Tag Archives: Campbell

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.

March 27 – Day 159 – Red hot

It happened again. The very day we detest the most: Monday.

Fortunately, the NHL is a true pal and hooked us up with a half-dozen hockey games to make it better. The action starts with three contests (Detroit at Carolina, Florida at Buffalo and Nashville at the New York Islanders [SN]) at 7 p.m., followed by Chicago at Tampa Bay (NBCSN/TVAS) half an hour later. 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of Arizona at St. Louis, trailed an hour later by Colorado at Calgary, tonight’s nightcap. All times eastern.

A game of note this evening is the Red Wings‘ first of two straight visits to PNC Arena, as this is the game that had to be postponed in mid-December due to an issue with the arena’s surface cooling equipment.

Since we haven’t featured the Hurricanes all season and they’re quietly in contention for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, let’s make a trip to Raleigh!

 

You may not believe me, but it’s true: 33-27-13 Carolina is still in the playoff conversation with nine games left in their regular season. It may not look like it at quick glance since the Hurricanes have only 79 points, but that’s due in part to the reason they are active tonight.

Eleventh-place Carolina has two games-in-hand on 39-30-6 Boston (84 points) because of its rescheduled contest against Detroit. Should the Canes have played that game and lost, they’d be in much worse shape. Instead, they’ll trail the Bruins by only a point if they win both their games-in-hand and could be in prime position to end their seven-season playoff drought.

Of course, that ignores what the ninth and 10th place Islanders and Lightning do, but I don’t see them featured today!

Much of the reason the Canes are in the position they’re in right now is due to their three-game winning streak and their 7-0-3 record in their last 10 games. Carolina has been an offensive juggernaut since March 9, as their 37 goals for is the highest total in the league since then.

Though Jeff Skinner and his 54 points have been the Hurricanes‘ offensive leader for the entirety of the season, he’s been joined of late by rookie Sebastian Aho and Elias Lindholm, who both have 11 points during this recent streak.

Don’t read too much into that last graf though. Skinner is still the primary threat for 16-20-8 Petr Mrazek to focus on tonight. 10 of the left wing’s dozen points since March 9 have been goals, doubling Aho’s five and tying Nikita Kucherov for most in the league over that stretch.

To focus on Aho for a minute, the Fin has made a living on the power play with his five man-advantage points during this run – a top-five effort in that time-frame. That success has led the Canes to a 28% success rate with the extra man since earlier this month, the eighth-best mark in the NHL in that time and second-best in a dominant Metropolitan Division that features some elite offenses.

This offensive prowess is a change from what has been Carolina‘s priority all season: defense. In fact, the Canes have allowed only 203 goals against this year, which ties for the 16th-best mark in the NHL.

Nothing tells this story better than Carolina‘s 85.3% season penalty kill rate, the second-best mark in the league. The PK has been a major point of focus for second-year defenseman Jaccob Slavin. The Hurricanes selected him from Colorado College in the fourth round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, and all he’s done is lead the team with 37 shorthanded shot blocks this year. Not bad, kid (he’s almost exactly three months younger than me, I get to call him kid).

In fact, Slavin and Co. has been so good, 24-20-11 Cam Ward has faced only 155 shots against while his club is shorthanded, the lowest total among the 30 netminders with at least 39 appearances.

Other than Joe Louis Arena’s farewell season, the biggest story about the 30-32-12 Red Wings this season has been the prediction-turned-reality that they’ll miss the postseason for the first time in 25 years.

But that doesn’t mean the Wings are entirely incapable of good hockey. Though not as impressive as the Canes‘, Detroit is also riding a three-game streak of earning at least a point, and has a 4-1-1 record since March 16.

All but one of those six contests have been one-goal affairs, and it’s been a resurgent 9-8-1 Jimmy Howard, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday yesterday, that has led the charge. Sidelined for much of the season with a knee injury, he’s earned a .953 save percentage and 1.29 GAA since mid-March, the sixth and seventh-best marks in the league, respectively, during that stretch.

Howard has been especially exceptional when faced with an opposing power play. Though he’s faced 12 man-advantages since March 16, he has yet to allow a power play goal after saving all 12 shots he’s faced while his club is shorthanded.

