Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.
Tonight’s a great night for hockey fans who don’t mind a little B-list actor entertainment and dramatically overdone displays of #PleaseLikeMySport.
It’s also the same night the National Hockey League formally presents and hands out its 2017-18 season awards to its members.
If you can’t tune in to the action, luckily we’re here for you as we’ll be updating the award winners as the night goes on. But if you can be in front of a TV, then tune to NBCSN (U.S. viewers) or Sportsnet (Canadian viewers) at 8 p.m. ET and follow along with the fun.
Ted Lindsay Award– Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Other Finalists: Taylor Hall (NJ) and Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
(basically the “M.V.P.” as voted on by the NHLPA, a.k.a. the players)
James Norris Memorial Trophy– Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning
Other Finalists: Drew Doughty (LA) and P.K. Subban (NSH)
King Clancy Memorial Trophy– Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Vancouver Canucks
Other Finalists: P.K. Subban (NSH) and Jason Zucker (MIN)
Calder Memorial Trophy– Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
Other Finalists: Brock Boeser (VAN) and Clayton Keller (ARI)
(best rookie/rookie of the year)
Lady Byng Memorial Trophy– William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Aleksander Barkov (FLA) and Ryan O’Reilly (BUF)
(sportsmanship and ability, a.k.a. this player didn’t take a lot of penalties)
Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy– Brian Boyle, New Jersey Devils
Other Finalists: Roberto Luongo (FLA) and Jordan Staal (CAR)
(perseverance and dedication to the sport)
EA SPORTS NHL 19® Cover Athlete– P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators
Other Finalists: None
(not actually a curse)
Frank J. Selke Trophy– Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Other Finalists: Patrice Bergeron (BOS) and Sean Couturier (PHI)
(best defensive forward)
Jack Adams Award– Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Jared Bednar (COL) and Bruce Cassidy (BOS)
(best head coach)
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award– Deryk Engelland, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Wayne Simmonds (PHI) and Blake Wheeler (WPG)
(something Mark Messier picks)
Vezina Trophy– Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators
Other Finalists: Connor Hellebuyck (WPG) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (TB)
NHL General Manager of the Year Award– George McPhee, Vegas Golden Knights
Other Finalists: Kevin Cheveldayoff (WPG) and Steve Yzerman (TB)
Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award– Darcy Haugan, Humboldt Broncos (SJHL)
Finalists: Debbie Bland (Etobicoke, Ontario, co-founder/builder of the Etobicoke Dolphins Girls Hockey League), Neal Henderson (Washington, founder of the Fort Dupont Hockey Club), Darcy Haugan (the late head coach of the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League)
(newest award, first time being handed out this year– presented to an “individual who– through the game of hockey– has positively impacted his or her community, culture or society[,]” as described by the NHL)
Hart Memorial Trophy– Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
Other Finalists: Anze Kopitar (LA) and Nathan MacKinnon (COL)
2017-18 Individual Regular Season Awards
Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy– Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
(presented to the goal scorer who scored the most goals in the season, so this one was already technically awarded before Wednesday night)
William M. Jennings Trophy– Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
(presented to the goaltender(s) who allowed the fewest total goals against in the season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)
Art Ross Trophy– Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
(presented to the player that led the league in scoring at the end of the regular season, awarded prior to Wednesday night)
2017-18 Team and 2018 Postseason Awards
President’s Trophy– Nashville Predators
(best record in the regular season, 2017-18)
Prince of Wales Trophy– Washington Capitals
(2018 Eastern Conference Champions)
Clarence S. Campbell Bowl– Vegas Golden Knights
(2018 Western Conference Champions)
Conn Smythe Trophy– Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals
(Stanley Cup Playoffs M.V.P. as determined by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association)
Stanley Cup– Washington Capitals
(league champion, winner of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final)
Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Florida Panthers and their outlook for the summer.
Despite coming and going all season long, the Florida Panthers quietly made a run from February down the stretch that came up a little bit short and turned some heads that were otherwise focused all season long on the money-puck driven Carolina Hurricanes.
Florida almost pulled it off– well, almost made the postseason, that is– but with a record of 44-30-8 and 96 points on the season, the 4th place team in the Atlantic Division was no match for the stacked Metropolitan Division and finished one-point shy of a wild card spot (both the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils finished with 97 points on the year and both Eastern Conference wild cards).
One thing that was apparent from the 2017 Expansion Draft where the Vegas Golden Knights claimed last season’s leading scorer for Florida, Jonathan Marchessault, and acquired Reilly Smith in a deal to protect some other Panthers roster player not named Marchessault, well…
Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith don’t grow on trees (but having at least one of them would have helped Florida’s 2017-18 cause).
