Tag Archives: Bjugstad

March 28 – Day 168 – Expect another close one

Only four games are on today’s schedule, but there’s at least a couple stellar matchups to be seen!

First up is Florida at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Washington (NBCSN). Finally, our co-nightcaps – Arizona at Vegas and Philadelphia at Colorado – drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the night’s action. All times Eastern.

Originally, I had marked the Rangers-Capitals game as a potential featured matchup, but their rivalry has nothing on the importance of tonight’s showdown in Ontario. To Hogtown!

 

 

 

 

 

As you’d expect from a team that’s been in playoff position for basically the entire season, the 45-24-7 Maple Leafs have been a tough out lately. They’ve posted a solid 6-2-0 record over their past eight showings, due in large part to sporting the second-best attack in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL in that time.

Toronto has been as close to unstoppable as a team can get with its 4.13 goals per game since March 10. A total of five players have averaged at least a point per game over that stretch, but none have been as impressive as LW James van Riemsdyk and his 8-3-11 totals in eight outings, improving his season numbers to 34-18-52.

There’s little to argue considering van Riemsdyk has personally scored 24.2 percent of the Leafs’ last 33 goals, but his effort has been even more impressive considering the almost constant carousel of linemates he’s had to play with. In total, JVR has gotten on the scorecard with goals or assists from a total of six different forwards in his past eight games (three different forwards on the power play and five at even-strength).

In particular, van Riemsdyk has gelled especially well with C Tyler Bozak and F Mitch Marner – two of the players joining him in averaging at least a point per game since March 10. Even with a seemingly revolving door at the right wing position, Bozak has been van Riemsdyk’s constant center and has three primary assists to prove it. Meanwhile, Marner has also found success when he’s added to the mix on the power play, adding three more assists of his own.

In total, van Riemsdyk, Marner (2-9-11 totals since March 10, 20-45-65 overall), D Morgan Rielly (0-10-10 since March 10, 6-42-48 overall), Bozak (1-7-8 since March 10, 11-30-41 overall) and C Auston Matthews (1-2-3 in his three games since returning from injury, 29-24-53 overall) make up Toronto’s most consistent scoring threats during this run.

If two men can will their team to the playoffs, it has to be the 39-28-7 Panthers’ starting goaltender 15-10-2 Roberto Luongo and backup 20-13-5 James Reimer. Since March 19, Florida has posted a 4-1-0 record, and Luongo and Reimer have been a big part of it.

Florida’s goaltending is the focus tonight, and for good reason: without them, the Panthers would yield so many goals to that elite Toronto offense. After all, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 31.2 opposing shots on goal during this five-game run, good enough for only (t)14th-best in the NHL in that time.

However, Luongo and Reimer have played marvelously despite that adversity, combining to allow only 1.6 goals against per game since March 19, the best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the NHL in that time.

In his past two starts, Luongo has managed an impressive .95 save percentage and 1.51 GAA, marks eclipsed only by Reimer’s .958 save percentage and 1.33 GAA in his past three outings.

With lowly Ottawa on the schedule tomorrow night, Luongo will be in the crease this evening looking to improve his .927 season save percentage and associated 2.55 GAA.

The Panthers have so much more to gain from a victory tonight than the Leafs do its not even funny.

As things stand going into tonight’s action, the Devils have a three-point advantage on the Panthers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card. With tonight’s tilt being one of the two games in hand Florida has on Jersey, the Panthers have to earn at least one point (two would obviously be preferable) to maintain control of their own destiny.

Meanwhile, Toronto is just sitting back and twiddling its fingers in anticipation of the playoffs. After all, the Bruins have all but locked up home ice in the first round considering they have a game in hand to go with their eight-point lead on the Leafs for second place, and Toronto has a 12-point advantage on tonight’s opponent for third. At this point, the Maple Leafs’ main goal is getting healthy and staying focused on their goal of advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.

