Tag Archives: Jonathan Huberdeau

2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview: Eastern Conference

Hockey’s back. In August!?! In this economy?!?

Yes, truer words have never been spoken. Hockey. Is. Back.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking if you’ve been under a rock for the last– let’s see, what month is it now?

The National Hockey League paused the 2019-20 regular season on March 12th due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic before canceling the rest of the regular season in late May and announcing a 24-team playoff format for 2020.

Make no mistake, whether you put an asterisk next to the winners of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final or not– it’ll be the hardest Cup to win since Lord Stanley of Preston announced he’d donate the silver rose bowl to the best hockey team in the world (so Canada) on March 18, 1892.

Despite all the training world class athletes do in contemporary times, nothing could prepare any athlete to stop playing, go through training camp after months of (in some cases) not being able to skate on any ice, then go full throttle for a championship tournament.

If anything, the asterisk next to the 2020 Stanley Cup champions will simply be a marker for the challenging times and remarkable feats of athleticism that team went through to put it all together and lift a 35-pound trophy at the end.

By now you’ve probably heard how the 2020 postseason will work– 24 teams vying for 16 spots, with eight teams (four in each conference) already locked into the playoffs, but fighting for the top-four seeds as the other 16 teams compete in a best-of-five series to punch a ticket into the playoffs.

Those 16 teams are in the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, which technically isn’t part of the 2020 postseason according to the NHL, but the individual player and team stats will count towards the playoffs in the record books.

So for Arizona Coyotes fans, the long standing playoff drought since 2012, technically isn’t over yet. They’d have to beat the Nashville Predators first.

With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference Qualifiers, while the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers sort themselves out.

All Eastern Conference games will be at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario until the Eastern Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final (both of which will be held in Edmonton, Alberta at Rogers Place).

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins (40-23-6, 86 points) vs (12) Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9, 71 points)

Pittsburgh: 69 games played, .623 points percentage, 29 regulation wins.

Montreal: 71 games played, .500 points percentage, 19 regulation wins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins were 5th in the Eastern Conference at the time of the pause and being led by Evgeni Malkin with 74 points in 55 games played, while Bryan Rust (56 points in 55 games) and Sidney Crosby 47 points in 41 games) trailed the Russian star on the roster. 

Yes, Malkin missed 14 games and still amassed 74 points in a season for the Penguins, while Pens head coach, Mike Sullivan, carefully charted the course through a bevy of injuries to bring his team within striking range of the Metropolitan Division lead had the regular season seen its full conclusion.

The Washington Capitals topped the Metropolitan Division with 90 points. The Philadelphia Flyers had 89. Pittsburgh had 86.

An annual Stanley Cup contender since Sullivan led the Penguins to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017 (their second and third since 2009– fourth and fifth in franchise history), Pittsburgh’s goaltending might be the only thing that holds them back from their 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.

Matt Murray had a down year with a 2.87 goals against average and an .899 save percentage in 38 games played– his worst goals against average since he had a 2.92 GAA in 49 games in 2017-18 and his worst-career save percentage in a season. Murray finished the shortened season with a 20-11-5 record and one shutout in 38 starts.

Backup netminder, Tristan Jarry, went 20-12-1 in 33 games played (31 starts) and had a 2.43 GAA, as well as a .921 SV% and three shutouts.

Murray’s leash through the exhibition games should be a short one, despite his career 2.16 GAA and .921 SV% in 48 Stanley Cup Playoff games. His goals against average reached a career-low 1.70 in 11 games en route to Pittsburgh’s Cup win in 2017, but rose to a 2.43 in 2018 (12 games) and a 3.02 in 2019 (four games) as the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in last year’s First Round.

It’s not that he can’t bounce back, but rather that Sullivan should ride the hotter goaltender and force a little healthy competition if it yields the best in Murray’s game. If not, it’ll either be sink or swim with Jarry in the crease.

At the other end of the rink, the Montreal Canadiens went .500 this season and were mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference at the stoppage with what looked like little hope for a late season surge into the postseason, despite leading scorer, Tomas Tatar (22-39–61 totals in 68 games played) and starting goaltender, Carey Price’s best efforts.

Phillip Danault had the second-most points on the Habs roster this season with 13 goals and 34 assists (47 points) in 71 games played, while Max Domi was third in scoring on the team with 44 points in 71 games.

Price led Montreal in net with a 27-25-6 record in 58 games played (58 starts), a 2.79 GAA, a .909 SV% and four shutouts this season. Since his 2.23 GAA and .923 SV% in 62 games in 2016-17, Price has not had a goals against average below 2.30 or a save percentage better than .920. He had a 3.11 GAA and a .900 SV% in 49 games in 2017-18, as well as a 2.49 GAA and a .918 SV% in 66 games last season.

As he approaches his mid-30s and the league shifts more and more towards tandem goaltending, Price shouldn’t be playing more than 50 games in a regular season, but the Canadiens struggled with finding a backup this season.

Charlie Lindgren went 2-4-0 in six games (six starts) and had a 3.33 GAA, as well as an .888 SV%. Meanwhile, Cayden Primeau went 1-1-0 in two games (both starts) and had a 2.52 GAA and a .931 SV%.

Keith Kinkaid also made an appearance with six games played (five starts), a 1-1-3 record, a 4.24 GAA and an .875 SV%.

Claude Julien has over 400 regular season wins as the head coach of the Boston Bruins and won the Cup with the B’s in 2011, but that was nine years ago and he’s three full seasons into his second stint behind the bench as head coach of the Canadiens.

His teams aren’t known for keeling over and being swept out of the playoffs, so they’ll likely be able to win one as Montreal scratches and claws their way to victory in classic Julien-style blue-collar work ethic fashion, but can he get it done against Pittsburgh in today’s NHL?

Especially when falling behind the eight ball is even more significant in a best-of-five series than it is in a best-of-seven.

Price might be fresh, but Pittsburgh’s got an offense and a defense. Plus the Penguins did win two out of their three regular season matchups and Crosby and Malkin are ready to make yet another postseason appearance– regardless of how far things will actually go.

It’s not out of the question that the Habs will be able to steal a game, but the Penguins should have this series wrapped up in four games and punch their ticket to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 MTL at PPG Paints Arena on Dec. 10th, 3-2 F/OT PIT at Bell Centre on Jan. 4th, 4-1 PIT at PPG Paints Arena on Feb. 14th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 MTL @ PIT in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 PIT @ MTL in Toronto 8 PM ET NBCSN, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 PIT @ MTL in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 MTL @ PIT in Toronto*

*If necessary

(6) Carolina Hurricanes (38-25-5, 81 points) vs (11) New York Rangers (37-28-5, 79 points)

Carolina: 68 games played, .596 points percentage, 27 regulation wins

N.Y. Rangers: 70 games played, .564 points percentage, 31 regulation wins

Rod Brind’Amour and the Carolina Hurricanes have their work cut out for them in what just might be the only series that would be an upset if the higher seed wins. The Hurricanes lost all four regular season matchups against the Rangers, despite Sebastian Aho’s team-leading 66 points in 68 games on the season.