2018 NHL Entry Draft
General Manager Dale Tallon has the 15th overall pick in the 2018 Draft to select one of the best available players in his selection standing in either Ty Smith, Bode Wilde, Barrett Hayton, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac or Ryan Merkley.
Or Tallon could trade the pick for an asset that’d help his roster in the here and now as part of what would likely be a larger deal.
Pending free agents
Tallon has about $9.000 million as things stand right now to spread over his pending free agents and/or talent acquisitions outside of the organization’s current depth chart.
The good news is the cap ceiling is expected to rise, so the Panthers should have at least $2.000 million more to utilize.
Pending-UFA Connor Brickley, 26, resurrected his professional career with the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) in 2016-17 to go on and produce 4-8–12 totals in 44 games with the Florida Panthers after being claimed by Vegas, not re-signed and subsequently reuniting with the Panthers last summer.
He’s a low-cost, potentially high-reward player, if you value some production on your fourth line.
In his first nearly full season in the NHL, Jared McCann, 22, posted nine goals and 19 assists (28 points) as a playmaker in 68 games with Florida. There’s no easy one offseason fix for the Panthers– being so tight against the cap and all– that they have to hope McCann can keep improving with more minutes.
Frank Vatrano, 24, had two goals with the Boston Bruins in 25 games prior to being traded for a 2018 third round pick this season. Since the deal was made, Vatrano notched five goals and three assists (eight points) with Florida in 16 games played.
For a small sample size in a larger role, that’s promising, given he wasn’t going to get a chance on Boston’s second line (too much depth down the left for the Bruins, a la Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk) and should be a left wing lock on the second line heading into 2018-19 for Florida.
He won’t see a raise immediately, but likely should sign on to a bridge deal before cashing in on a larger piece of the pie.
Both McCann and Vatrano are pending-RFA forwards for Florida.
Alex Petrovic, 26, is in his final year of pending-RFA eligibility and has a role as a bottom-pair defender.
For around $1.000 million, Tallon should keep him around another year, realizing his defense won’t improve on its own without A) more offensive support, B) better goaltending or C) some different coaching strategies.
MacKenzie Weegar, 24, is also a pending-RFA blueliner in the Sunshine State with 2-6–8 totals in his first almost full NHL season (60 games played). Despite first impressions, that’s respectable for a top-six defender coming into his own in the early onset/middle of his prime.
He’ll also be inexpensive to keep around if Tallon can move some bigger pieces around after realizing he gave Michael Matheson such a generous pay raise over eight-years ($4.875 million AAV) for a *checks notes* 27-point season after Matheson put up 17 points in his rookie year.
There’s a reason why prolific scorers like Marchessault and Smith were squeezed out, left exposed and traded to Vegas, respectively.
Finally, in goal for the Panthers, 39-year-old Roberto Luongo is signed through the 2021-22 season with a cap hit of $4.533 million on the books. Likewise, 30-year-old backup goaltender, James Reimer, is on the books through 2020-21 at $3.400 million AAV.
Wait, but Luongo only played 35 games, you say?
Yes, it’s true, Luongo took a backseat to Reimer this season and posted a 2.47 goals against average with a .929 save percentage compared to Reimer’s 2.99 GAA and .913 SV% in 44 games played. Oof.
The saying “what did you do for me yesterday” doesn’t make Reimer look good in the long run.
Surely you can just call someone up– oh.
Florida should at least roadmap a blueprint of what the future in goal looks like, because Luongo’s not getting any younger– despite the future Hall of Famer that he is– and Reimer is well, at it again with the whole “not a legitimate starting goaltender” thing.
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
For the first time in show history, Nick and Connor had to re-record an entire episode because GarageBand deleted the original recording seconds after the duo finished recording. In this edition, more movie madness, top-10 goaltenders in our lifetime and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Nick and Connor discuss Bill Peters’s future as a head coach, what the Calgary Flames should do, who should take home the Vezina Trophy and Selke Trophy, as well as revisit the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights advancing to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Originally left as an off day in preparation for the postseason, a nasty Nor’easter on January 4 has turned Florida at Boston’s (NHLN/SN/SN360) showdown, postponed until tonight at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, into the NHL’s regular season finale.
With Philadelphia eliminating the 43-30-8 Panthers from playoff contention yesterday, this game is all about the 50-19-12 Bruins and their ability to claim first place in the Eastern Conference.
Thanks to the Lightning losing in overtime yesterday to the Hurricanes, a win of any variety tonight earns Boston home ice throughout the Eastern playoffs and a date with the New Jersey Devils in the first round.