This has been a close matchup all season, to the point that even though the Panthers have two victories to the Leafs’ one, the clubs have earned an equal four points in tilts against each other.

Game 1 between these sides occurred way back on November 22 at BB&T Center. Led by F Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida’s lone regulation goal as well as the game-winner in the shootout, the Panthers won that game 2-1.

Games 2 and 3 took place within a week of each other. Toronto hosted the first of those on February 20, winning 1-0 on the back of 35-20-5 G Frederik Andersen‘s 40-save performance and van Riemsdyk’s first period goal. Seven days later, the Maple Leafs and Panthers were back at it in Sunrise, where Florida took a 3-2 victory courtesy of C Jared McCann‘s overtime game-winner.

Florida has proven it can hang with the mighty Leafs so far this season, but can it perform in light of the added pressure of this playoff run? I’m leaning towards Toronto taking two points tonight, but this might be yet another matchup between these clubs that requires more than 60 minutes.


It took overtime, but the St. Louis Blues snapped the San Jose Sharks’ eight-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Scottrade Center.

This game was all about the Blues responding to adversity, as they did not lead for a single second until scoring their game-winning goal.

That adversity started 6:26 into the game when LW Evander Kane (F Melker Karlsson and D Brent Burns) buried a wrist shot to give the Sharks a 1-0 advantage. Though it didn’t respond immediately, St. Louis did eventually find its leveling goal 11:17 later courtesy of an C Oskar Sundqvist (D Colton Parayko and Second Star of the Game D Vince Dunn) wrister.

With D Joel Edmundson in the penalty box for hooking RW Timo Meier at the 6:21 mark of the second period, San Jose reclaimed a one-goal advantage when F Joe Pavelski (Burns) potted a power play tip-in after only 46 seconds with the man-advantage. However, First Star RW Vladimir Tarasenko (F Brayden Schenn and D Alex Pietrangelo) was able to return the favor with 7:57 remaining in the frame, scoring a power play wrister 58 seconds after Meier tripped him to earn a seat of his own in the sin bin. Tarasenko’s marker leveled the game once again at 2-2.

Both defenses performed incredibly in the third period. St. Louis limited the Sharks to only seven shots on goal, while San Jose allowed only nine Blues attempts. Between those 16 offerings, none got by G Jake Allen or G Aaron Dell, meaning the tilt advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.

Tarasenko (F Vladimir Sobotka) needed just over half the overtime period – three seconds more, to be precise – to find the game-winner for the Notes.

The play started with a face-off at the dot to Dell’s right. Though Pavelski was able to win the draw with a little help from W Mikkel Boedker, who proceeded to take the puck into the trapezoid behind his goal, an efficient forecheck by Sobotka resulted in him ending up with possession and moving towards the right post. Having attacked the trapezoid to help Sobotka win the puck, Tarasenko was busy getting above the goal line and setting up shop outside the crease near the left goal post, meaning all Sobotka had to do was backhand a quick pass through the crease to Tarasenko to set him up for an easy wrister to win the game, the Blues’ fourth overtime victory in their past six outings.

Allen earned the victory after saving 22-of-24 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dell, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).

Hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now earned points in six-consecutive tilts, not to mention winning four in a row. As such, home teams now have a 94-53-21 record that is 39 points better than the roadies’.

March 22 – Day 162 – Get ready for a wild ride

Thursdays are just the best days in the NHL, aren’t they?

There’s 10 games on tap today, starting with four at 7 p.m. (Tampa Bay at the New York Islanders [SN], the New York Rangers at Philadelphia, Arizona at Carolina and Florida at Columbus) and two more (Edmonton at Ottawa [RDS] and Washington at Detroit [NBCSN]) half an hour later. Toronto at Nashville (TVAS) drops the puck at 8 p.m., while Vancouver at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Los Angeles at Colorado finds its start at 9 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at San Jose (NBCSN) – closes out the evening’s festivities with a 10 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

There’s two rivalries on the schedule tonight, including:

  • New York at Philadelphia: A fierce matchup like this should get the Rangers excited to snap the Flyers’ three-game point streak.
  • Vancouver at Chicago: The beginning of the decade was so long ago, wasn’t it? If the fans were in charge, I’d bet either group of supporters would happily take a loss by their team tonight.