Aho set a new career-high in goals (38) and had a pair of goals against New York this season, but fell shy of establishing a new career-high in points after putting up 83 points in 82 games last season. Of course, a pandemic shortened regular season will have something to do with that.

Regardless, he was on pace for about 80 points at the time the NHL season was paused.

Teuvo Teravainen continued to show that he’s one of the most consistent performers in the league with a respectable 48 assists and 63 points in 68 games played as one of Carolina’s more “veteran” players, despite only being 25-years-old.

Meanwhile, Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse goals this season and managed to improve on all fronts from his rookie season (20-17–37 totals in 82 games last season) with 24 goals and 37 assists (61 points) in 68 games in 2019-20. He was on pace for almost 30 goals and around 73 points in his sophomore season had the pandemic not called it short.

In goal, David Ayres led the way with– just kidding– Petr Mrazek went 21-16-2 in 40 games this season (38 starts) and had a 2.69 GAA, as well as a .905 SV% and three shutouts. Not great, but not the worst entering the Qualifiers.

He’ll have to do much better than his 2.73 GAA and .894 SV% in 11 games in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if he has any hopes of catapulting his team over the Rangers and backstopping them to a deep playoff run like last year.

That said, Curtis McElhinney was the one that replaced him against the Boston Bruins in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final after Mrazek allowed ten goals against in the series, compared to McElhinney’s five.

The good news for the Hurricanes, however, is that McElhinney’s numbers have been way off the mark this season and he’s the current backup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Plus James Reimer exists in Carolina.

Reimer went 14-6-2 in 25 games for the Canes this season and had a 2.66 GAA, as well as a .914 SV% and three shutouts– so basically he’s the same as Mrazek, only Reimer’s looking for a bigger redemption arc in the postseason than being remembered as the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender in Boston’s epic, 5-4, overtime comeback in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

That wasn’t even Reimer’s last appearance in the playoffs, however, as he had a brief stint (29 minutes) with the San Jose Sharks en route to their 2016 Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Brind’Amour might be wise to use his best defensive game and start Reimer in Game 1 against the Rangers, except Mrazek had an .861 SV% against New York in three games this season, while Reimer had a .792 SV%.

Advantage… …Mrazek? But on a short leash?

On the other hand, the New York Rangers enter their Qualifier matchup with the Hurricanes two points behind Carolina in the season standings and three spots behind them in the Metropolitan Division standings that are virtually obsolete this postseason.

The Hurricanes had 81 points. The Rangers had 79 points. First place through seventh place in the division was separated by 11 points at the time of the stoppage.

And at that point, 2019-20 Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, Artemi Panarin, had already amassed 32-63–95 totals in 69 games for New York.

He had nine points (three goals, six assists) against the Hurricanes this season, while Mika Zibanejad sat 20 points behind Panarin in team scoring with 41 goals and 34 assists (75 points) in 57 games– including four goals and three assists against Carolina this season.

Ryan Strome carried third place honors for the Rangers in scoring this season with 18-41–59 totals in 70 games.

Rangers head coach, David Quinn, also doesn’t have an easy decision to make with his goaltenders heading to Toronto for their series against Carolina.

Henrik Lundqvist made three starts against the Canes and went 3-0-0, while stopping 125 shots out of 132 shots against (.947 SV%) in that span.

Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves on 29 shots against (.931 SV%) in his one start and one win against Carolina this season.

Lundqvist went 10-12-3 on the season in 30 games played (26 starts) with a 3.16 GAA, a .905 SV% and one shutout.

Shesterkin went 10-2-0 in 12 games played (12 starts) and had a 2.52 GAA, as well as a .932 SV%.

Oh yeah, and Alexandar Georgiev went 17-14-2 in 34 games (32 starts) while putting up a 3.04 GAA, a .910 SV% and two shutouts.

One thing is clearer now more than ever before– “King Henrik” is no longer king in “The Big Apple”.

Shesterkin should receive the nod for the playoffs, but this is just the Qualifier. It technically doesn’t count unless you win three out of the next possible five games.

In that case, Quinn could rely on Lundqvist to get the job done, then give Shesterkin his first real taste of the NHL’s toughest job– being a goaltender in the playoffs– since Lundqvist has a history for seemingly always having Carolina’s number when it matters most for the Hurricanes.

Regardless of who’s in net, New York holds all the advantages coming into this series.

The Rangers scored 17 goals for against Hurricanes and allowed nine goals against over their four games against one another.

Carolina threw the kitchen sink at New York on net– totaling 161 shots on goal in their four regular season matchups with the Blue Shirts– but Lundqvist was the key difference maker.

That said, the Hurricanes knocked off the then defending Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games in last year’s First Round.

But can Brind’Amour motivate his players enough to get the job done more efficiently when the series is only a best-of-five instead of having the luxury to drag things out all seven games like they did against the Caps?

And with back-to-back games incorporated in the schedule, conditions are clearly unfavorable for the Hurricanes in their David and Goliath matchup (again, despite being the higher seed).

One thing that works in their favor? There’s no travel outside the bubble to and from the games, so that’s a plus.

Knowing how The Hockey Gods work, it’d be foolish not to believe this series won’t go all five games just because. Either that or Carolina will pull off the three-game sweep of the Rangers after losing every single regular season game against New York in 2019-20.

Flip a coin and that’s your winner– this series might just be a lot closer and more intense than you think.

Rangers in five, but don’t be surprised if/when Carolina defeats them.

Sit back and enjoy.

Regular season outcomes:

4-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Nov. 7th, 3-2 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 27th, 5-3 NYR at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27th, 5-2 NYR at PNC Arena on Feb. 21st

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/3- Game 2 NYR @ CAR in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, SN360, TVAS

8/4- Game 3 CAR @ NYR in Toronto 8 PM ET on NBCSN, SN360, TVAS

8/6- Game 4 CAR @ NYR in Toronto*

8/8- Game 5 NYR @ CAR in Toronto*

*If necessary

(7) New York Islanders (35-23-10, 80 points) vs (10) Florida Panthers (35-26-8, 78 points)

N.Y. Islanders: 68 games played, .588 points percentage, 24 regulation wins

Florida: 69 games played, .565 points percentage, 30 regulation wins

Barry Trotz is still coaching the trap in today’s NHL, which, honestly, you have to hand it to him. His defense first mindset has turned the New York Islanders into a playoff contender since his arrival last season.

The only bad thing that’s come with Trotz’s arrival and John Tavares’ departure– a lack of goal scoring.