Inversely, a loss of any variety tonight leaves the Bruins in second place in the Atlantic Division with a first-round matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even though an overtime or shootout loss would tie the Bruins with Tampa Bay at 113 points, the fact that the Bolts currently have one more regulation+overtime victory means they would hold on to their spot atop the conference.
For Boston to claim that coveted spot atop the Eastern mountain, it needs to keep playing like it did yesterday instead of continuing in the form its assumed for the rest of April. The Bruins have posted only a 1-2-1 record since Easter Sunday, a run that surely doesn’t inspire confidence going into the playoffs.
Offense has not been the Bruins’ friend since since flipping the calendar to April. Even though Boston managed five goals in yesterday’s victory over the Senators, it has still averaged only 2.5 goals per game since April 1, the fifth-worst mark in the NHL in that time.
Boston’s struggles are certainly not the fault of F Danton Heinen. The rookie has played exceptionally from the second line over his last four games, posting 2-2-4 totals to improve his season marks to 16-31-47. Additionally, F David Backes has also been well outperforming his 13-19-32 season numbers in these last four outings, as he has 1-2-3 marks to show for his month of April.
Instead, I’m much more concerned with the scoring struggles of LW Brad Marchand (34-51-85 season totals), C David Krejci (17-26-43) and LW Jake Debrusk (16-27-43). All three skaters rank among the Bruins’ seven best point producers, yet they combine for only three points over these last four games – none of which were goals, an especially important note in regards to Marchand, who’s 34 markers tie RW David Pastrnak for most on the team.
If there’s any team in the NHL primed to play spoiler, it’s the Panthers, who are riding a four-game winning streak.
There may not be a hotter goaltender in the NHL right now than 18-11-2 G Roberto Luongo. Even though the defense in front of him has allowed a whopping 36 shots against per game since April 2 – a mark that’s (t)fourth-worst in the NHL in that time – the Panthers have allowed only two goals against per game during that run to rank (t)second-best in the league.
Considering his stats in his last three starts (he didn’t play in yesterday’s game against the Sabres), Luongo is the only reason for Florida’s defensive success lately – and really for the season as a whole. Since April 2, the Montréal native has managed a stellar .951 save percentage and 1.67 GAA, both marks that are well superior to his .929 save percentage and 2.48 GAA on the year.
If there’s any concern this team won’t have the heart to compete tonight after their impressive playoff qualification run came up just short, those doubts were squashed in last night’s 4-3 home victory over the Sabres. The only reason the score ended so close is because Buffalo scored three goals on 21 shots (not a surprise considering the Panthers’ previously mentioned horrid defense) on 21-14-6 G James Reimer‘s goal in the third period, but the Panthers made sure to reward their fans for their support with two points.
Even if a few Panthers are held out of this effectively meaningless game due to some lingering injuries that are no longer worth playing through, I don’t expect Florida’s competitive drive to dull.
So far this season, home ice has played a pivotal role in determining a winner between these clubs. In the two games it hosted at BB&T Center, Florida earned two points apiece, starting with March 15’s 3-0 victory (Reimer earned the shutout with a perfect 46-save performance). Most recently, the Panthers claimed a 3-2 win on April 5 (C Jared McCann provided the game-winner in the third period).
However, the Bruins’ den – better known as TD Garden – was not a friendly environment for the Panthers last weekend, as Boston took a dominant 5-1 decision on March 31 (DeBrusk’s two-goal, three-point effort led the way for the Bruins).
It’s never a good thing for a struggling offense to be going up against a red-hot goaltender, especially one that has a Jennings Trophy on his résumé. Even though the games between these sides have favored the team playing at home, there’s a real chance Luongo could keep the Bruins from claiming first in the conference.
With a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues at Pepsi Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Colorado Avalanche clinched their first playoff berth in four seasons.
In the first period, no one stole the show quite like G Jake Allen. He very nearly saved all 12 shots he faced in the period – many of which were reminiscent of his 2015-16 campaign. However, with 46 seconds remaining in the first period, First Star of the Game D Samuel Girard (W Blake Comeau and F Carl Soderberg) got the Avalanche on the scoreboard with a slap shot.
Colorado didn’t take nearly as long to find its second goal, as D Tyson Barrie (RW Mikko Rantanen and Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog) buried a power play clapper 6:11 into the second period that, though it was challenged for offsides, doubled the Avs’ advantage. After killing off the delay of game penalty resulting from the failed challenge, F Jaden Schwartz (D Alex Pietrangelo and F Brayden Schenn) scored a power play tip-in of his own with 7:32 remaining in the period to pull St. Louis back within a one-goal deficit. However, Schwartz’ tally didn’t prove to be the final goal of the second frame, and the one that was ended up being the all-important game-winner.
