Tag Archives: Ekblad

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:*

January 19 – Day 104 – Skeletons in the closet

There may not be many games going on today, but at least they’re all being broadcast nationally.

Most of the night’s action drops the puck at 7:30 p.m. this evening, as two (Vegas at Florida [SN360/TVAS] and Montréal at Washington [NHLN/RDS/TSN2]) of the three games get underway. Finally, Los Angeles at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the night’s festivities with a rivalry game at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Teams on the bye: Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Edmonton, Minnesota, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Now, I know that the Freeway Face-Off is taking place today and both teams are on the cusp of playoff position, but there’s one game that has really attracted my attention.

 

 

 

 

 

Featuring this game provides us the enjoyable opportunity of looking back at the Panthers’ decisions over the past year and judging them.

If that doesn’t sound like fun, I don’t know what is.

Gerard Gallant was named the head coach of the Florida Panthers before the 2014-’15 season. The season before, Florida had posted an ugly 29-45-8 record to finish seventh in the Atlantic Division, a whopping 27 points behind Detroit for the second wild card.

While the Panthers didn’t do much climbing in the division standings (they only advanced to sixth in the Atlantic), Gallant’s first year as head coach saw the club improve to 38-29-15, their first winning record since claiming the Southeast Division in 2011-’12.

That growth continued into the 2015-’16 campaign, which was easily his best during his tenure in Florida. The Panthers exploded to a 47-26-9 record to raise their second division banner in franchise history and finish third in the Eastern Conference. One of Florida’s major acquisitions that season was trading RW Jimmy Hayes to Boston for W Reilly Smith. Smith was an instant success in the Sunshine State, as he posted a career-best 25 goals en route to 50 points, finishing sixth on the team in scoring.

Though the young Panthers fell in six games to C John Tavares‘ Islanders in the first round, excitement surrounded the team for their future.

With the Panthers seemingly on the rise, they signed then 26-year-old F Jon Marchessault to a two-year, $1.5 million deal after not being offered a contract by Tampa Bay following three years with the organization. As indicated by where Marchessault plays now (the same almost certainly applies to Smith, but more on that in a minute), it seems Gallant saw potential in a player that had posted only 8-11-19 totals in 49 NHL games, which was realized by Marchessault’s impressive 2016-’17 campaign.

However, a simple slow start of 11-10-1 in 2016 is all it took for Florida General Manager Tom Rowe to fire Gallant and literally desert him at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. after the Panthers lost to the Hurricanes 3-2. How firing the winningest coach in franchise history a year after he led the team to its highest heights since the improbable run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, not to mention that he coached the Atlantic All-Star team, makes sense still baffles the imagination of many outside the Panthers’ front office.

At the time of Gallant’s firing, Marchessault had posted solid 10-7-17 totals through 22 games played, well better than Smith’s 4-3-7 effort in the same amount of time. Even with Rowe assuming coaching duties for the remainder of the season, Marchessault would score a team-high 30 goals and tack on 21 assists for a third-best 51 points in 75 games – all career bests for a player in only his second full season in the NHL. However, Florida returned to sixth in the Atlantic Division with only a 35-36-11 record, 14 points behind second wildcard Toronto. Obviously, the decline was on Gallant and Smith’s shoulders, as Smith finished with only 15-22-37 totals.

After going unsigned for the remainder of the 2016-’17 season, Gallant was hired as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights on April 13, 2017, allowing him the opportunity to work with General Manager George McPhee to build the exact team he wanted from a blank slate – a luxury afforded to very few in the world of professional sports.

Having recent experience with the Panthers’ system, it’s no surprise that Gallant would do everything in his power to get his favorite players from that team. However, I’d bet that even he didn’t predict his good fortune when General Manager Dale Tallon – the same person responsible for signing Gallant to the Panthers in 2014 – agreed to trade Smith to Vegas in exchange for the Golden Knights drafting Marchessault in the 2017 Expansion Draft and a measly fourth-round draft pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Call me crazy, but perhaps it shouldn’t have ever been a surprise that 30-11-3 Vegas is doing so well. Marchessault (16-26-42 totals) and Smith (12-24-36) are both among the top-four point earners for the Knights with the same head coach that led them to glory on the opposite side of the country. Marchessualt has since signed a six-year, $30 million extension with the Golden Knights. That means he and Smith, who came to Vegas with five years remaining on a five-year, $25 million deal will be together through the 2021-’22 season.