As of publication of this article, it remains to be seen if Jeff Blashill will continue alternating goaltenders this evening. It’d be an odd time to stop the recent practice since the Wings played – and won – an overtime game yesterday before traveling from Michigan to North Carolina. I’d bank on seeing Mrazek in net this evening.

Offensively, nothing paints a picture like a 14% season success rate on the power play. It’s the second-worst rate in the NHL that still features Thomas Vanek – a current member of the Florida Panthers – as the third-best point-earner. Frans Nielsen and Henrik Zetterberg have been able to create symmetry at times this year, but now is not one of those moments. They’ve earned a combined three power play points since March 16. Three.

Thanks to the postponement of what became today’s game, these clubs have only met once this season. In what was the Canes‘ final visit to The Joe, Dylan Larkin scored two of Detroit‘s goals to lead the Wings to a 4-2 victory on October 25.

These teams will complete their three-game season series tomorrow night on the same surface, which adds even a bit more intrigue to tonight’s game.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Carolina‘s Skinner (30 goals for 54 points [both lead the team]) and Slavin (149 blocks for +19 [both lead the team]) & Detroit‘s Zetterberg (46 assists [eighth-most in the league]).

There’s not few, if any, hotter than the Hurricanes right now, and they’re doing it at the right time of the year. Especially given the fact that the Wings were involved in an overtime game yesterday, I like Carolina to continue its playoff push with a win today.

Hockey Birthday

  • Bryan Campbell (1944-) – Though this center spent most of his career in the WHA, he began his professional hockey career in the NHL. He played five seasons in the league, and spent most of that time in Chicago. He scored 106 points over 260 games, including a decent 1970-’71 season with 17 goals for 54 points.
  • Dustin Byfuglien (1985-) – It’s hard to believe, but this season marks this defenseman’s seventh season with the Thrashers/Jets organization. It seems just yesterday he was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head with the 2010 Blackhawks.

Last night’s 6-3 DtFR Game of the Day Duck victory over the Rangers was a big one, as they converted a game-in-hand on their fellow competitors for the Pacific Division title for two points to create a two-point lead with seven games remaining to be played.

The busiest period was the first, as it featured four goals. The icebreaker belonged to Rick Nash (Marc Staal and Mika Zibanejad) and New York on a wrist shot 5:54 after the initial puck drop. That lead didn’t last too long though, as Third Star of the Game Patrick Eaves (Second Star Cam Fowler and First Star Ryan Getzlaf) pulled Anaheim even 3:01 later on a wrister. Once again the Blueshirts took a lead, this time off a Derek Stepan (Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello) slap shot, but the Ducks had another answer. Ryan Kesler (Getzlaf and Fowler) scored a power play tip-in with two minutes remaining in the frame to tie the game at two-all, which held into the first intermission.

At the 9:39 mark of the second period, Anaheim finally claimed its first lead of the game when Josh Manson (Getzlaf) scored a wrister. Making that goal even more impressive, the Ducks were shorthanded. That didn’t seem to phase New York though, as Brady Skjei (Jimmy Vesey and Zibanejad) buried only his fifth goal of the season 3:31 later to pull the Rangers even at three-all. That score held into the second intermission.

Whatever Randy Carlyle said in the dressing room, it worked because Anaheim buried three tallies and held the Rangers scoreless for the final 20 minutes. Andrew Cogliano (Kesler) takes credit for the game-winner 2:19 after the beginning of the final frame, followed only 2:04 later by an insurance tally from Eaves (Rickard Rakell and Getzlaf). To ensure the Rangers could not stage a late comeback, Nick Ritchie (Corey Perry) scored a wrister on an empty net with 98 ticks remaining on the clock to clinch the win.

Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (89.3%), leaving the loss to Henrik Lundqvist, who saved 28-of-33 (84.8%).

Thanks to the Ducks defending home ice, hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series now trial the 81-57-23 road teams by only a lone point.

March 25 – Day 157 – Seeing circles

A dozen games are on the schedule today, so let’s hop right in with our list!