Entering this game, F Nathan MacKinnon had been riding a nine-game goalless skid. That all changed 3:02 before the second intermission, as he (Landeskog) took advantage of the open space caused by four-on-four play to beat Allen bar down to the far post with a wrist shot from below the left face-off dot.
With only 4:35 remaining in the Blues’ season, Head Coach Mike Yeo was forced to pull Allen for an extra attacker. 1:12 later, Landeskog (MacKinnon) scored a wrister on an empty net to set the score at 4-1. With nothing left to lose, Allen departed the ice once again with 3:16 remaining in regulation, with Schenn (Schwartz and F Patrik Berglund) finding success this time to pull St. Louis back within two goals. However, W Matt Nieto’s (Soderberg) wrister on an empty net with nine seconds remaining in the game set the 5-2 final score.
Third Star G Jonathan Bernier earned the victory after saving 32-of-34 shots faced (.941 save percentage), leaving the loss to Allen, who saved 34-of-37 (.919).
Perhaps its no surprise the Avalanche won the game considering how well home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have been performing lately. Having earned points in six-straight games, the 103-54-22 hosts now have a 53-point advantage on the roadies in the series.
In a first, everyone (except for Jordan) appears on the Down the Frozen River Podcast to predict how the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will go before the 2017-18 NHL regular season even ends, technically speaking. The 100th episode anniversary is informally observed.
Only four games are on today’s schedule, but there’s at least a couple stellar matchups to be seen!
First up is Florida at Toronto (SN/TVAS) at 7:30 p.m., followed half an hour later by the New York Rangers at Washington (NBCSN). Finally, our co-nightcaps – Arizona at Vegas and Philadelphia at Colorado – drop the puck at 10 p.m. to close out the night’s action. All times Eastern.
Originally, I had marked the Rangers-Capitals game as a potential featured matchup, but their rivalry has nothing on the importance of tonight’s showdown in Ontario. To Hogtown!
As you’d expect from a team that’s been in playoff position for basically the entire season, the 45-24-7 Maple Leafs have been a tough out lately. They’ve posted a solid 6-2-0 record over their past eight showings, due in large part to sporting the second-best attack in both the Eastern Conference and the NHL in that time.
Toronto has been as close to unstoppable as a team can get with its 4.13 goals per game since March 10. A total of five players have averaged at least a point per game over that stretch, but none have been as impressive as LW James van Riemsdyk and his 8-3-11 totals in eight outings, improving his season numbers to 34-18-52.
There’s little to argue considering van Riemsdyk has personally scored 24.2 percent of the Leafs’ last 33 goals, but his effort has been even more impressive considering the almost constant carousel of linemates he’s had to play with. In total, JVR has gotten on the scorecard with goals or assists from a total of six different forwards in his past eight games (three different forwards on the power play and five at even-strength).
In particular, van Riemsdyk has gelled especially well with C Tyler Bozak and F Mitch Marner – two of the players joining him in averaging at least a point per game since March 10. Even with a seemingly revolving door at the right wing position, Bozak has been van Riemsdyk’s constant center and has three primary assists to prove it. Meanwhile, Marner has also found success when he’s added to the mix on the power play, adding three more assists of his own.
In total, van Riemsdyk, Marner (2-9-11 totals since March 10, 20-45-65 overall), D Morgan Rielly (0-10-10 since March 10, 6-42-48 overall), Bozak (1-7-8 since March 10, 11-30-41 overall) and C Auston Matthews (1-2-3 in his three games since returning from injury, 29-24-53 overall) make up Toronto’s most consistent scoring threats during this run.
If two men can will their team to the playoffs, it has to be the 39-28-7 Panthers’ starting goaltender 15-10-2 Roberto Luongo and backup 20-13-5 James Reimer. Since March 19, Florida has posted a 4-1-0 record, and Luongo and Reimer have been a big part of it.
Florida’s goaltending is the focus tonight, and for good reason: without them, the Panthers would yield so many goals to that elite Toronto offense. After all, Florida’s defense has allowed an average of 31.2 opposing shots on goal during this five-game run, good enough for only (t)14th-best in the NHL in that time.
However, Luongo and Reimer have played marvelously despite that adversity, combining to allow only 1.6 goals against per game since March 19, the best mark in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the NHL in that time.
In his past two starts, Luongo has managed an impressive .95 save percentage and 1.51 GAA, marks eclipsed only by Reimer’s .958 save percentage and 1.33 GAA in his past three outings.