Compare that to 18-19-6 Florida’s situation in fourth to last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference and it makes clear sense why Rowe is no longer the Panthers’ general manager (however, he’s still in Florida’s front office… I wish I had that kind of job security).

Imagining what could have been for the Panthers if Rowe hadn’t screwed everything up by chasing some analytical dream is truly disparaging (and I’m not even a Panthers fan!), and that point will be made even more clear this evening with all the former Panthers in town.

After losing in regulation Tuesday, the Western Conference-leading Golden Knights are looking forward to getting their next winning streak started. Vegas has earned points in four of its past five games, and it owes all its success to 10-3-2 G Marc-Andre Fleury and his defense.

Fleury has been stellar all year. After all, his .945 season save percentage and 1.72 GAA are both best in the league among all 66 netminders with at least four starts to their credit (okay, St. Louis’ 10-3-1 G Carter Hutton has matched Fleury’s GAA on the year). However, Fleury has somehow found an even higher level to play at, as he’s posted an incredible .948 save percentage and 1.51 GAA in his last four starts.

While Fleury has been so good that the word solid doesn’t do him justice, he’s also had the luxury of playing behind an impressive defense. Over their last five games, the Golden Knights have allowed an average of only 29.4 shots against, the seventh-best mark in the NHL since January 5. Whether its been LW William Carrier and D Brayden McNabb‘s 3.6 hits-per-game, D Deryk Engelland‘s two blocks-per-game or C William Karlsson‘s six takeaways over this stretch – or simply the Knights’ impressive offense keeping the puck out of the defensive zone – Vegas is making it easy for the face of their franchise to shine like a jewel in the desert.

Of note, Fleury led the Golden Knights to a 4-1 victory yesterday in Tampa Bay, so it would seem likely that 11-2-0 G Malcolm Subban will draw the start this evening. Subban has posted a .918 save percentage and 2.38 GAA in 13 starts this season.

Meanwhile, the struggle continues for the Panthers, who have posted only a 1-3-1 record over their past five games. While they haven’t been very impressive on either end of the ice, the biggest issues of last have been on the defensive end of the rink.

With 6-6-1 G Roberto Luongo still on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, 12-12-5 G James Reimer has started every game since the December 4. Before this rough patch since January 2, he’d actually been having success to the point that he had earned a 7-3-1 record since assuming starting duties – including a five-game winning streak.

However, the new year has not treated him well, as he’s managed only a .894 save percentage and 3.46 GAA in the Panthers’ last five games.

The reason for Reimer’s decline is obvious. The line about him starting every game since the beginning of December was not hyperbole: he’s literally started Florida’s last 16 games, including both ends of two back-to-backs. Fortunately for the Panthers, this is their first game coming off a six-day bye, so Reimer will be well-rested and ready to go.

However, if they’re going to continue riding their backup so hard, perhaps the Panthers’ defense could help him out and keep pucks away from him. Since January 2, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 33.4 shots against per game, the 10th-highest in the league in that time.

D Aaron Ekblad may average two blocks per game over this run, D Alex Petrovic 2.8 hits per game and F Vincent Trocheck five takeways since January 2, but something has to change to keep Reimer alive until Luongo returns – especially since rookie G Harri Sateri is currently serving as backup. In essence, this fourth-worst 3.8 goals against-per-game since January 2 falls on the Panthers’ defense.

Florida has already made its trip out to T-Mobile Arena on December 17, and Rowe was justifiably embarrassed as his Panthers lost 5-2. Oh, and who led the way scoring in that game? First Star of the Game Marchessault (1-2-3 totals) and Smith (0-2-2).

We didn’t even talk about Vegas’ well-documented offense. With that corps going against the Panthers’ defense, it’s hard to believe the Panthers will be able to put up much of a fight tonight.


On the night of C Eric Lindros‘ number retirement, the Philadelphia Flyers completed their season sweep of the Toronto Maple Leafs, beating them in overtime 3-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

This contest was a defensive affair at the start, as neither club could register more than nine shots on goal in the first period. As a result, the score read the same during the first intermission as it did at the opening puck drop: 0-0.

However, that all changed in the blink of an eye in the second frame. RW Connor Brown (F Zach Hyman) broke the draw on a wrist shot with 7:03 remaining in the period, followed only 28 seconds later by C Frederik Gauthier‘s (W Matt Martin and D Jake Gardiner) first goal of the season to set the score at 2-0.