A pair of games (Vancouver at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Columbus [NHLN/SN1]) get the action underway at 2 p.m., followed by seven (Calgary at St. Louis [CITY], Toronto at Buffalo [CBC], Ottawa at Montréal [SN/TVAS], Chicago at Florida [NHLN], Carolina at New Jersey, Boston at the New York Islanders and Arizona at Washington) at the usual 7 p.m. starting time. San Jose at Nashville drops the puck an hour later, followed by Colorado at Edmonton (CBC/SN) at 10 p.m. Finally, the New York Rangers at Los Angeles – tonight’s nightcap – drops the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close out the day’s action. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Toronto at Buffalo: Only two more editions of the Battle of the QEW go down this season, and one is tonight.
  • Ottawa at Montréal: Speaking of rivalries, this one is kind of important since it could determine who raises an Atlantic Division banner.
  • Chicago at Florida: For five seasons, Brian Campbell was a member of the Panthers‘ blueline. This offseason, he decided to return to the Windy City.
  • Boston at New York: These clubs are currently tied for the second wildcard, but they won’t be after tonight.
  • San Jose at Nashville: Remember last year’s Western Semifinals? The Predators would probably like to exact some revenge tonight.

Since both the Canadiens and Senators are all but locks to for this year’s postseason, let’s head back to Brooklyn with the Islanders for their wildly important matchup with Boston.

 

The 38-30-6 Bruins have been in the playoff picture – or right outside it – for almost the entire season. A mistimed four-game losing skid (then again, when does a four-game losing skid ever come at an appropriate time?) has felled them to the second of those two categories.

Of course, this is not the first position Boston has lost in the last month. For a long while, the Bruins actually had command of third place in the Atlantic Division, but they ceded that too to a Maple Leafs team that has won seven of its last 10 games.

The main reason for this fall from grace? I’d argue sub-par play in net by 33-20-4 Tuukka Rask. He’s been in net for all four of these contests, and the Bruins have allowed an average of five goals against. In fact, his .842 save percentage and 4.53 GAA from March 16 through last night’s action is the fifth and second-worst efforts in the NHL, respectively, in that time span.

“But Rask is a great goaltender!” said Bruins fans.

And I agree; yes, he is great. He’s also no spring chicken anymore. Rask just celebrated his 30th birthday not too long ago, which makes him older than the average goaltender throughout the 2000s (per Quant Hockey), whether by mean (28.81) or median (28.3).

Whether you’re in the camp of believing Bruce Cassidy needs to play 5-5-1 Anton Khudobin more often or Don Sweeney needs to provide a better backup than a nearly 31-year-old Russian is inconsequential to the fact that Rask needs more breaks. With 59 starts, Rask has played the third-most games in a NHL crease this season, and the other two goalies with more starts are younger than him (though not by much in Cam Talbot‘s case).

Making the exhausted netminder’s demise even more troublesome is that the defense playing in front of him is one of the better – and improving – corps in the league. Over this sour stretch, they’ve allowed only 117 shots to reach his net (29.25 per game), which is barely worse than their 25.6 average allowed per game for the entire season that ranks second-best in the league.

He doesn’t wear the Bruins‘ “C” for nothing. Captain Zdeno Chara has been at the forefront of that effort with his team-leading 124 shot blocks, followed closely behind by Adam McQuaid‘s 122. Center Patrice Bergeron has also been very impressive on the defensive front, as his 59 takeaways are second-most on the club. Brad Marchand has one more for the squad lead, but he also tops (Or would it be bottoms?) the team in the opposite statistic with his 74 turnovers.

When looking at the season as a whole, Boston usually finds more than enough success on the penalty kill, as their 84.5% kill rate is sixth-best in the league. Of course, this rough patch hasn’t been so kind. The Bruins have allowed seven power play goals against (you guessed it, most in the league in this time-span) for a measly 63.1% kill rate.

One thing that has gone Boston‘s way over the past 10 days has been their power play. Co-led by Torey Krug and Ryan Spooner‘s three man-advantage points, as well as David Krejci and David Pastrnak‘s two man-advantage goals, the Bruins have scored on 35.7% of their opponents’ penalties – the best mark in the league in that span. That’s not exactly a surprise though. Boston has been successful on 21.2% of their power plays all year, the eighth-best rate in the league.