Instead, I’m most drawn to the Panthers-Blue Jackets and Kings-Avalanche matchups, as both are going to have some serious playoff implications.

Considering how hot Columbus is and the fact that the Panthers need only one point to advance into a playoff spot, let’s make the trip to Central Ohio to see how that match unfolds.

 

For those that still use the Florida Panthers as the punchline to your hockey-related jokes, it’s time for you to catch up to the final third of the 2017-18 season. The 37-27-7 Panthers have not lost consecutive games since February 18 and 20, earning an 11-2-1 record in that time to put them right on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

Before we jump into just how well Florida has been playing, we should probably have a discussion about its schedule. Over the past 14 games, the Panthers have played only three away from BB&T Center, of which only two were outside the state of Florida.

However, a run like this is not due just to limited travel and the luxury of sleeping in their own beds on a nightly basis. After all, the Panthers have played – and beaten – clubs like Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston recently, all of which are currently on the right side of the East’s playoff bubble. Mix in taking the Lightning to overtime at Amalie Arena on March 6, and you have a Florida team that is playing some incredible puck.

This may come as a surprise, but the best offense in the Eastern Conference since February 22 has been none other than the Florida Panthers, whose 3.71 goals per game is (t)second-best in the league in that time.

A major reason for that success has been the brilliant play by the first line, specifically W Evgeni Dadonov. All three of the starting forwards – Dadonov (8-11-19 totals since February 22, 23-33-56 overall), C Aleksander Barkov (6-13-19 since February 22, 26-47-73 overall) and F Nick Bjugstad (7-9-16 since February 22, 17-28-45 overall) – are averaging more than a point per game over their past 14 showings, leading the way for an attack that still boasts F Vincent Trocheck (28-38-66 overall) and F Jonathan Huberdeau (23-41-64 overall) on the second line.

Of course, any good offense these days employs some contributions from the blue line. Enter D Keith Yandle, who’s posted 1-13-14 totals over this 14-game run to improve his season marks to 7-42-49. Yandle has been a vital asset during this impressive run by the Panthers, as all but one of his last 20 points have been registered with either of the top-two lines.

The best way to describe Florida’s offense might be by equating it to a reckless boxer that drops his guard to throw a punch.

Over this run, the Panthers have averaged a whopping 34.43 shots per game. Given the amount of success they’re finding lately, it’s obviously a strategy that is working for them and one I don’t see Head Coach Bob Boughner deviating from anytime soon.

However, there’s such a commitment to the offensive end that Florida’s defense gets left exposed on the regular.

How exposed, you ask?

Even though it seems like Florida is possessing the puck as well as anybody, its defense still allows 34.79 shots against per game, the seventh-most in the league since February 22. Games with the Panthers are high-energy affairs that leave both sides exhausted after everything is said and done.

This style of play would not work if not for the exemplary play of 15-9-2 G Roberto Luongo. He’s started all but three of the Panthers’ last 14 games, earning eight victories with a .926 save percentage and 2.51 GAA. Coming into tonight’s action, Luongo boasts a .928 season save percentage (fifth-best in the league) and 2.53 GAA.

While the Panthers have been hot lately, they’ve still suffered a few losses during this impressive run. If that’s not your style, you’ll love what the 41-28-5 Blue Jackets have been up to lately, as they’ve posted nine-consecutive victories to climb into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Just like the Panthers, Columbus’ driving force during this run has been an indomitable offense. Since March 4, the Jackets have averaged an insane 4.22 goals per game, easily the best mark in the NHL in that time.

LW Artemi Panarin has saved his best hockey for the end of the year, and nobody in Ohio is complaining.