It’s no secret that to win games, your team must score more goals than the other team, whether it’s a, 10-9, high-scoring victory or a, 1-0, shutout.

Unfortunately for Trotz, the Isles ranked ninth in fewest goals for this season with 192, which is the worst among all the Qualifier team. Yes, even Montreal and Chicago each had 212 goals for this season, despite their minus-6 and minus-9 goal differentials, respectively.

At least the Islanders only allowed one more goal than they scored in the pandemic shortened regular season.

Anyway, Mathew Barzal led the charge for New York this season with 19-41–60 totals in 68 games played, while Brock Nelson (54 points in 68 games) and Anders Lee (43 points in 68 games) followed suit.

Barzal was on pace for 23 goals and 72 points this season, which would’ve been a career-high in goals in a season for the young forward only having just completed his third full season. Nevertheless, scoring at least 60 points in three consecutive seasons is respectable.

Nelson scored 26 goals this season, which marked back to back seasons of at least 20 goals for the 28-year-old. He was on pace for 31 goals in what was already a career-season in the making.

Lee was on pace for 52 points after putting up 20-23–43 totals in 68 games, which would have given him four consecutive seasons of 50-plus points.

But it’s not all about what would’ve been for the Islanders, because the future is here in goaltender Ilya Sorokin– oh wait, he can’t play in the 2020 postseason due to the NHL’s Return to Play rulings, which is fine– just means that next year’s looking good for the Isles.

In net, Semyon Varlamov amassed a 19-14-6 record in 45 games played (39 starts) with a 2.62 GAA and a .914 SV%, as well as two shutouts to go with it.

Ideally, you’d like a starting goaltender in the NHL to be closer to 2.50, maybe even 2.30 in goals against average and around a .920 in save percentage, but we addressed some of New York’s shortcomings this season– a lack of offense and injuries on defense with Adam Pelech limited to 38 games.

Thomas Greiss had a 16-9-4 record in 31 games (29 starts) with a 2.74 GAA and a .913 SV% in the process.

It’s likely his last season on Long Island/in Brooklyn with Sorokin signed for the next couple of seasons, so if he sees any ice time in the series, he’ll have to be better in order to prove his next payday at the expense of another team via free agency in November.

New York brought in Jean-Gabriel Pageau at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a conditional 2020 1st round pick (can become a 2021 1st round pick if the Islanders lose in the Qualifier and win the 1st overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft–a.k.a. top-3 lottery protected), a 2020 2nd round pick and a conditional 2022 3rd round pick (if New York wins the Cup in 2020), then signed Pageau to a six-year extension worth $5.000 million per season.

Though it was all too short to effectively judge Pageau in an Islanders sweater, it’s worth noting he scored two goals in seven games so far. That’s it.

A boost for the third line, sure, but his effectiveness in a new surrounding remains to be seen, which could be a key to New York defeating the Florida Panthers who lack an important figure in Vincent Trocheck since trading him to the Carolina Hurricanes for Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Chase Priskie and Eetu Luostarinen at the deadline on Feb. 24th.

Speaking of the Panthers, Florida was led by Jonathan Huberdeau in scoring this season with 23 goals and 55 assists (78 points) in 69 games this season.

Aleksander Barkov had his fifth consecutive 20-goal season– one season removed from his career-high 35 goals (and 96 points!) last season– and was on pace for 25 tallies this season at the stoppage.

And bringing up the rear in Florida’s top-three scorers this season was Mike Hoffman with 29 goals and 30 assists (59 points) in 69 games. Hoffman finished one goal shy of back to back 30-goal seasons and was on pace to match his career-high 70 points in a season had the regular season been uninterrupted.

In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky probably wishes he could ask for a mulligan this season after going 23-19-6 in 50 games played (49 starts) and amassing a 3.23 GAA, as well as a .900 SV% and one shutout.

Yes, you read that right– one shutout this season. After leading the league with nine shutouts last season, Bobrovsky was far beyond a disappointment in his first year of a seven-year, $70 million contract.

Meanwhile, Sam Montembeault (5-5-1) started the season as Florida’s backup, but things took a turn after his 3.34 GAA and .890 SV% in 14 games played (nine starts) were no better than Bobrovsky’s career-worst season as a starter.

Alas, Chris Driedger was called up from the Springfield Thunderbirds (AHL) and put up a 7-2-1 record in 12 games played with a 2.05 GAA, a .938 SV% and one shutout in that span.

The Islanders beat the Panthers in all three regular season matchups this season, but New York has yet to face Driedger.

A word to the wise for Florida’s head coach, Joel Quenneville– what more could you lose by starting Driedger in Game 1?

Bobrovsky hasn’t had the form all season and isn’t going into the playoffs as your surefire starter– $10.000 million cap hit or not. Pray he returns to his two-time Vezina Trophy winning ability in time for 2020-21, but for now he hasn’t earned starter duties and your main focus is on winning three games, let alone going for the Cup with whatever you have for a roster.

The Islanders scored eight goals in their three games against the Panthers this season. They allowed four goals against, while Florida– to their credit– forced New York to a shootout in their first meeting back on Oct. 12th.

New York had 94 total shots on goal against Florida this season.

The Panthers had 108 shots against the Islanders.

It should be a close battle with each team ravaged in some manner– whether by injuries that plagued them all season or lackluster goaltending, neither club is exactly turning heads out there.

The Panthers lost in six games to the Islanders in the 2016 First Round, but this time around it’s a best of five.

New York should win in four games as Trotz has more recent playoff success and the more recent playoff experienced roster to go off of than, yes, Quenneville’s three Stanley Cup Rings from the last ten years.

It’s not that Quenneville can’t pull off the upset, but rather that the Panthers aren’t ready to make a dent in the postseason picture without all the necessary pieces.

The good news for them, at least, is they have a tried and true coach to guide them through what for now will be some growing pains.

Unless 20-goal scorer Noel Acciari pockets a hat trick in three straight games, which sounds quite plausible these days, so who knows!?

Regular season outcomes:

3-2 F/SO NYI at NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum on Oct. 12th, 2-1 NYI at Barclays Center on Nov. 9th, 3-1 NYI at BB&T Center on Dec. 12th

Schedule:

8/1- Game 1 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN1, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 FLA @ NYI in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/5- Game 3 NYI @ FLA in Toronto 12 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/7- Game 4 NYI @ FLA in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 FLA @ NYI in Toronto*

*If necessary

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Toronto: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 28 regulation wins

Columbus: 70 games played, .579 points percentage, 25 regulation wins

The Toronto Maple Leafs have home ice advantage and– well, technically, the Qualifier isn’t considered part of the playoffs and there’s a pandemic going on, so no fans are allowed inside the bubble.

But hey, at least there’s hockey in Canadian New York City, so we’ll take it!