First it was the Leafs taking advantage of the Bruins‘ fall from grace. Now it’s the 35-26-12 Islanders, a team riding a two-game winning streak.

This success is a far cry from where New York was before Doug Weight took command of the ship. Former head coach Jack Capuano had only managed a 17-17-8 record – the worst mark in the Eastern Conference. But since then, the Isles have gone on an 18-9-4 run to climb back into the eighth place in the East. In fact, that’s the fifth-best record in the league since Capuano’s firing, better even than teams like Columbus and Nashville.

The main reason for that improvement is New York‘s potent offense. The Islanders have buried 96 goals under Weight, which ties for the fourth-highest total in the league since January 17. Behind that effort is none other than John Tavares, who’s registered 32 of his 64 points on the campaign. Anders Lee also came alive, as he’s registered 13 goals to lead the team during the Weight-era.

Ready to be even more impressed by the Islanders‘ resurgent offense? They do it almost exclusively at even-strength. In fact, New York‘s power play is borderline atrocious, as they only convert 15.8% of their opportunities – the fifth-worst rate in the league.

If recent history is any indicator, it looks like the Bruins are on their way to their fifth-straight loss, as they have yet to beat New York this year in their previous two meetings. The last time these clubs ran into each other was January 16 in Boston. Between Nikolai Kulemin‘s two-goal night (one-sixth of his season total!) and Thomas Greiss‘ 32-save shutout, the Islanders walked out of the TD Garden with a 4-0 victory.

Ironically, that was Capuano’s last game as head coach of the Isles. My, how the story has come full circle.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Boston‘s Marchand (37 goals [third-most in the NHL] for 80 points [fourth-most in the league]) and Rask (six shutouts [tied for fourth-most in the NHL] among 33 wins [tied for fifth-most in the league]) & New York‘s Josh Bailey (38 assists [leads the team]) and Cal Clutterbuck (199 hits [leads the team]).

Though they might be a little tired from their shootout victory in Pittsburgh last night, I’m inclined to pick the Islanders right now. Something tells me that only one day off is not enough for Rask, and everything seems to be going New York‘s way right now.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ken Wregget (1964-) – Toronto selected this goaltender 45th-overall in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his career with the Penguins. By the time his career was through, he’d earned a 225-248-53 record and hoisted the 1992 Stanley Cup.
  • Ladislav Benysek (1975-) – This defensemen was selected in the 11th round by Edmonton in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft, but he spent most of his four-year career in the league with Minnesota. Over 161 games in the NHL, he accumulated only 15 points for a -28 rating.

With their 4-3 shootout victory against Pittsburgh in the DtFR Game of the Day, the Islanders have improved to the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

With six goals in regulation, you’d figure there’d be two a period, right? Not last night. Instead, five were struck in the second frame, and another in the third.

The scoring started 1:54 after beginning the second period when Third Star of the Game Cameron Gaunce (Matt Cullen and Phil Kessel) buried a slap shot for the second goal of his career. 2:54 later, Second Star Brock Nelson (Joshua Ho-Sang and Alan Quine) tied the game at one-all, the score that held until Lee (Bailey and First Star Tavares) scored a wrist shot to give New York the lead 4:30 later. Now it was Pittsburgh‘s turn to pull even, and Sidney Crosby (Chad Ruhwedel and Conor Sheary) was up to the task with 6:19 remaining in the frame. With five seconds remaining before the second intermission, Casey Cizikas (Tavares) found the back of the net to send the Isles to the dressing room with a 3-2 lead.

After all that action, the final goal of regulation wasn’t struck until 6:10 remained in regulation. Cullen (Gaunce and Kessel) scored his wrister to tie the game at three-all, the score that held through the remainder of regulation and the five minute three-on-three overtime period.

Looks like this one will have to be decided in the shootout. The Pens elected to go second…

  1. …meaning Anthony Beauvillier was up first. He scored on Marc-Andre Fleury, giving New York an early shootout lead.
  2. Kessel had the chance to tie the shootout, but Jaroslav Halak was up to the task and made the save.
  3. Weight called Tavares’ number next as if he knew the captain would score him another goal. With a 2-0 shootout lead, the Pens were in a miss-and-lose situation.
  4. Speaking of captains, that’s exactly who took Pittsburgh‘s next shootout attempt. Crosby had better luck than Kessel and scored his shot to keep the Penguins alive.
  5. Andrew Ladd took what proved to be the Islanders‘ final shootout attempt, but was unable to beat Fleury to win the game.
  6. Instead, Halak provided the victory by saving Nick Bonino‘s shot.