Hold on, let me check: Hey @jdettro and @vanekatthedisco, are you guys okay with the Breadman going nuts now instead of at the beginning of the season?

Yeah, I thought as much.

Over the last nine games, Panarin has posted unbelievable 7-8-15 totals to improve his season marks to 25-43-68, numbers that have him in line to exceed last campaign’s 31-43-74 effort that earned him a spot on the second NHL All-Star team at season’s end.

Of course, it hasn’t just been Panarin doing all the work, as he’s joined by linemate RW Cam Atkinson on his opposite wing. Atkinson has also averaged a point per game during this winning streak with his 4-5-9 totals, improving his season marks to 17-18-35.

A major way that Columbus’ recent attack is different than Florida’s is that the Jackets are getting far more contributions from their third line than the Panthers could ever dream of. Both F Boone Jenner (5-4-9 totals since March 4) and C Alexander Wennberg (2-7-9 since March 4) are averaging a point per game during this winning streak, and their ability to continue to apply scoring pressure even while the first and second lines are getting a breather is a big reason why Columbus is finding so many wins right now.

Remember that bit about how the Panthers are dropping their guard to find their offensive firepower?

That’s a ditto for the Blue Jackets.

During this winning streak, Columbus has allowed an average of 32 shots against per game, the (t)14th-most in the NHL since March 4. Fortunately, it has its own Luongo in 33-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky, who’s started six of the Jackets’ last nine games. In those outings, the Russian has posted an impressive .93 save percentage and 2.17 GAA, improving his season marks to an imposing .92 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.

While nothing noticeable happens if the Blue Jackets win this game, the standings could look totally different if they lose.

Should the Jackets emerge victorious tonight, they’d pull into a tie with Pittsburgh for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 89 points. However, the Pens would hold onto their spot due to having a game in hand on Columbus.

In other words, no pandemonium here.

But, let’s just say you’re not a fan of either of these teams, or even an Eastern Conference club. Let’s just say you’re a fan of chaos.

In that case, you need to cash in on the Panthers tonight.

Not only would Florida snap Columbus’ nine-game winning streak – the longest active in the NHL right now, but a Panthers win would jump them ahead of New Jersey for the second wild card… with another game in hand in their pockets. That game in hand means that all Florida technically needs to advance into the playoff picture – at least temporarily – is one point, as it would win the games-played tiebreaker over the Devils.

Of course, the Jackets not winning tonight has the potential to open up another can of worms, as that brings the Flyers into the picture. Should Columbus fall – whether in regulation or extra time – and Philly win in regulation or overtime, the Flyers would jump back into third place in the Metropolitan Division, forcing the Jackets into the first wild card.

Isn’t this time of year fun?

In addition to the difficulty of playing a team that is performing the best it has all season, the Panthers also have the fact that they’re still looking for their first victory against the Jackets this season lurking in the back of their minds.

In two previous meetings, Columbus has come away with a total of four points, beating the Panthers 7-3 in Sunrise on November 2 (Jenner posted a one-goal, three-point game) and narrowly defending home ice on January 7 with a 3-2 shootout victory (Bobrovsky earned First Star honors with a 42-save performance, plus four more in the shootout).

This has the potential to be one of the wildest games of the season. Skaters are going to be flying up and down the ice at blazing speeds and firing more shots than Head Coach John Tortorella knows profanities. Games like these boil down to which goaltender can make the most saves, which is why – as much as I love Luongo and am impressed by his recent performance – I have to lean towards the younger Bobrovsky earning Columbus two points tonight.

However, there’s no telling how a game between these high-powered offenses could end, so there’s a good shot Florida could depart Ohio with the point it needs to jump Jersey in the table.