The Leafs were led by Auston Matthews in scoring this season as the 22-year-old center finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 of them in 70 games played. He had 80 points overall, which established career-highs in both goals and points in his fourth NHL season– and fourth consecutive season with at least 30 goals.

Oh and for the second time in his young career, Matthews reached the 40-goal plateau and was on the cusp of 50 had it not been for the ongoing pandemic cutting things short. He was on pace for 55 goals at the stoppage.

Mitchell Marner was second on the Leafs roster in scoring with 16-51–67 totals in 59 games played– surpassing the 50-assist plateau for the second straight season and further proving his vital role as a playmaker on the roster.

Meanwhile, John Tavares had 26 goals and 34 assists (60 points) in 63 games, which was down from his 47-41–88 totals last season, but then again, he was on pace for 78 points this season had the regular season seen its proper conclusion, so really he wasn’t all that far off from a typical Tavares year.

As it is, the only time Tavares has ever had less than 50 points in a season was in the lockout shortened, 48-game, 2012-13 season, in which he had 47 points in all 48 games.

Yeah, he’s pretty good.

In the crease, the Maple Leafs were led by Frederik Anderson (29-13-7 record in 52 games played, 2.85 GAA, .909 SV%, three shutouts), but hold the phone! What’s this? Toronto acquired a legitimate backup netminder during the season!?!

That’s right, Jack Campbell (3-2-1 in six games with Toronto, six starts, 2.63 GAA, .915 SV% in that span) is a Maple Leaf and– heaven forbid– is more than capable of bailing out Toronto if things get dire with Andersen.

Oh and Sheldon Keefe is in charge behind the bench.

Plus there’s a wild card this year for Toronto that the rest of the league has yet to see– Nick Robertson. You know, the forward that had 55-31–88 totals in 46 games with the Peterborough Petes (OHL) this season and brings both even more speed and skill to the Maple Leafs lineup.

At the other side of the rink, the Columbus Blue Jackets were battered all season and had a trio of goaltenders at one point as a result, yet somehow, here they are to the surprise of all the experts that had them pegged for 8th place in the Metropolitan Division heading into the 2019-20 season after losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency.

It’s all just part of the plan.

Many had them out against the Lightning last year and, well, the Blue Jackets brought the thunder in that series.

Unfortunately for CBJ fans, they couldn’t bring the cannon through customs, but they were able to bring their leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and his 18-31–49 totals in 70 games this season.

Gustav Nyquist had a respectable 42-point season (15 goals, 27 assists) in 70 games with Columbus after being brought in via free agency, while Zach Werenski was third on the team in scoring with 20 goals and 21 assists (41 points) from the blue line in 63 games.

Columbus has the better defense on paper, but Toronto’s offense has more than enough firepower to outmatch the Blue Jackets’ best efforts.

In goal, however, emerged the rise of a new king (but not of rock)– Elvis Merzlikins. Though Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV%, two shutouts) played in more games (37 played, 35 starts) than Merzlikins, No. 90 in red, white and blue had the better numbers with a 13-9-8 record in 33 games played (31 starts), as well as a 2.35 GAA, a .923 SV% and five shutouts.

It’s the dawn of a new age in Columbus as a hot, young, goaltending tandem has arrived with the departure of Bobrovsky.

It’ll be Merzlikins’ biggest test, but the Blue Jackets just might be a lot better off now more than ever riding the hot goaltender.

Plus they struck down the dragon last spring and made it out of the First Round for the first time in franchise history, so now anything’s possible moving forward.

On paper this is the most even matchup as both teams finished with 81 points, had 70 games played and went won one out of the two games they played against one another before the pandemic shortened the regular season, but it’s hard to ignore one thing– Tortorella.

Once more Tortorella is a Jack Adams Award finalist and, oh yeah, he’s kind of responsible for figuring out how to not only beat, but sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 First Round– you know, last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners.

But a newcomer has entered the chat and that’s Keefe. He led the Toronto Marlies (AHL) to the 2018 Calder Cup championship and many of the players in the Leafs system have encountered his touch in recent years.

Is Keefe the answer to Toronto’s prayers or will yet another team that’s come into the league since their last Cup in 1967 raise Lord Stanley’s mug over their heads while the Maple Leafs are off somewhere preparing for next season?

The good news, this isn’t technically the playoffs yet, so that means Toronto’s got a better chance off the bat.

There’s not as much of a distraction surrounding their opponent (*ahem* for once, it’s not Boston!– yet, anyway), let alone the “hasn’t made it out of the First Round since before the 2004-05 season-long lockout” specter that shadows the Leafs.

The bad news, they’re the Maple Leafs. Of course only something like a pandemic would throw off any momentum they had going into a possible playoff run, etc.

Imagine if the Chicago Cubs didn’t win in 2016, or the Boston Red Sox didn’t win in 2004– yeah, that’s how most Toronto fans feel day-in and day-out– no matter how confident– no matter how much belief they have in the team.

There’s always that chance that something something goes wrong and the curse or whatever remains hanging over the Maple Leafs dressing room and front office.

Leafs in five, then we’ll see what happens, but Tortorella’s teams aren’t easy to knock off their game. This alone might be Toronto’s greatest test in the Matthews, Marner and Co. Era.

Mike Babcock’s gone. They’re playing the “new age” game. Can they get it done?

Regular season outcomes:

4-1 TOR at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4th, 4-3 F/OT CBJ at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 21st

Schedule:

8/2- Game 1 CBJ @ TOR 8 PM ET on NHLN, SN, TVAS

8/4- Game 2 CBJ @ TOR 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

8/6- Game 3 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto TBD

8/7- Game 4 TOR @ CBJ in Toronto*

8/9- Game 5 CBJ @ TOR*

*If necessary


2020 Eastern Conference Round Robin Action

Here’s a quick glance at the Round Robin schedule for the top-four Eastern Conference teams if you’re not at all interested in the Qualifiers for some reason.

Again, all games in the Eastern Conference are in Toronto this year and all times Eastern.

Boston Bruins

44-14-12, 100 points, 70 GP, .714 PTS%, 38 RW

Aug. 2nd vs. PHI in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 5th vs. TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 9th @ WSH in Toronto, TBD

Tampa Bay Lightning

43-21-6, 92 points, 70 GP, .657 PTS%, 35 RW

Aug. 3rd vs. WSH in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 5th @ BOS in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS

Aug. 8th vs. PHI in Toronto, TBD

Washington Capitals

41-20-8, 90 points, 69 GP, .652 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 3rd @TBL in Toronto 4 PM ET on NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN360, TVAS

Aug. 6th @ PHI in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 9th vs. BOS in Toronto, TBD

Philadelphia Flyers

41-21-7, 89 points, 69 GP, .645 PTS%, 31 RW

Aug. 2nd @ BOS in Toronto 3 PM ET on NBC, SN, TVAS

Aug. 6th vs. WSH in Toronto, TBD

Aug. 8th @ TBL in Toronto, TBD

DTFR Podcast #202- What Are Your Qualifications?/Let’s Get Kraken

Using Qualifiers to enhance this postseason (it’s a breakdown of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers and Round Robin action). Plus the Seattle Kraken!