Halak saved 37-of-40 shots faced (92.5%) for the victory, leaving the shootout loss to Fleury after he stopped 43-of-46 (93.5%).

It was the second-straight DtFR Game of the Day to be decided by shootout, but the fact that this one was decided by the 80-56-23 visitors gives them a one-point advantage over the road teams in the series.

December 20 – Day 69 – Getting Kul in Florida

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

Short list:

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

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

Unknown-2Florida_Panthers_logo_2016

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hockey Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 14 – Day 151 – Panthers in Brooklyn

It was a back-and-forth game between the Penguins and Rangers, but a two goal third period helped Pittsburgh prevail 5-3 in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The Pens‘ first goal came as a result of a J.T. Miller holding penalty at the 11:18 mark, as Patric Hornqvist scored 38 seconds later, assisted by Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang.  But, the Rangers would enter the intermission tied as Chris Kreider’s tip-in at the 18:06 mark, assisted by Second Star of the Game Derek Stepan (his 21st helper of the season) and Kevin Klein, set the score at one-all.

7:30 after resuming play, First Star Conor Sheary tipped-in Justin Schultz’ initial shot, giving him his ninth helper of the season, to give the Pens a 2-1 lead that lasted only 1:29 before Derick Brassard leveled the game yet again, assisted by Keith Yandle (his 35th helper of the season) and Stepan.  Pittsburgh earned their third lead of the afternoon with Sheary’s second goal of the period, and fifth of the season, at the 15:55 mark, assisted by Tom Kuhnhackl and Eric Fehr.  That lead held into the second intermission.

For the third time in the game, the Blueshirts scored a leveler, this time by Ryan McDonagh, who was assisted by Jesper Fast and Miller (his 18th helper of the season) at the 5:04 mark of the third period.  Pittsburgh‘s game-winner found the back of the net with 8:51 remaining in regulation, scored by Third Star Matt Cullen, who was assisted by Dominik Simon and Brian Dumoulin (his 15th helper of the season).  Crosby provided the lone insurance goal on an empty net (his 29th tally of the season) with only 39 seconds remaining, assisted by Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust.

Marc-Andre Fleury earns the win after saving 24 of 27 shots faced (88.9%), while Henrik Lundqvist takes the loss, saving 28 of 32 (87.5%).

With the second straight road victory, the DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 66-39-16, still favoring the home sides by 26 points over the roadies.

We’ve got six games to watch this evening, so get excited!  The action starts at 7 p.m. eastern with Florida visiting the New York Islanders, followed an hour later by Los Angeles at Chicago.  9 p.m. eastern brings with it two games (St. Louis at Calgary and Nashville at Edmonton), and this evening’s co-nightcaps trail an hour later (Winnipeg at Vancouver and New Jersey at Anaheim).

None of tonight’s games are between division rivals, but two are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Florida at New York and Los Angeles at Chicago).

Although this evening will be Kyle Palmieri’s first visit back to Anaheim since since being traded to New Jersey this off-season, the most important game this evening is between the Florida Panthers and the New York Islanders.

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Tonight’s game will be Florida‘s eighth in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 4-2-1 record.  Their most recent featured game was their 5-4 overtime loss on home ice to the Bruins exactly a week ago.  New York has been featured five times before tonight’s game, and own a 1-3-1 record in such contests, with their most recent occurring February 18, a 3-2 overtime loss on home ice to the Capitals.

The 38-21-9 Florida Panthers currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference.  To get to that position, they’ve played the sixth best defense, paired with the eighth best offense, making them a formidable foe.

Led by Dmitry Kulikov’s 100 blocks, the Panthers have allowed only 1999 shots to reach 29-16-6 Roberto Luongo and co., of which they’ve saved a solid 92.1% for only 167 goals against, the sixth fewest in the league.  Although a step back for the Panthers, the penalty kill still ranks on the better side of the league average, as they neutralize 81.5% of their infractions for 42 power play goals against, the 12th best rate in the NHL.