With two two-goal periods, the Arizona Coyotes cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

It took only 1:46 of play before C Jack Eichel committed the first penalty of the game – a holding infraction against D Niklas Hjalmarsson – and Third Star of the Game C Dylan Strome (D Alex Goligoski and W Brendan Perlini) made him pay 1:52 later with a power play deflection. F Jordan Nolan (F Evan Rodrigues and D Nathan Beaulieu) leveled the game at 1-1 on a backhanded shot with 8:18 remaining in regulation, but First Star C Derek Stepan (D Oliver Ekman-Larsson and F Clayton Keller) returned the one-goal advantage to the Coyotes 6:02 later with what proved to be the game-winning goal.

Another first period penalty proved to be the demise of the Sabres, as Beaulieu was sent to the penalty box with 4:06 remaining in the frame for hi-sticking Strome. Once again Buffalo pulled within 10 seconds of successfully killing off the penalty, but Stepan posted Beaulieu’s bail early by waiting out an attempted sliding block by F Scott Wilson and threading a wrist shot from above the right face-off circle through four skaters and past G Chad Johnson‘s right skate.

RW Richard Panik (Keller and Stepan) and F Max Domi (D Jakob Chychrun) provided two insurance goals in the third period to seal the victory for Arizona.

Second Star G Antti Raanta earned the victory after saving 29-of-30 shots faced (.967 save percentage), leaving the loss to Johnson, who saved 13-of-15 (.867). Johnson was pulled at the 6:04 mark of the second period with a yet to be announced injury, pulling G Linus Ullmark into play. Ullmark saved 12-of-13 (.923) for no decision.

Another DtFR Game of the Day, another two points for the featured road teams. Visitors have earned points in 10 of the last 12 tilts we’ve focused on, meaning the 89-53-20 hosts’ lead in the series is now trimmed to 33 points.

Merkle’s Weekly Bumblings: Week 22

Skater of the Week: Brad Marchand

Yeah, I know, it hurts me to do it. But eight points in three games is a tough stat line to argue against.

*leans away from microphone looking off to stage right* THAT’LL BE ENOUGH OUT OF YOU, @nlanciani53! WE KNOW HE’S GOOD, WE JUST REALLY HATE HIS FACE!

Anyway, here’s how the ‘Little Ball of Hate’ earned the nod for the week.

Marchand started the week by single-handedly ruining the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, racking up three goals and two assists (one of each on the power play) for a five-point night, and tacked on the game-winner for good measure. Then on Thursday he notched a single goal against Philadelphia, with it also being the game-winning tally. Then he capped the week with a pair of ‘apples’ on Saturday to finish off the week with a 50/50 split of four goals and four assists.

Also he possibly tried to murder Anthony Duclair maybe.

Brad Marchand, folks.

Tendy of the Week: Cam Talbot

The Oilers have suddenly remembered how to hockey. It’s a bit late, but hey, good on ’em.

Talbot has, like basically everyone in Edmonton not wearing #97, had a bit of a forgettable year. Currently carrying a .906 save percentage and 3.03 GAA, but sporting a near-.500 record, Talbot’s stats are basically a microcosm of the year the Oilers are having. In fact, his three-straight wins this week directly followed three-straight losses.

But for now we’re focusing on those three wins, as I’m sure all of Edmonton would like to do. Talbot carries a .949 and 1.61 out of the week with him, stopping 94-of-99 shots faced. He did start the week with three goals against on Monday when Arizona visited Rogers Place, but still managed a .914 save percentage on 35 shots. After that he basically completely shut down both the Islanders on Thursday (one goal on 31 shots) and Wild on Saturday (one goal on 33 shots).

It’s definitely a case of too little too late in Edmonton, but a strong finish to the season could give the team, organization, and fans a much-needed morale boost heading into the offseason.

Besides, regardless of where they finish in the standings, we know they’re winning the draft lottery…

Game of the Week: Florida Panthers 4 @ Tampa Bay Lightning 5 (OT), Tuesday March 6th, 2018

If you like hockey games that have a little bit of everything, go watch the condensed game highlights of this one.

Nine goals on 82 shots, 56 hits (evenly split at 28 per team), a fight, a hat trick, and a beautiful overtime winner in a tilt between two in-state rivals. Definitely a candidate for game of the year.