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify.

DTFR Podcast #199- Cheese!

Colby’s back, Jack.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify.

DTFR Podcast #174- Coaching Conundrums

Some firsts, 100s, broken fingers and pointing fingers– who should be concerned about their job security behind the bench? Plus Cap’n and Pete are back.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

DTFR Podcast #170- 2019-20 Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Brayden Point re-signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a bunch of other RFAs signed extensions, the Boston Pride were sold, Dan Girardi retired and DTFR’s season previews continued with the Atlantic Division.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple PodcastsStitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Florida Panthers 2019-20 Season Preview

Florida Panthers

36-32-14, 86 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division

Missed the postseason for the third straight year

Additions: F Noel Acciari, F Brett Connolly, F Joel Lowry, F Kevin Roy, F Dominic Toninato (acquired from COL), D Gustav Bouramman (acquired from MIN), D Tommy Cross, D Ethan Prow, D Anton Stralman, G Sergei Bobrovsky, G Philippe Desrosiers

Subtractions: F Jean-Sebastien Dea (signed with BUF), F Henrik Haapala (KHL), F Juho Lammikko (Liiga), F Derek MacKenzie (retired), F Maxim Mamin (KHL), F Vincent Praplan (NLA), F Riley Sheahan (signed with EDM), D Ludwig Bystrom (Liiga), D Michael Downing (signed with Florida, ECHL), D Jacob MacDonald (traded to COL), D Julian Melchiori (signed with Binghamton, AHL), G Scott Darling (acquired from CAR, then bought out), G Roberto Luongo (retired), G James Reimer (traded to CAR)

Still Unsigned: F Jamie McGinn

Re-signed: F Troy Brouwer (signed to a PTO), F Anthony Greco, F Jayce Hawryluk, F Dryden Hunt, F Denis Malgin, D Ian McCoshen, D Thomas Schemitsch, D MacKenzie Weegar, G Sam Montembeault

Offseason Analysis: The rules of the offseason are pretty simple. Don’t be that person that overpays.

But for Florida Panthers General Manager, Dale Tallon, apparently the rules don’t apply.

Yes, fixing the hole in the net left behind by Roberto Luongo’s decision to retire was a good idea. No, signing Sergei Bobrovsky to a seven-year, $70 million contract isn’t a steal.

A $10.000 million cap hit for a goaltender that’s 30-years-old and only getting older won’t exactly look too great by the fourth year of the deal, but by then it might not even be Tallon’s problem.

Tallon is in “win now” mode.

The Panthers haven’t been back to the Stanley Cup Final since their lone appearance in 1996, in which they were swept in four games– the final two on home ice– by the Colorado Avalanche.

As it is, Florida hasn’t been back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2016’s First Round loss to the New York Islanders in six games.

So they’ve bolstered their roster with Bobrovsky in the crease and three other players that were signed on July 1st– Noel Acciari, Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman.

Acciari’s a bottom-six forward who likes to hit and can hit clean, but at three-years and $1.667 million per season, might be a bit much to pay for someone who only had 14 points last season. Sure it was career-year, but his goal scoring production was down from 10 goals in 2017-18 to six goals in 2018-19.

Connolly signed a four-year contract worth $3.500 million per season and with a Stanley Cup championship to his name with the Washington Capitals in 2018, he brings more than just winning pedigree– he had career-highs in goals (22), assists (24) and points (46) in 81 games for the Caps last season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s 6th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft is finally coming around to his potential at age 27. Better late than never and that’s why the Panthers are taking this gamble.

An improved offense in the top-nine forwards to go with Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgeni Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano, as well as an addition to the blue line in Anton Stralman’s three-year contract worth $5.500 million per season has the Panthers with high hopes for the 2019-20 season.

Especially when you consider the fact that their new head coach behind the bench is three-time Stanley Cup champion, Joel Quenneville.

Tallon, Quenneville and Florida’s roster don’t just have their sights set on a First Round appearance.

What if they don’t pull things off right away and age catches up to their free agent signings from this offseason? Is it right back to square one as an older, slower, knock-off version of their intra-state rival up in Tampa?

Ten players on the current NHL roster are pending free agents of the unrestricted and restricted variety after this season.

Florida currently has about $781,330 in cap space with Hoffman and Dadonov as their biggest pending-UFAs next July.

Thanks to Luongo’s early retirement, the Panthers will be stifled with a cap recapture penalty that’s not as significant as the one the Vancouver Canucks will face, but nonetheless costing Florida $1,094,128 per season through 2021-22.

But Tallon is used to maxing out the books to put his team in a position to win sooner rather than later– just ask the Chicago Blackhawks how their Cup winning core worked out for them.

Offseason Grade: B

Florida going “all-in” in free agency is out of character for their franchise history, it would seem. While nabbing top-end talent at a premium price lands the Panthers as a winner of the bidding war for free agents, there’s a lot of risk involved.

Long-term growth may have been stalled by short-term planning for gains that may or may not pan out as the season has yet to begin. As such, Tallon’s offseason was “above average”, but now comes the time to prove whether it was all worth it or else risk becoming the more expensive version of the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2019 trade deadline.

DTFR Podcast #161- Battle For Gloria (Part Three- The Games Are Happening Part)

The Battle For Gloria rages on with the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues tied 2-2 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. Nick and Pete also discuss the latest coaching moves (Dave Tippett, Bob Boughner, Marc Crawford), trades (Kevin Hayes) and rumors (Patrick Marleau, Nikita Zaitsev, Phil Kessel), while Nick introduces a new game segment that has Pete stumped.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify. Support the show on Patreon.

Luongo backstops Panthers to, 4-1, win in Boston

Chris Wagner received NESN’s annual 7th Player Award as voted on by Boston Bruins fans prior to Saturday’s, 4-1, loss to the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.

Oh yeah, there was a game after Wagner got his picture with the award.

Roberto Luongo (17-16-4 record, 3.10 goals against average, .900 save percentage in 41 games played) made 30 saves on 31 shots against for a .968 SV% in the win for Florida.

Bruins goaltender, Tuukka Rask (26-12-5, 2.43 GAA, .914 SV% in 44 GP) made 19 saves on 22 shots faced for an .864 SV% in the loss.

Riley Sheahan, Evgenii Dadonov (two goals) and Troy Brouwer had goals for the Panthers, while Noel Acciari scored the lone goal for Boston.