Philadelphia finally got on the scoreboard at the 1:33 mark of the third period, courtesy of an unassisted wrap-around shot by Third Star of the Game F Nolan Patrick. Though F Jori Lehtera tried to give the game away by interfering with Gauthier only 34 seconds later, W Wayne Simmonds (F Valtteri Filppula and D Andrew MacDonald) found a way to bury a shorthanded snap shot at the 3:25 mark, leveling the score at two-all.

Though neither team was able to score in the remainder of regulation, it didn’t take long for First Star C Sean Couturier (F Travis Konecny and Second Star G Michal Neuvirth) to win the game in overtime. The play started when Neuvirth made a pad save on C Auston Matthews. Konecny corralled the loose puck and began racing up the right boards. With two Maple Leafs closing in on him near the right face-off dot, he split his defenders with a pass to Couturier in the left face-off circle, setting up Philly’s leading scorer with a one-on-one opportunity against G Frederik Andersen. Couturier slung his wrist shot to the far post, ending the game in the Flyers’ favor.

Neuvirth earned the victory after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Andersen, who saved 34-of-37 (.919).

The 58-34-12 home teams are reestablishing their dominance in the DtFR Game of the Day series, as they’re now riding a three-game winning streak. They now hold a 23 point lead on the visitors in the series.

November 16 – Day 44 – Defense is a Boughner

Fantasy hockey players, consider this your alert: with a dozen games on the schedule, there’s tons of points to be earned tonight!

Like they do most nights, the festivities begin at 7 p.m. when two games (New Jersey at Toronto and Carolina at the New York Islanders), followed half an hour later by three more (Arizona at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Pittsburgh at Ottawa [RDS2] and Dallas at Tampa Bay). 8 p.m. marks the start of two contests (Nashville at Minnesota and Philadelphia at Winnipeg) with another pair (Washington at Colorado and St. Louis at Edmonton) waiting an hour before getting underway. Vegas at Vancouver gets green-lit at 10 p.m. and tonight’s nightcaps – Boston at Los Angeles (SN) and Florida at San Jose – close things out half an hour later. All times Eastern.

There’s quite a few games that have caught my eye this evening. That list includes:

  • Pittsburgh at Ottawa: It’s the first of three rematches of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Dallas at Tampa Bay: Welcome home G Ben Bishop; welcome home.
  • Vegas at Vancouver: D Luca Sbisa called British Columbia home for three seasons, but he’s traded his Vancouver digs for a pad in Sin City.
  • Florida at San Jose: For the last two years, Bob Boughner was an assistant coach for Head Coach Peter DeBoer in San Jose. Tonight, he’ll square off against him as the 15th head coach in Panthers history.

It’s a tough selection among those four, but I have a great way to determine which game is the DtFR Game of the Day: we’ve featured 30 of 31 NHL teams in the series so far, but the one club that escapes us is the Panthers. It’s time to resolve that today.

 

I don’t think you really understand how happy it makes me each year to say we’ve featured every club at least once in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Of course, the Panthers haven’t exactly done themselves any favors with 14 points in the standings…

Regardless of Florida’s current situation, there’s no doubt of Boughner’s ability as a coach. He’s been a head man before, even if his experience wasn’t in the NHL. For eight total seasons (two four-year terms) he was the skipper his hometown OHL team, the Windsor Spitfires. In particular, his first stint with the club was certainly noteworthy. After missing the playoffs in 2006-’07, his first season coaching the organization, he built the Spitfires into a team capable of winning back-to-back Memorial Cups in 2009 and ’10.

Of course, what can you expect from a team that featured the likes of D Ryan Ellis, D Cam Fowler, G Philipp Grubauer, F Taylor Hall, F Adam Henrique, RW Zack Kassian and F Austin Watson?

Winning two CHL championships is a good way to get noticed by the big kids in the hockey business, and Boughner was hired as an assistant coach to Scott Arniel with the Blue Jackets in 2010-’11 before returning to Windsor a year later.

His second four-year stint with the Spitfires was nowhere near as good as his first (given, winning back-to-back titles is a tough act to replicate), as he only qualified Windsor for the OHL playoffs two times – both times falling in the first round.