You’d have never guessed there would be nine goals scored if you just watched the first half of the first period. Both Andrei Vasilevskiy and Roberto Luongo were fully on their game, and both goaltenders made multiple standout saves just in the opening minutes alone. In particular, Vasi’s early denial of Nick Bjugstad on a two-on-one and Luongo’s breakaway glove snag on J.T. Miller stand out.

Also early in the first period we had a scrap between the Lightning’s Braydon Coburn, who is 6’5″ and 223 lbs., and Michael Haley, who is neither of those things. Haley, the NHL’s penalty minutes leader this season, more than held his own in a fairly uneventful scrap, but it certainly got the crowd at Amalie Arena into the game.

Finally first blood would be drawn at the 10:38 mark, when Yanni Gourde would pounce on an off-the-glass rebound at the side of the net before Luongo could locate the puck and put the Lightning on top. Vasilevskiy would make a pair of outstanding stops on consecutive shots from Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov to keep the score 1-0, eventually allowing Miller to take a Gourde centering pass from behind the goal line and roof a backhand over the glove of Luongo to extend the Tampa lead to 2-0 at the 12:51 mark. Although being outshot 15-8, the Lightning would nearly survive the first with their lead unblemished, but with just 1:37 to play it would be Bjugstad firing one from the goal line to Vasilevskiy’s left that ricocheted off the goaltender’s shoulder and into the net behind him, sending the two teams to the locker rooms with the score at 2-1.

The second period would see a much faster start, as once again Yanni Gourde (recording his third point in three Tampa goals) put his entire heart and soul into a turnaround wrist shot from the right circle that beat Luongo high glove and put his Lightning up 3-1 just 1:27 into the second. A good chunk of the second would pass rather uneventfully (sans a great save by Luongo on Nikita Kucherov) before Bjugstand would walk out from the corner with Steven Stamkos all over him, drive to the crease and bang home his own rebound to bring the Panthers within one again at the 13:35 mark. But less than three minutes later the lead would stretch again as Alex Killorn picked up a juicy rebound off of a Stamkos one-timer and send the game to its final intermission with a 4-2 score in favor of the home team.

The two-goal lead would last just 21 seconds into the third period, as Bjugstad would bury his third of the game to cut the deficit in half. After an Andrej Sustr tripping penalty a few minutes later, Vincent Trocheck would finally knot the score with a power play wrister from the right circle, beating Vasilevskiy just between the glove and left pad. 4-4 would remain the score through the end of regulation, despite the best efforts of the Panthers who would total 16 third period shots to Tampa’s 11, though a tipped Sustr point shot finding Luongo’s left goal post was probably the closest call of the rest of the third. But, alas, off to overtime we’d go.

A fairly tame start to OT would give way to serious offensive zone pressure by Tampa right around the midway point of the frame. Anton Stralman nearly ended things with a one-timer fired at a gaping net, but it would hit the outside of the post and be collected in the corner by Tyler Johnson. Johnson would give it back to Stralman, who saw an open Brayden Point (waving every available limb and utensil frantically) waiting just inside the right circle. Point would receive the pass, absolutely dance a charging Evgeny Dadonov out of his skates, then roof a laserbeam over the glove of Luongo to rid Amalie Arena of its roof and send the Bolts faithful home happy.

News, Notes, & Nonsense:

The Carolina Hurricanes are accepting job applications for their next General Manager via Twitter. Obviously we here at DTFR are biased, but I think we’d all gladly throw our hats in the ring for our own @capncornelius to get the gig.

Sidney Crosby reached 1,100 career points, which seems like a slightly obscure number to celebrate. But congrats, I guess.

…this was a slow news week…umm, hey @connorzkeith, can you throw in some sort of funny cat photo or something for filler in the edit? Thanks, buddy.