The B’s fell to 47-22-9 (103 points) on the season, but remain in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division.

Florida improved to 35-32-12 (82 points) and 5th in the Atlantic.

Boston is now 9-5-0 in the month of March and 26-8-5 since Jan. 1st.

Bruce Cassidy indicated to reporters prior to Saturday’s matinee matchup that Matt Grzelcyk (upper body) would be back in the lineup against the Panthers and Kevan Miller (upper body) would return to game action on Sunday in Detroit.

Sean Kuraly (fractured right hand) and John Moore (upper body) remain week-to-week, while Steven Kampfer (healthy scratch) was the only other roster player out of Saturday’s action.

Cassidy kept David Pastrnak with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci on his second line, while moving Marcus Johansson to the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

Grzelcyk suited up alongside Connor Clifton on the third defensive pairing in the only other lineup adjustment.

Midway through the first period, DeBrusk tripped Aaron Ekblad and sent the Panthers on their first power play of the afternoon at 11:36 of the opening frame.

One second after the B’s killed off DeBrusk’s minor, Sheahan (9) capitalized on the vulnerable minute after a skater advantage and made it, 1-0, Florida at 13:37 of the first period.

Dryden Hunt (6) and Keith Yandle (51) had the assists.

A little over two minutes later, Dadonov (27) buried a rebound for his first goal of the day and extended the Panthers’ lead to two-goals.

Ekblad (24) and Jonathan Huberdeau (60) tallied the assists on Dadonov’s goal at 15:44 and Florida led, 2-0.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were outshooting the Panthers, 16-8, but trailed on the scoreboard, 2-0.

Midway through the second period, Acciari (6) answered on the scoreboard and provided a spark for Boston– cutting the lead in half, 2-1, but it was short-lived.

Torey Krug (45) and Joakim Nordstrom (5) had the assists on Acciari’s goal at 13:12 of the second period.

Nearly 30 seconds later, Huberdeau was penalized for interference at 13:43 and the Bruins went on the power play for the first time of the afternoon.

It did not go well.

After failing to convert on a rush, Brouwer (11) took the puck the other way on a pass from Mike Matheson to score on a breakaway and make it, 3-1, Panthers.

Matheson (18) had the only assist on Brouwer’s shorthanded goal at 14:19 of the second period.

Late in the period, Sheahan slashed Johansson and took a trip to the penalty box at 17:21.

Boston did not capitalize on the ensuing power play to close out the middle frame.

Entering the third period, the Bruins trailed, 3-1, on home ice despite leading in shots on goal, 24-14.

There were no penalties called in the third period and Boston was forced to pull their goaltender late in the period in an attempt to tie the game.

Shortly after pulling Rask for an extra attacker, Aleksander Barkov worked the puck to Huberdeau into Florida’s offensive zone, whereby Huberdeau set up Dadonov (28) for his second goal of the afternoon on the empty net.

Huberdeau (61) and Barkov (57) collected the assists at 17:41 of the third period as the Panthers sealed the deal on their, 4-1, victory.

At the final horn, Florida won the game and finished the afternoon leading in blocked shots (20-8) and face-off win percentage (54-46), while Boston finished with the lead in shots on goal (31-23) and giveaways (11-5).

Both teams recorded 21 hits aside. The Panthers went 0/1 on the power play, while the Bruins went 0/2.

As a result of the loss, Boston’s 12-game winning streak at home came to an end as the B’s also lost their first game in regulation at home since Jan. 19th’s, 3-2, loss to the New York Rangers.

The Bruins travel to Detroit for a primetime matchup on Sunday to close out the month.

Boston finishes the season swinging through Columbus on April 2nd, making a stop in Minnesota on April 4th and wrapping up the regular season on April 6th at home against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Game of the week: March 4-10

It’s hard to believe, but there’s less than one month remaining in the regular season. 16 clubs are none too concerned about that, but with the exception of Tampa Bay, we don’t officially know yet which teams those are.

Take a look at this week’s schedule that got us a little closer to figuring out the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NHL SCHEDULE: March 4-10
TIME (ALL TIMES EASTERN) VISITOR HOST NATIONAL BROADCAST(S)/
Result
Monday, March 4
7 p.m. Edmonton Buffalo 4-3
9 p.m. Toronto Calgary 6-2
Tuesday, March 5
7 p.m. Carolina Boston 3-4 (OT)
7 p.m. Columbus New Jersey 2-1 (SO)
7 p.m. Ottawa Senators New York Islanders 4-5 (SO)
7 p.m. Florida Pittsburgh 2-3 (OT)
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Tampa Bay 2-5
8 p.m. Minnesota Nashville 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. New York Rangers Dallas Stars 0-1
9 p.m. Detroit Colorado 3-4 (OT)
9 p.m. Anaheim Arizona 3-1
10:30 p.m. Montréal Los Angeles 3-1
Wednesday, March 6
7:30 p.m. Washington Philadelphia 5-3
9 p.m. Toronto Vancouver 2-3 (OT)
10 p.m. St. Louis Anaheim 5-4
10:30 p.m. Calgary Vegas 1-2
Thursday, March 7
7 p.m. Florida Boston 3-4
7 p.m. Columbus Pittsburgh 0-3
7:30 p.m. New York Islanders Ottawa Senators 4-2
7:30 p.m. New York Rangers Detroit Red Wings 2-3 (SO)
7:30 p.m. Minnesota Tampa Bay 3-0
8:30 p.m. Buffalo Chicago 4-5 (SO)
8:30 p.m. Colorado Dallas 0-4
9 p.m. Vancouver Edmonton 2-3
9 p.m. Calgary Arizona 0-2
10:30 p.m. St. Louis Los Angeles 4-0
10:30 p.m. Montréal San Jose 2-5
Friday, March 8
7 p.m. Minnesota Florida 2-6
7 p.m. New Jersey Washington 0-3
7:30 p.m. Winnipeg Carolina 8-1
10 p.m. Montréal Anaheim 2-8
Saturday, March 9
3 p.m. Buffalo Colorado  
4 p.m. St. Louis San Jose NHLN
7 p.m. Toronto Edmonton CBC, NHLN, SN
7 p.m. Ottawa Boston CITY, SN1, TVAS
7 p.m. Detroit Tampa Bay  
7 p.m. Philadelphia Flyers New York Islanders  
7 p.m. New Jersey Devils New York Rangers  
7 p.m. Pittsburgh Columbus  
8 p.m. Los Angeles Arizona  
8 p.m. Carolina Nashville  
8 p.m. Chicago Dallas  
10 p.m. Vegas Vancouver CBC, CITY, SN, SN1
Sunday, March 10
5 p.m. Detroit Florida  
7 p.m. Winnipeg Washington SN
7:30 p.m. Boston Pittsburgh NBCSN, TVAS
9:30 p.m. Vegas Calgary SN1
10 p.m. Los Angeles Anaheim NBCSN

As always, this week’s NHL schedule did not disappoint. We were given our regular serving of rivalries, starting with a throwback in Denver when Detroit visited Colorado on Tuesday. Wednesday also featured a derby, this one involving the Capitals heading to the City of Brotherly Love.