Following 2014-’15’s failure to reach the postseason, Boughner returned to the NHL as an assistant coach for DeBoer in San Jose, working primarily with D Brent Burns and the defense. The Sharks found much success in Boughner’s two years with the club, as they qualified for their first-ever Stanley Cup Finals in 2016.

And that brings us to present day. Since being hired as the Panthers head coach on June 12, he’s led the club to a not-so-great 6-9-2 record that – as I indicated in my season preview – I blame almost entirely on General Manager Dale Tallon.

As the saying goes, “If it walks like a duck, flies like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” Well, these Panthers are definitely no Anaheim Ducks. Even though I’m sure Boughner – a former defenseman with 10 seasons of NHL experience – is telling his blueliners all his tips and tricks, Florida is the worst defense in the NHL as measured by shots against-per-game, as their 36.6 is 1.1 more than second-worst New Jersey.

Given the obnoxious number of shots it allows, perhaps it’s no surprise Florida has registered the sixth-fewest blocks so far this season. I usually hold D Aaron Ekblad in high esteem, but as one of, if not the best defenseman on this team, his 1.5 blocks-per-game are definitely not cutting it.

Even D Andy Greene, who plays for a nominally better defense in Jersey, has managed 2.1 blocks-per-game this year. Good leaders lead by example, and Ekblad needs to do that if he wants any chance of a positive future for this Panthers organization – especially since he’s locked in with this team until the end of the 2024-’25 season.

Maybe the Panthers are a more violent team; maybe that’s how they are trying to play defense. Guess again, because Florida’s 320 hits are fifth-fewest in the NHL.

Making matters worse, F Derek MacKenzie, whose 37 hits lead the team, is currently listed as day-to-day and it is uncertain if he’ll be able to return to the ice for the first time since getting injured early in Saturday’s game against the Devils. If he’s not ready to play and D Alex Petrovic is still banished to the press box with his team-leading three hits-per-game, F Micheal Haley and his 1.8 hits-per-game would take over as the Panthers’ primary muscle.

What all of this means is 3-3-1 G Roberto Luongo should probably be commended for his .919 save percentage and 3.09 GAA. He’s doing the best he can to provide the league’s (t)ninth-best offense a chance every night he takes to the crease.

Last thing about the Panthers before we talk Sharks real quick: that offense, though. Jonathan Huberdeau (7-14-21 totals) and Vincent Trocheck (8-10-18) are absolute studs, as they’ve racked up all those points on separate lines. Snoozing on Florida’s offense is a recipe for disaster, and G Martin Jones would be wise to treat every attack from the top-two lines just like he would against the other team in the Sunshine State.

That’s actually as good a transition as any, because 10-6-0 San Jose makes a living out of rejecting even the best of offenses, allowing a league-leading 2.25 goals against-per-game.

Perhaps Boughner can use the Sharks’ defense – the same defense he helped build – as a teaching tool for his club, because there’s few blue lines in the league better than San Jose’s. Though 8-4-0 Jones has been solid with his .925 save percentage, it’s the fact that D Justin Braun (2.4 blocks-per-game), D Brenden Dillon (3.1 hits-per-game) and co. have allowed only 28.8 shots against-per-game that has earned the Sharks third place in the Pacific Division.

In my opinion, one of the best indicators of a really good defense is finding success with a man in the penalty box. The Sharks pass that test with flying colors (I can only assume those colors are teal and orange), as their 88.5 percent kill rate is second-best in the NHL. Considering the Panthers’ power play is (t)12th-worst in the league, they shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping those numbers up tonight.

Florida’s offense squares up rather nicely with San Jose’s defense, and the Sharks’ sixth-worst attack might find it in them to struggle against the Panthers’ defense. If that proves to be the case, I give the edge to San Jose since it’s playing at home and it has Jones at its disposal.


With a third period hat trick by First Star of the Game F Artem Anisimov, the Chicago Blackhawks beat the New York Rangers 6-3 at the United Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Anisimov’s (F Patrick Kane and Second Star F Nick Schmaltz) first goal of the game wasn’t struck until the 1:07 mark of the third period, leaving him only 18:53 to complete his performance. After F John Hayden (D Cody Franson and D Duncan Keith) set the score at 3-1 46 seconds after Anisimov’s first goal, the Russian struck again (Franson and Schmaltz) at the 5:14 mark with a power play wrist shot.

