aaron Ekblad a shot below the belt and his teammates didn’t like that and a brawl commenced. After everything settled down, a total of 6 penalties were handed out, with both teams sending 3 players to the box. Believe it or not, each player on the 4th line for both teams got two minutes for roughing with Cizikas getting an extra penalty for the low blow. So, the Panthers went on their first power play, but it resulting in nothing special.

The start of the third period was a slow one, with no team truly gaining momentum. One of the first actions of the period was at the 15:47 mark of the third period when Cal Clutterbuck made two beautiful toe drags to gain the zone and gave Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic no choice but to drag Clutterbuck down and go to the box for holding. The Islanders would then get their third PP of the game. They grabbed three high-quality shots during the 2-minute span, but Roberto Luongo was up to the task and kept the shots out of his net.

Then with 3:33 seconds remaining in the game, the Islanders were able to ultimately get one past the stellar Luongo with their 40th shot of the game. With their superstar, John Tavares corralling Nick Leddy’s point shot off the boards and slamming the puck past Luongo’s right pad for his second of the playoffs. Also, Kyle Okposo grabbed the secondary apple (assist) on the goal. They then pulled goaltender Thomas Greiss for the extra attacker pushing for that tying goal. They only managed two shots, but “Lu” wasn’t having any of it and shut the door. The Panthers would then ice the game on an empty net goal scored by Dmitry Kulikov assisted by Aleksander Barkov at 19:51 of the third period.

New York outshot Florida 42-31 and outhit the Panthers 32-22. While Florida won in the faceoff category 36-27, lead in giveaways 13-9, and blocked shots 12-8. Florida was 0/1 on the power play while New York was 0/3.

First Start Roberto Luongo would earn his first playoff win since 2011 when he was with the Vancouver Canucks after saving 41 out of 42 shots (.976%). While Thomas Greiss, who played a great game, gets stuck with the loss after saving 28 out of 30 shots (.933%).

The series is now tied at one game apiece (1-1).  Both teams will now grab a flight up north to Brooklyn, New York for Game 3 on Sunday with puck drop scheduled for 8 PM. You can catch this matchup on NBCSN, SN, MSG+, or FS-F.

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.

January 23 – Day 105 – Governor’s Cup

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between the St. Louis Blues and the Colorado Avalanche needed a shootout to determine the home team as the winner.

The Blues scored the first goal of the night with only 2:03 remaining in the second period, as Troy Brouwer assisted Alexander Steen to his 15th goal of the season, this one a wrister to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead heading into the second intermission.

The Avalanche waited until only 54 seconds remained in regulation to level the score at one-all.  Third Star of the Game Nathan MacKinnon fired a wrister of his own after assists from Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie (his 23rd helper of the season).  The one-all score not only held to the completion of regulation, but also throughout the three-on-three overtime period, forcing the game to the shootout.

Only one goal was scored in the shootout, courtesy of Gabriel Landeskog, to secure the bonus point for Colorado.

First Star Semyon Varlamov saved 34 of 35 (97.1%) to improve his record to 18-12-3, while Second Star Brian Elliott’s falls to 10-5-5 after saving 41 of 42 (97.6%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 46-20-9, favoring the home squad by 36 points over the roadies.

It’s a busy, exciting Saturday schedule, with 22 teams in action!  The festivities get started at 12:30 p.m. eastern when Vancouver visits Pittsburgh (SN), with the other matinee starting at 4 p.m. eastern when Minnesota visits San Jose.  Five games get started at the usual 7 p.m. eastern starting time (Columbus at Boston, Montréal at Toronto [CBC/NHLN/TVAS], Anaheim at Detroit, Tampa Bay at Florida and New Jersey at Winnipeg [SN]), followed by Philadelphia at the New York Islanders half an hour later nothing, since PhillyNYI was postponed due to weather.  8 p.m. eastern brings with it the beginning of Colorado at Dallas, followed an hour later by Los Angeles at Arizona.  Finally, this evening’s nightcap, Nashville at Edmonton (CBC/SN), gets started at 10 p.m. eastern.

Almost half of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (Montréal at Toronto, Tampa Bay at Florida, Philadelphia at New York, Colorado at Dallas and Los Angeles at Arizona), and three are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Minnesota at San Jose, Tampa Bay at Florida and Colorado at Dallas).

For the first season in a long time (arguably the 1995-’96 season), the Governor’s Cup has been an important rivalry in the Atlantic Division.  We’ve already missed three of the games this season, so we’d better catch this one!

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Tonight’s game is Tampa Bay‘s seventh appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 3-2-1 record.  Their most recent showing in the series was Thursday, when they beat the Blackhawks 2-1.  Florida has been featured four times before tonight’s game, and own a 3-1-0 record in such games.  Their most recent appearance was January 3, when they defeated the Wild.

The 26-17-4 Tampa Bay Lightning currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference.  To get them to that position, they’ve played a top-10 defense, paired with an offense that falls just short of that ranking (as measured by goals against/scored).  A more in-depth explanation of their game can be found on Thursday’s post.

The Bolts are currently riding a seven-game win streak, with their most recent being Thursday’s victory over the Hawks.  A win tonight by the Lightning pulls them within a point of the division-leading Panthers.

The 27-15-5 Florida Panthers currently sit in first place in the Atlantic and second in the Eastern Conference.  Although they have only an average offense, they’ve been able to climb to the top of the table with one of the best defenses in the league (as measured by goals against).

Thanks in part to Willie Mitchell’s team-leading 70 blocks, the Panthers have allowed only 1351 shots to reach 20-13-4 Roberto Luongo and co., of which they’ve collectively saved a solid 92.7% for only 105 goals against, third-least in the league.  One reason for that success has been how Florida has reacted to the power play, killing 82.76% for only 25 power play goals against.

The offense continues their interesting play, as they focus more on the quality of shot versus quantity.  Led by Jonathan Huberdeau’s 110 attempts, Florida has fired 1264 shots, of which 9.2% have found the back of the net for 116 goals (led by Jaromir Jagr’s 15 tallies).  The biggest hole in Florida‘s offense has been their power play.  Successful on only 15.48% of attempts, they have 24 extra-man goals, led by Aleksander Barkov’s four tallies.

The Panthers‘ last game was last night, a 4-0 win against the Blackhawks, ending their four-game losing skid.  If Florida pulls out the win, they will extend their division lead over Tampa Bay to five points.

As hinted at before, these squads have already played three of the five games in this season’s series, with the Panthers leading the series 2-1-0.  Although Florida has the lead, it is actually the Bolts who have the most recent success, winning 3-1 only six days ago in Tampa.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game includes Florida‘s Aaron Ekblad (+17 [tied for eighth-best in the league]) and Luongo (19 wins [tied for seventh-best in the league], three shutouts [tied for eighth-best in the league] and .927 save percentage [tied for ninth-best in the league]) & Tampa Bay‘s Ben Bishop (1.94 GAA [second-best in the league], 19 wins [tied for seventh-best in the league] and .928 save percentage [tied for seventh-best in the league]).

Now that Ekblad is back and the Panthers have the monkey off their back of the losing streak, I think they will begin to return to form.  I pick Florida to make a statement win for their division this evening.