Columbus and Pittsburgh will square off twice this week, with the Pens taking Game 1 on Thursday before heading to Ohio for Game 2 this evening. Speaking of Thursday, the Rangers and Red Wings also matched up and honored Ted Lindsay with an extremely competitive game.

Finally, this weekend also features the previously-mentioned Penguins-Blue Jackets tilt and the Battle of the Hudson River today followed by the Freeway Face-Off tomorrow night.

In regards to momentous homecomings this week, there weren’t any. By my estimation, the most important was Kevin Fiala‘s return to Nashville. Fiala played 204 games with the Predators since being drafted by the organization in 2014 before being traded to Minnesota at this year’s deadline.

As to which game takes our attention this week, I’ve been drawn to the Columbus-Pittsburgh series. With six teams (Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Capitals, Hurricanes, Islanders and Penguins) fighting for five spots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, one good side is going to see its season end at 82 games.

While not a season-ender, this series is a major step for both Columbus and Pittsburgh in determining their postseason fates. With two points already in the Pens’ pockets, how will tonight’s tilt go down?

Coming into tonight’s game with a 36-22-9 record, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently holding down third place in the Metropolitan Division.

While that is certainly an improvement from where this team was just a few weeks ago, the Pens’ job is still not finished as they only have a four-point cushion separating them from ending their season at 82 games.

Pittsburgh isn’t looking back these days, though. It’s riding a solid six-game point streak (4-0-2) that includes two wins against tonight’s opponent (more on that later) and a 5-1 victory in Québec.

Pittsburgh fans will know that this string of games started with the Stadium Series overtime loss in Philadelphia. That was a game that cost the Penguins two defensemen (D Brian Dumoulin has since returned to action on Tuesday) and has forced them to reexamine their defensive game, involving each and every skater on the ice.

While this new strategy has certainly paid major dividends for Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s side, there is one player who has still shined brighter than the rest: 22-10-3 G Matt Murray.

Despite the new defensive strategies, Pittsburgh is still yielding an average of 31 shots per game during this run – the NHL’s middle-of-the-road since February 23. Despite that, the Penguins are also yielding an average of only 2.17 goals against per game, the fifth-best mark in that time.

Murray has been in net for all of the Penguins’ last six games and claims a commanding .93 save percentage and associated 2.12 GAA for those outings (both eighth-best in the league among the 28 netminders with at least four starts since February 23). Those outstanding numbers boost his season statistics to a .916 save percentage and 2.79 GAA, the 10th and 19th-best marks in the league, respectively, among the 43 goaltenders with at least 24 starts to their credit.

With a home game against the Bruins tomorrow night, it remains to be seen which goaltender Sullivan starts this evening. If I had my druthers, Murray would be in action this evening considering the importance of beating a division rival in a tightly contested playoff race. With 12 points (and two games-in-hand against the Habs) separating Boston from the a wildcard spot, Pittsburgh cannot worry about the Bruins until it runs into them in a potential playoff matchup (whether that would be the Conference Semifinals or Final remains to be seen).

Of course, it would be highly irresponsible to talk about the Penguins and not mention their potent offense. Averaging 3.45 goals per game for the season, Pittsburgh has been operating at a slightly higher level lately, as it has averaged 3.67 goals per game during this six-game run (again, I emphasize slightly) – the (t)sixth-best mark in the league since February 23.

Pittsburgh’s top line has carried most of that charge, which of course means C Sidney Crosby has been the star of the show. In his past six games, the captain has managed an outstanding 6-8-14 effort to lead the league in scoring in that time (well, he’s technically tied with Florida’s F Jonathan Huberdeau on points, but Crosby has played fewer games and scored more goals to take the title in my book).

Joining Crosby in averaging a point per game for the Pens during this run are linemates F Jake Guentzel (5-3-8 totals) and F Jared McCann (3-3-6).

Since all of 37-27-3 Columbus’ moves at the trade deadline, everything it has done from then until the end of the season has taken on a new life.

Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, that new light isn’t all that positive, as they’ve gone on a 2-4-0 run since then to find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, trailing Montréal by two points for the East’s second wild card.

Though Columbus has struggled to keep opponents off the board during this six-game run (the Jackets have allowed 3.5 goals against per game since February 26, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL in that time), an even bigger problem has been its offense.

With the exception of fellow Metropolitan member New Jersey, no team has struggled more on the attack since the trade deadline than Columbus. The Blue Jackets are averaging only 1.5 goals per game in their last six outings, compared to the 11th-best 3.04 they’ve averaged for the season.

Surely, much of this can be attributed to all of the Jackets’ deadline additions. In fact, the second line has been entirely revamped and now features Oliver Bjorkstrand and former-Senators Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel (who’s celebrating his 27th birthday today). Fortunately for Columbus, Duchene and Dzingel regularly played together in Ottawa, so it is just a matter of Head Coach John Tortorella finding the right person to complete their line.

However, a lack of familiarity cannot be the excuse for Columbus’ top line, as Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Artemi Panarin have spent the entire season together. Instead, all three combine for only 3-6-9 totals in the past six games.

Dubois in particular is struggling the most. He’s only registered one assist since the trade deadline, well off the .81 points per game average he’s managed for the entire season. As his club’s top center, Dubois’ performance can often dictate his team’s success. The sooner he breaks out of his funk, the sooner, Columbus will begin finding success once again.

In addition to cleaning up Columbus and Pittsburgh’s home-and-home, tonight’s game also concludes the four-game regular season series between the two clubs. The Penguins have won the first three meetings 4-2 on November 24, 5-2 on February 26 and 3-0 on Thursday.

Unfortunately for Columbus, I don’t see that script changing tonight. The Penguins have been playing incredibly well lately now that they’ve bought into their new strategy, and that doesn’t pair well with the Blue Jackets’ offensive struggles.

I don’t think the Jackets will be shutout for the second game in a row, but I do think the Pens will win 3-1.

Panthers pounce on Bruins, 5-0

Aleksander Barkov had three assists and Mike Hoffman had two goals in the Florida Panthers sunset cruise over the Boston Bruins in Sunrise, Florida on Tuesday night. The Panthers won, 5-0, thanks to Roberto Luongo‘s 33 save shutout– good enough for his 77th career shutout in 1,011 NHL games played.

Luongo (5-3-0, 2.71 goals against average, .914 save percentage in ten games played), stopped 33 shots against for a 1.000 SV% in the win, while Bruins goaltender, Jaroslav Halak (8-4-2, 2.55 GAA, .932 SV% in 16 GP) made 39 saves on 44 shots against (.886 SV%) in the loss.