*Editor’s note: Don’t forget Alex Ovechkin‘s 600th career goal and Marc-Andre Fleury‘s 400th career win last night, @vanekatthedisco! Anyways, time to empty the cat folder. Here’s a few of my faves:*

March 4 – Day 144 – High-Flying Panthers

It’s another Sunday Funday in the NHL, as there’s a solid seven games on today’s schedule. With half of those games happening before prime time, you can spread your hockey throughout the entire day!

The action starts at 3 p.m. when a pair of games drop the puck (Nashville at Colorado [SN] and Philadelphia at Florida [TVAS]), followed an hour later by Chicago at Anaheim (NHLN). Vegas at New Jersey gets underway at 5 p.m., while a pair of tilts (Detroit at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Winnipeg at Carolina [SN]) waits until the usual 7 p.m. starting time. Finally, Columbus at San Jose closes out the evening’s festivities with their 9 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

In the list of today’s most intriguing narratives, I have only two games to offer – neither of which have exceedingly exciting headlines.

  • Nashville at Colorado: Now’s as good a time as any to remind you that in the F Matt Duchene-C Kyle Turris trade, Ottawa was supposed to be the team getting the talent upgrade. Turns out the Sens were wrong.
  • Vegas at New Jersey: D Jonathon Merrill was selected by Vegas during the expansion draft from the Devils, the organization he spent the first five years of his professional career with.

However, neither of those games really seem all that exciting to me. Instead, I’d much rather travel down to South Florida to see if these Panthers are for real or not.

 

There have been few teams better than the 34-20-11 Flyers in the last month of action. Since February 3, Philadelphia has earned an impressive 10-1-3 record to catapult itself into second place in the Metropolitan Division.

A major reason for the Flyers’ recent success has been their effort on the defensive end, which is wild to think about considering 21-11-7 G Brian Elliott and 8-7-3 G Michal Neuvirth are both on injured reserve to force four different goaltenders into action in Philly’s last 14 games.

However, a goaltender’s success almost always starts with the defense playing in front of him, and the Flyers have been pretty darn good in their own end. Led by D Shayne Gostisbehere (two blocks per game since February 3), D Robert Hagg (3.5 hits per game in Philly’s last 14 games) and D Ivan Provorov (nine takeaways over this run), Philadelphia has allowed only 31.14 shots against per game over its last 14 games – the eighth-best mark in the NHL since February 3.

That brings us back to the Flyers’ goaltending situation. Since arriving from Detroit, 3-1-1 G Petr Mrazek has been the Flyers’ starter. However, following his 7-6 shootout loss yesterday in Tampa, it would seem likely that 2-1-0 G Alex Lyon will be between the pipes today. He’s started two of Philly’s last 14 games, posting a .921 save percentage and 2.55 GAA to improve his season marks to a .903 save percentage and 2.88 GAA.

Of course, all this talk about the defense doesn’t mean the Flyers don’t know what to do with the puck on their sticks. In fact, Philly has scored 3.36 goals per game during this run, the (t)ninth-best mark in the NHL since February 3.

At the helm of this attack is none other than F Claude Giroux (8-11-19 totals since February 3) and Gostisbehere (0-15-15 in Philly’s past 14 games), both of whom are averaging more than a point per game during this Flyers hot streak. Giroux and Gostisbehere have united to score eight times in the past month, including the defenseman’s last three assists.

The 31-25-6 Panthers have been equally good since returning from a five-game, nine-day road trip, as they’re currently riding a five-game winning streak that includes victories over Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto and New Jersey.

The biggest reason for Florida’s surge? The incredible play of 11-7-1 G Roberto Luongo. Even though he’s faced a terrible 33.4 shots against per game since February 22 (the 12th-worst mark in the NHL in that time) Luongo has posted a solid .922 save percentage and 2.71 GAA in his five starts to lead the Panthers to allowing a (t)third-best 2.4 goals against per game in that time. Luongo’s season marks now read as a .927 save percentage and 2.58 GAA.