The offense is only a step behind, as although they’ve fired only 1926 shots, a cool 9.6% have found the back of the net for 192 goals, the eighth most in the league.  The biggest hole for Florida has been their power play, which seems to be a trend for teams from the Sunshine State.  The Panthers have capitalized on only 16.67% of opportunities for 39 power play goals (led by Aleksander Barkov’s nine extra man tallies), the sixth worst rate in the NHL.

Florida is currently riding a two game winning streak, with their most recent being their 5-4 shootout victory over the Flyers on Saturday.  Should they keep their winning ways going tonight, or even if they lose in overtime, they will succeed Boston for the Atlantic Division lead, but a regulation loss would cause the Panthers to fall into third in the division to their in-state rivals.

The 37-21-8 New York Islanders currently occupy third in the Metropolitan Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.  They’ve gotten to that position by playing the fifth best defense, paired with the ninth best offense.

Even with injured Calvin de Haan’s 145 blocks, the Isles have allowed 1993 shots to reach 18-7-4 Thomas Greiss and co., of which they’ve saved a great 92.3% for only 166 goals against, the fifth fewest in the league.  That defense has been partially led by an incredible penalty kill that ranks third best in the league, neutralizing 85.42% of opposing opportunities for only 28 power play goals against (13 fewer than the league average).  Further improving on that stat, New York has also scored six shorthanded goals, one more than the league average.

Just like the Panthers, New York‘s offense is only a step behind.  Led by John Tavares’ 207 shots, the Islanders have fired the puck 1991 times, with 9.3% finding the back of the net for 190 goals (led by Tavares’ 26 tallies, the ninth most in the league.  New York‘s power play has also been decent, successful on 20% of attempts for 38 power play goals, the 11th best rate in the NHL.

New York is currently riding a two game losing skid, with their most recent being a 3-1 loss in Boston on Saturday.  A win tonight is important for the Isles, as it would not only pull them within a point of their crosstown rivals in second place, but it would also extend their lead over Pittsburgh to two points for third.

Florida has already won the season series 2-0-0, but would like to earn the sweep with a win this evening.  Their most recent meeting was December 15, a 5-1 Panthers victory in New York.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Florida‘s Brian Campbell (+22 [tied for eighth best in the league]) and Luongo (four shutouts [tied for fifth most in the league] and 29 wins [tied for sixth most in the league]) & New York‘s Greiss (.928 save percentage [tied for second best in the league] and 2.26 GAA [eighth best in the league]).

Florida may have had the upper hand so far this season over the Islanders, but I’m feeling a New York winner this evening.  Although the power play isn’t necessarily important to the Panthers‘ success, I think New York‘s ability to quickly neutralize any threat could lead to some excitement, maybe even a shorty.

March 7 – Day 144 – Another potential Atlantic playoff pairing?

Although Minnesota put up quite the fight in the third period, St. Louis was able to hold on for the 4-2 win in yesterday’s Game of the Day.

The Blues notched their first goal only 7:44 into the game, courtesy of a Third Star of the Game Jori Lehtera slap shot, his eighth tally of the season.  The Blues doubled their lead only 1:53 later with a snap shot from Ryan Reaves, assisted by Kyle Brodziak and Jay Bouwmeester (his 14th helper of the season).  St. Louis would hold their 2-0 lead through the remainder of the period and into the intermission.

The goal that came to be the game winner found the back of the net only 21 seconds after the midway point of the game, scored by Patrik Berglund, assisted by David Backes (his 20th helper of the season).  That was the only score of the third, so the Blues‘ 3-0 lead held to the second intermission.

Minnesota began staging their comeback at the 11:02 mark of the final period courtesy of a Second Star Ryan Suter backhander, assisted by Zach Parise (his 22nd helper of the season).  Only 3:38 later, Matt Dumba cut the Blues’ lead to only a score on a backhander, assisted by Charlie Coyle and Mikko Koivu (his 31st helper of the season).  But, it was the Blues with the final goal, as Robby Fabbri fired a wrister at an empty net, assisted by Kevin Shattenkirk (his 24th helper of the season) to set the score at the 4-2 final.