Boston fell to 14-9-4 (32 points) on the season, but remained in 4th place in the Atlantic Division standings, while the Panthers jumped up to 7th place with a 11-10-5 record and 27 points on the season. Florida has a game in-hand on the Ottawa Senators and trails the Detroit Red Wings for 6th place by one point.

The B’s are one point ahead of the Montreal Canadiens in the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and may soon be in danger of falling further in the standings with Montreal having the chance to surpass Boston on Thursday night with a Bruins loss in regulation in Tampa and a Canadiens win any fashion in Ottawa.

Torey Krug was in the lineup for Boston, despite taking a maintenance day on Monday, though his minus-three rating in Tuesday night’s action may say otherwise.

Bruce Cassidy provided an update on Charlie McAvoy, indicating the young defender will be back in the lineup soon, but not expected to play on this two-game road trip in the Sunshine State. McAvoy returned to full-contact practice this week.

Cassidy made no lineup changes, despite the poor efforts in three out of the last four games now.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Steven Kampfer were the healthy scratches for the Bruins on Tuesday, while Zdeno Chara (lower body, left MCL), Patrice Bergeron (upper body), Urho Vaakanainen (concussion), McAvoy (concussion) and Kevan Miller (throat) remain injured.

Florida_Panthers_logo_2016

Joakim Nordstrom hooked Dryden Hunt late in the first period at 15:34 and gave the Panthers their first power play of the night, but the Bruins were able to kill off Nordstrom’s minor and save themselves from one of the many chances Florida’s deadly power play would have on the night.

Mark Pysyk interfered with David Krejci at 17:41 of the first period and put Boston on the power play for the first time in the game, but the Bruins were unable to convert on any of their skater advantages on the night. Boston failed to record a shot on goal on the power play while Pysyk was in the box.

After one period, the score was still tied, 0-0, with Florida outshooting Boston, 13-7. The Panthers also led in giveaways, 8-6, after 20 minutes of play, while the Bruins led in blocked shots (4-3), takeaways (1-0) and face-off win percentage (52-48). Hits were even, 10-10, and both teams were 0/1 on the power play.

With both teams coming out of the dressing room after playing on sloppy ice and lacking effort at establishing some sort of pace, the Bruins continued to struggle to establish a zone time presence and got outrun numerous times in the second period as the Panthers came back ready to play.

Seriously.

First Colton Sceviour banked a shot off of the back of Halak’s leg, leading to a loose puck in the crease for Mike Hoffman (13) to just tap it in and give the Panthers the 1-0 lead. Scevious (4) and Jonathan Huberdeau (23) had the assists on Hoffman’s goal at 4:21 of the second period.

Jared McCann took a trip to the penalty box shortly after his teammate gave Florida the lead. McCann’s infraction was for hooking Bruins blue liner, John Moore, at 5:30.

Boston did not convert on the ensuing power play.

Almost midway in the second period, Michael Matheson (2) went 200-feet down the frozen river from one end of the ice to the other and scored an unassisted goal past Halak’s blocker side at 7:13 of the middle frame. Florida led, 2-0.

The Bruins were 0-7 when trailing by two goals entering Tuesday and they left BB&T Center 0-8 at the final horn.

Michael Haley caught Halak with a high-stick at 14:04, but the B’s power play was short-lived– 16 seconds, in fact– as David Pastrnak was penalized for holding at 14:20.

While in the midst of the 4-on-4 action, Huberdeau (7) fired one of his accurate wrist shots into the back of the twine at 15:14 of the second period. Keith Yandle (20) and Aleksander Barkov (14) were tabbed with the assists and the Panthers led, 3-0.

Hunt was charged with interference at 17:51, but Pastrnak received a matching minor penalty for embellishment, yielding no skater advantage for the Bruins.

Jake DeBrusk cut a rut to the sin bin at 19:00 of the second period for slashing Sceviour and the Panthers went on a rare 4-on-3 power play.

With seconds remaining on the clock before the second intermission, Hoffman (14) emulated Matheson’s goal, but with the help of Barkov (15) and Yandle (21) to give Florida a four-goal lead at 19:56.

As a result of Hoffman’s second goal of the game, the Panthers have now scored at least one power play goal in 16 out of the last 17 games.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Panthers led the Bruins, 4-0, on the scoreboard and, 33-23, in shots on goal. Florida also dominated in blocked shots (8-4) and takeaways (6-4), while Boston led in giveaways (15-10) and face-off win% (60-40). Hits were even, 18-18.

Florida was 1/3 on the power play and the B’s were 0/3 after two periods.

Nick Bjugstad was called for holding Sean Kuraly at 5:20 of the third period and the Bruins went to the power play for the fourth and final time of the night. They did not score on the ensuing advantage.

Moore went to the penalty box for hooking former Bruin, Frank Vatrano, at 9:10 of the third period and Chris Wagner shortly followed to the sin bin at 10:49 for tripping Bjugstad.

Unknown-7

Connor Clifton launched himself into a high hit on Bjugstad with about eight minutes remaining in regulation. Bjugstad took his time getting up and had to go through concussion protocol, but Clifton was not penalized on the play.

The rookie Bruins defender filling in while blue line regulars like Chara, McAvoy and Miller are out of the lineup received an earful for the remainder of the game from unhappy Panthers players, but wasn’t challenged to fight.

Instead, while on the power play as a result of Brandon Carlo cross-checking Vatrano at 13:02 of the third period, the Panthers collected another power play goal thanks to the relentless effort of Evgenii Dadonov (13) collecting the garbage in the low slot.

Barkov (16) had the only assist on Dadonov’s goal at 14:26 and the Panthers sealed their Tuesday night victory with a 5-0 lead.

At the final horn, Florida finished the night outshooting Boston, 44-33, and leading in blocked shots (16-8). The Bruins led in giveaways (19-15), hits (26-22) and face-off win% (56-44)– two of the three don’t equal scoring prowess.

Giving the puck away is problematic and usually teams that lead in hits lacked puck control to begin with, which was evident in the lack of sustained attacking zone time from Cassidy’s crew.

Florida finished the night 2/6 on the power play and Boston went 0/4.

The Bruins head to Amalie Arena for a Thursday night matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning before returning home Saturday to face the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Boston has a quick turnaround back to the road on Sunday with a game in Ottawa against the Senators, before coming back home for next Tuesday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes.

In fact, including Thursday night’s game in Tampa, Boston alternates between road and home games for the next seven games until their short two-game home-stand from December 20-22.

The Bruins face five opponents in the next seven games from the Atlantic Division in addition to the Pittsburgh Penguins (Eastern Conference rival) and Coyotes (inter-conference action).