Florida’s offense has also been stellar in the past week or so, scoring an average of 3.8 goals per game since February 22 – the fifth-most in the league in that time. C Aleksander Barkov (4-4-8 totals since February 22), W Evgeni Dadonov (3-5-8 over this run) and F Nick Bjugstad (1-4-5 during this winning streak) have been major parts of this surge, as they’ve all averaged at least a point per game over Florida’s past five games and show no sign of slowing down.

For those that like rubber games, today’s finale of the Flyers and Panthers’ three-game series is the one for you. So far, each team has hosted one game and earned a victory. Philadelphia won October 17’s game at Wells Fargo Center 5-1 (Neuvirth earned First Star honors with his 40-save performance), while the Panthers earned a 3-2 victory at BB&T Center on December 28 (F Jonathan Huberdeau provided the Panthers’ game-winning goal in the second period) to even the series at 1-1-0.

There’s much to be gained for both teams by earning two points today, but the most noticeable impact on the standings occurs if Florida emerges as today’s victor. Should the Panthers do anything better than lose in regulation, there’s a chance they could jump both Carolina and Columbus for the second wild card. For that to happen, both the Hurricanes and Jackets must lose in regulation today. Similarly, if the Panthers win while Carolina and Columbus earn only a point apiece, the Florida would advance into the East’s eight seed.

No matter what happens to Philadelphia today, it’s not budging from its spot as the Metropolitan’s second-best club. However, the Flyers can pull into a tie with division-leading Washington with two points, though the Capitals would win that tiebreaker with a game in hand.

There’s also a lot of action in Philly’s rear view mirror, starting with intrastate rival Pittsburgh. With today’s game being the Flyers’ game in hand on the Penguins, they’ll surely want to improve on their one-point advantage to ensure home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.

I’m expecting nothing short of a stellar game today between these clubs. However, the fact that the Flyers played to a hard-fought shootout loss yesterday while Florida was inactive, not to mention Lyon being in net will likely play a major role in this tilt. I think the Panthers earn two points today.


With three goals in the first period, the Washington Capitals beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

The Caps wasted no time in taking control of this game. With D Travis Dermott in the penalty box for holding F Jay Beagle at the 2:43 mark, Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Third Star C Nicklas Backstrom and First Star D John Carlson) scored a wrist shot only 67 seconds later to give Washington an early edge. Though F Zach Hyman (D Roman Polak) was able to level the game for Toronto only 1:30 later, an W Alex Ovechkin (RW Tom Wilson and Backstrom) wrister at the 6:19 mark gave Washington a lead it would not yield for the rest of the night.

That fact was cemented with 3:40 remaining in the first period when Backstrom (Kuznetsov and Carlson) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal. After F Dominic Moore earned himself a delay of game penalty at the 15:28 mark for launching the puck over the glass, Backstrom dug out a wrister in the crease to give Washington a 3-1 advantage.

For those wondering, the Capitals’ power play converted both its opportunities tonight, further proving it deserves every bit of its ranking as fifth-best after converting 22.5 percent on the season.

At the 7:22 mark of the second period, C Nazem Kadri (F Patrick Marleau and Dermott) scored a wrister to pull the Maple Leafs back within a goal, but Carlson’s (F Chandler Stephenson and Beagle) wrister only 43 seconds later returned an insurance goal to Washington’s back pocket. LW Jakub Vrana (Kuznetsov and D Dmitry Orlov) cleaned up the game’s scoring with 9:11 remaining in the second frame, scoring a wrister to set the 5-2 final score.

G Braden Holtby earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to G Frederik Andersen, who saved 20-of-25 (.8). At the whistle following Vrana’s goal, Andersen was lifted in favor of G Curtis McElhinney, who saved all nine shots he faced in 28:49 of action for no decision.

To be the home team in the DtFR Game of the Day series is to be a winner lately. The 78-47-19 hosts have won their fourth-straight in the series, taking a 26-point advantage over the roadies.

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.