First Star Jake Allen earns the win after saving 30 of 32 (93.8%), while Devan Dubnyk takes the loss, saving 13 of 16 (81.3%).  He was replaced after Berglund’s goal by Darcy Kuemper, who saved all 18 shots he faced for no decision.

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 64-37-13, favoring the home sides by 30 points over the roadies.

This Monday’s schedule is a decent one, with seven games taking place.  The action gets started at the usual 7 p.m. eastern starting time with Tampa Bay visiting Philadelphia, followed half an hour later by two games (Buffalo at Toronto and Boston at Florida).  The next couple of games don’t drop the puck until 9 p.m. eastern (Arizona at Colorado [NBCSN] and San Jose at Calgary), trailed an hour later by Washington at Anaheim.  Finally, this evening’s nightcap, Vancouver at Los Angeles, gets started at 10:30 p.m. eastern.

Over half of this evening’s games are divisional rivalries (Buffalo at Toronto, Boston at Florida, San Jose at Calgary and Vancouver at Los Angeles), and two games will be contested between squads currently qualifying for the playoffs (Boston at Florida and Washington at Anaheim).

Although Alex Tanguay is making his first return to the Pepsi Center since being traded to Arizona at the deadline, the game that attracts my attention is the BostonFlorida game, as it is currently an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal matchup.

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Tonight’s game will be Boston‘s 15th in the DtFR Game of the Day series, where they own a 5-8-1 record, with their most recent being a 4-1 loss to the Lightning on February 28.  Florida has been featured only six times before tonight’s game, and own a 4-2-0 record in such games.  Their most recent showing in the series was almost exactly a month ago, a three-goal shutout loss in Detroit on February 8.

The 36-23-7 Boston Bruins currently sit in third place in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.  To get to that position, they’ve played one of the strongest offenses in the game, but the defense ranks 12th worst.

Led by Patrice Bergeron’s 222 shots, the Bruins have fired the puck a solid 2070 times, with an even better 9.6% finding the back of the net for 202 goals (led by Brad Marchand’s 33 tallies), third most in the league.  Part of the reason for that success can certainly be attributed to the power play, as their 21.13% success rate, good for 41 power play goals (led by Bergeron’s 10 extra man tallies), ranks eighth best in the NHL.

It has been the defense that has been the issue for the Bruins this year.  Even with Kevan Miller’s 103 blocks, Boston has allowed 2016 shots to reach 26-18-6 Tuukka Rask and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 91.6% for 180 goals against, 12th most in the league.  That being said, the Bruins still host the 10th best penalty kill in the league, defending 82.19% of their infractions for 39 power play goals against.  Further improving that rate, the penalty kill is also responsible for eight shorthanded goals, led by Marchand’s four.

Boston‘s last game was a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals on Saturday.  With a win tonight, Boston would advance past Florida for the second seed in the Atlantic Division, important for home ice in at least the first round.  They could also be only one point behind Tampa Bay for the division lead, should the Bolts fall to the Flyers.

The 36-21-8 Florida Panthers currently occupy second place in the Atlantic Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference.  The name of the game in Sunrise has been their sixth best defense, paired with the 13th best offense.

Led by Dmitry Kulikov’s 95 blocks, the Panthers have allowed only 1913 shots to reach 27-16-6 Roberto Luongo and co., of which they’ve collectively saved 92.4% for only 156 goals against, the sixth fewest in the league.  Probably the biggest chink in their armor has been the penalty kill, but that still ranks 10th best in the NHL.  Florida neutralizes 81.19% of opposing power plays for 41 extra man tallies against.

Led by Vincent Trocheck’s 145 shot attempts, Florida has fired the puck only 1815 times, but 9.4% have found the back of the net for 177 goals, 13th most in the league.  This attack is peculiar in that the power play is not an integral part, as Florida‘s 16.44% success rate, good for 37 goals (led by Aleksander Barkov’s eight power play goals), ranks fourth worst in the NHL.

Florida is currently riding a two game losing skid, with their most recent being a 5-1 loss in Arizona on Saturday.  Since the beginning of February, the Panthers have gone 7-6-3, a far cry from their December and January dominance.  Because of this, they have ceded the division lead to the arch-rival Lightning, and run the risk of losing second place with a loss tonight.