Since his second goal proved to be the game-winner, I suppose we’ll let it be the most important of Anisimov’s night, but his tip-in with 3:48 remaining in regulation (Schmaltz and RW Richard Panik) to send headgear flying has to earn silver. That tally set the score at 5-3 and was followed 2:18 later by C Jonathan Toews‘ (Panik and D Brent Seabrook) fifth marker of the season to set the 6-3 final on an empty net.

Making tonight’s win even sweeter for the Hawks, it technically counts as a come-from-behind victory due to C Mika Zibanejad‘s (F Chris Kreider and W Pavel Buchnevich) wrister 9:58 into the first period. He gave the Rangers a one-goal advantage that lasted 29:10 before Third Star W Alex DeBrincat (Panik and Keith) sneaked a wrister past G Henrik Lundqvist with 52 seconds remaining in the second period to level the game.

The Blueshirts also put up a strong fight in the middle of the final frame, as they scored two goals between Anisimov’s second and third. F Kevin Hayes (W Mats Zuccarello and W Rick Nash) takes credit for the first at the 7:08 mark with a wrister, followed 4:48 later by an unassisted Nash backhanded shot to set the score at 4-3 in favor of Chicago. Momentum was certainly on New York’s side at that moment, but the fact that the Hawks’ defense allowed only nine shots on goal in both the second and third periods put a halt to that positive energy rather quickly.

G Corey Crawford earned the victory after saving 25-of-28 shots faced (.893 save percentage), leaving the loss to Lundqvist, who saved 30-of-34 (.882). King Henrik was lifted after Anisimov’s second goal in favor of G Ondrej Pavelec, who completed the game saving seven-of-eight (.875) for no decision.

Not only is this the second-straight 6-3 score in the DtFR Game of the Day series, but it’s also the third-straight victory by the now 23-16-5 home teams who now have a six-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.

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.

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.

December 22 – Day 76 – Would a Miami Vice also be considered a Sen?

Dallas may have waited until they were down two goals, but they ended up beating Minnesota 6-3.

On the same day he signed a four-year, $20.75 million contract extension, Jared Spurgeon celebrated by scoring his fifth goal of the season at the 4:57 mark of the game.  The Wild‘s second goal came 3:19 later, when Justin Fontaine and Third Star of the Game Nino Niederreiter assisted First Star Charlie Coyle to his seventh score of the season.  Minnesota‘s 2-0 lead held into the first intermission.

While the first 20 minutes was all about the home squad, the second period favored the road StarsDallas scored their first goal of the game at the 14:59 mark of the second period, courtesy of Jordie Benn, assisted by Jason Spezza, his 12th helper of the season.  3:31 later, Dallas tied the game at two-all with a power play tally from Vernon Fiddler, assisted by Patrick Eaves and Alex Goligoski, his 11th of the season.  The Stars‘ final goal of the period came only 59 seconds later, as Patrick Sharp and Jamie Benn assisted Tyler Seguin to a wrister to take the lead.  Dallas‘ 3-2 lead held into the second intermission.

Dallas‘ fourth straight goal, the eventual game-winner, came only 3:41 into the final period when Johnny Oduya assisted Antoine Roussel to a backhander.  The streak ended at the 10:26 mark when Coyle and Fontaine assisted Niederreiter, setting the score at 4-3.  The comeback could not be completed though, as Cody Eakin scored the first of two empty netters for the Stars at the 18:07 mark.  The second came with only 14 seconds remaining in the game when Seguin assisted Fiddler to his second goal of the game, and the final tally of the night.

Second Star Antti Niemi improved his record to 14-5-2 after earning the win, saving 30 of 31 (96.8%).  He replaced Kari Lehtonen, who saved only two of four shots faced (50%) in only 8:16 played.  14-9-2 Devan Dubnyk earns the loss after saving only 28 of 32 (87.5%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 28-12-6, favoring the home squads by 24 over the roadies.

Tonight is the last set of games before the NHL takes their Christmas break, with action resuming this Saturday.  Due to that, there’s a total of 10 games occurring this evening, with the first two getting started at 7 p.m. eastern (St. Louis at Boston and Anaheim at the New York Rangers [SN1]).  Three more get started 30 minutes later (New Jersey at Detroit, Vancouver at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Ottawa at Florida [RDS2]), followed at 8 p.m. eastern by Montréal at Minnesota (NBCSN/RDS).  Chicago at Dallas gets started at 8:30 p.m. eastern, followed half an hour later by two more (Winnipeg at Calgary and Toronto at Arizona).  Finally, the nightcap drops the opening puck at 10:30 p.m. eastern when Los Angeles hosts San Jose (NBCSN/SN).