Boston currently leads the season series 2-0-0, with their most recent meeting occurring December 12 in Boston, a 3-1 win for the home side.

Some players to keep an eye on in tonight’s game include Boston‘s Marchand (33 goals [third most in the league] and +20 [10th best in the league]) and Rask (four shutouts [tied for fifth most in the league]) & Florida‘s Brian Campbell (+22 [tied for eighth best in the league]) and Luongo (four shutouts [tied for fifth most in the league], .924 save percentage [tied for sixth best in the league] and 27 wins [tied for seventh most in the league]).

I’m always a fan of an underdog, or undercat in Florida‘s case, as they are rarely thought of as a successful club, but I’m worried the Original Six franchise might get the win this evening.  They have the win streak and the season series in their back pocket.  Florida is certainly capable, but I think it will be a Bruins winner.

January 3 – Day 85 – Which is more Wild? Minnesota or the Everglades?

Yesterday’s Game of the Day between the New York Rangers and the Florida Panthers ended in a home shutout winner, as First Star of the Game Roberto Luongo led his squad to a 3-0 victory, their eighth-straight.

The first goal of the night, the game-winner, was a backhander from Second Star Logan Shaw, assisted by Corban Knight with only 25 seconds remaining in the opening period.

The second period was witness to both of Florida‘s insurance goals.  The first of those came 4:41 after resuming play from the intermission, compliments of a Vincent Trocheck tip-in, assisted by Alex Petrovic and Brian Campbell.  At the 11:18 mark, the third and final goal of the night found the back of the net courtesy of a Brandon Pirri power play slapshot, assisted by Reilly Smith and Jussi Jokinen, setting the score at the 3-0 final.

Luongo improves his record to 17-11-3 by saving all 40 shots he faced, while Henrik Lundqvist’s record falls to 17-11-3 after saving 17 of 20 (85%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 33-16-6, favoring the home squads by 24 points over the roadies.

After a full Saturday schedule, the NHL relaxes a little bit, as there’s only four games this Sunday.  The action gets started at 5 p.m. eastern when Dallas visits the New York Islanders, followed an hour later by Minnesota at Florida.  7 p.m. eastern brings with it Ottawa at Chicago (NHLN/TVAS/SN), and this evening’s nightcap gets started at 9 p.m. eastern when Winnipeg visits Anaheim.

None of today’s games are between divisional rivals (in fact, Winnipeg at Anaheim is the only game between teams from the same conference!), but two are between teams that are both qualifying for the playoffs (Dallas at New York and Minnesota at Florida).  Lastly, the WinnipegAnaheim game is a rematch of one of last season’s Western Conference Quarterfinal matchups.

I know that we just watched Florida last night, but I am more intrigued by their game against the Wild than the StarsIsles game, so I’m making the executive decision to keep our focus in Sunrise, Fla.

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This evening’s game will be Minnesota‘s seventh appearance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, where they own a 4-2-0 record.  Their most recent showing while the focus of our attention was their game in St. Louis on New Year’s Eve, a 3-1 victory.  This is Florida‘s fourth showing after winning their game against the Rangers last night.

The 20-10-7 Minnesota Wild‘s most recent game was a 3-2 shutout defeat last night in Tampa Bay.  They’ve utilized one of the best defenses (fourth in goals against) in the league to establish themselves in fourth place in the Central Division and fifth in the Western Conference.  You can read a more in-depth summary of Minnesota‘s play here.

Just like Minnesota, the 22-12-4 Florida Panthers play a top-five defense (as measured by goals against) to establish themselves as the best in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference, and are currently riding a league-best eight-game win streak.  Yesterday’s Game of the Day provides a more in-depth analysis of the Panthers‘ game, and can be found here.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Florida‘s Luongo (17 wins [tied for fifth in the league] and .926 save percentage [tenth-best in the league]) and Minnesota‘s Devan Dubnyk (four shutouts [tied for third in the league] and 16 wins [tied for eighth in the league]).

It is my opinion that both Florida‘s offense and defense are better than that of the Wild.  Coupling that with home-ice for the Panthers, and this should be a Florida winner.