Three of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (Ottawa at Florida, Chicago at Dallas and San Jose at Los Angeles), and they are joined by two others (St. Louis at Boston and Montréal at Minnesota) to make five games between current playoff qualifiers.

The game that deserves our attention is the one that will have the biggest effect on the standings going into the three-day break, so let’s focus in on the Sunshine State.

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This will be Ottawa‘s fourth time featured in DtFR’s featured matchup.  When the focus of our attention, they have a 1-2-0 record, with their most recent showing a 4-2 victory over the Sharks on Friday.  The home Panthers have only been featured once before, when they visited Boston on December 12 and lost 3-1.

The 17-12-5 Ottawa Senators are currently in fifth place in the Atlantic Division and eighth in the Eastern Conference, which qualifies them for the second wild card position.  Their most recent contest was a 5-2 loss in Tampa Bay on Sunday.  The Sens are certainly an offensive-minded team, as they’ve had to cover up mistakes on the other end of the ice.

So far this season, the Senators have only put 953 shots on net (led by Mike Hoffman’s 94), they’ve scored on a whopping 10.6% of those attempts for 101 goals, including Hoffman’s team-leading 17 tallies.  Although Ottawa employs a strong offense, an interestingly average aspect of their attack is their power play.  On 106 attempts, they’ve scored 20 goals (led by Hoffman’s four), for a slightly sub-average 18.87% success rate.

The offense has needed to be good, because the other end of the ice has been lacking.  Although Erik Karlsson has a team-leading 69 blocks, 1140 shots have made it to 15-9-3 Craig Anderson and co.  Although the goaltenders have allowed 99 goals, they do have a combined 91.8% save rate that slightly exceeds the league average, implying that the defense needs to do more to disrupt plays and block shots, potentially by being active before or at the trade deadline.

An even more distressing number is Ottawa‘s penalty kill rate: 76.99%.  They have allowed 26 power play goals to the opposition on 113 attempts.  This also points to Ottawa being very active at the trade deadline to bolster their blue line.

Their opposition this evening are the 18-12-4 Florida Panthers, who currently sit in fourth in the Atlantic Division and seventh in the Eastern Conference, which qualifies them for the first wild card.  They are currently riding a four-game win streak, with their most recent showing a 5-4 shootout victory over the Canucks on Sunday.  Florida plays well on both ends of the ice, but their strength is certainly their defense.

Although the Panther defense has allowed more shots on net than average, they have been much more stingy than Ottawa, allowing only 998, helped by Willie Mitchell’s team-leading 49 blocks.  The real strength has been 13-11-3 Roberto Luongo an co.  While his personal record is not indicative of their success, the goaltenders have a combined 92.6% save rate that leads the league average.  One spot where Florida still needs to improve is on the penalty kill.  They have allowed 20 goals on 106 attempts for a 81.13% kill rate that barely exceeds the league average.

The Panthers‘ offense may have put only 953 shots on goal (led by Aaron Ekblad’s 88), they’ve scored on 9.3% of those attempts for 89 goals, led by Reilly Smith’s 11.  The power play has been an extension of that success, as they’ve scored 22 goals on 113 opportunities for a 19.47% success rate that leads the league average by .55%.

Tonight’s result could have major implications on the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference Wild-Card standings.  Should Ottawa pull off the upset on the road, they will move into a tie with Detroit (who has a game against the Devils tonight) at 41 points.  A Florida win puts the Panthers into a tie with Boston (who is hosting the Blues this evening), while an overtime loss puts them into a tie with Detroit and Ottawa.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Florida‘s Ekblad (+11 and 88 shots [both lead team]), Erik Gudbranson (84 hits [leads team]) and Jaromir Jagr (24 points [leads team]) & Ottawa‘s Anderson (15 wins [tied for fourth in the league] and two shutouts [tied for seventh in the league]), Hoffman (17 goals [tied for fifth in the league]) and Karlsson (28 assists [second in the league] and 37 points [fourth in the league]).

Due to Ottawa‘s poor defensive game and being on the road, I expect the Florida Panthers to win tonight’s game.