With lowly Ottawa on the schedule tomorrow night, Luongo will be in the crease this evening looking to improve his .927 season save percentage and associated 2.55 GAA.
The Panthers have so much more to gain from a victory tonight than the Leafs do its not even funny.
As things stand going into tonight’s action, the Devils have a three-point advantage on the Panthers for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card. With tonight’s tilt being one of the two games in hand Florida has on Jersey, the Panthers have to earn at least one point (two would obviously be preferable) to maintain control of their own destiny.
Meanwhile, Toronto is just sitting back and twiddling its fingers in anticipation of the playoffs. After all, the Bruins have all but locked up home ice in the first round considering they have a game in hand to go with their eight-point lead on the Leafs for second place, and Toronto has a 12-point advantage on tonight’s opponent for third. At this point, the Maple Leafs’ main goal is getting healthy and staying focused on their goal of advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.
This has been a close matchup all season, to the point that even though the Panthers have two victories to the Leafs’ one, the clubs have earned an equal four points in tilts against each other.
Game 1 between these sides occurred way back on November 22 at BB&T Center. Led by F Nick Bjugstad, who scored Florida’s lone regulation goal as well as the game-winner in the shootout, the Panthers won that game 2-1.
Games 2 and 3 took place within a week of each other. Toronto hosted the first of those on February 20, winning 1-0 on the back of 35-20-5 G Frederik Andersen‘s 40-save performance and van Riemsdyk’s first period goal. Seven days later, the Maple Leafs and Panthers were back at it in Sunrise, where Florida took a 3-2 victory courtesy of C Jared McCann‘s overtime game-winner.
Florida has proven it can hang with the mighty Leafs so far this season, but can it perform in light of the added pressure of this playoff run? I’m leaning towards Toronto taking two points tonight, but this might be yet another matchup between these clubs that requires more than 60 minutes.
It took overtime, but the St. Louis Blues snapped the San Jose Sharks’ eight-game winning streak with a 3-2 victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Scottrade Center.
This game was all about the Blues responding to adversity, as they did not lead for a single second until scoring their game-winning goal.
That adversity started 6:26 into the game when LW Evander Kane (F Melker Karlsson and D Brent Burns) buried a wrist shot to give the Sharks a 1-0 advantage. Though it didn’t respond immediately, St. Louis did eventually find its leveling goal 11:17 later courtesy of an C Oskar Sundqvist (D Colton Parayko and Second Star of the Game D Vince Dunn) wrister.
With D Joel Edmundson in the penalty box for hooking RW Timo Meier at the 6:21 mark of the second period, San Jose reclaimed a one-goal advantage when F Joe Pavelski (Burns) potted a power play tip-in after only 46 seconds with the man-advantage. However, First Star RW Vladimir Tarasenko (F Brayden Schenn and D Alex Pietrangelo) was able to return the favor with 7:57 remaining in the frame, scoring a power play wrister 58 seconds after Meier tripped him to earn a seat of his own in the sin bin. Tarasenko’s marker leveled the game once again at 2-2.
Both defenses performed incredibly in the third period. St. Louis limited the Sharks to only seven shots on goal, while San Jose allowed only nine Blues attempts. Between those 16 offerings, none got by G Jake Allen or G Aaron Dell, meaning the tilt advanced into the five-minute three-on-three overtime period.
Tarasenko (F Vladimir Sobotka) needed just over half the overtime period – three seconds more, to be precise – to find the game-winner for the Notes.
The play started with a face-off at the dot to Dell’s right. Though Pavelski was able to win the draw with a little help from W Mikkel Boedker, who proceeded to take the puck into the trapezoid behind his goal, an efficient forecheck by Sobotka resulted in him ending up with possession and moving towards the right post. Having attacked the trapezoid to help Sobotka win the puck, Tarasenko was busy getting above the goal line and setting up shop outside the crease near the left goal post, meaning all Sobotka had to do was backhand a quick pass through the crease to Tarasenko to set him up for an easy wrister to win the game, the Blues’ fourth overtime victory in their past six outings.
Allen earned the victory after saving 22-of-24 shots faced (.917 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Dell, who saved 29-of-32 (.906).
Hosts in the DtFR Game of the Day series have now earned points in six-consecutive tilts, not to mention winning four in a row. As such, home teams now have a 94-53-21 record that is 39 points better than the roadies’.
Thursdays are just the best days in the NHL, aren’t they?
There’s 10 games on tap today, starting with four at 7 p.m. (Tampa Bay at the New York Islanders [SN], the New York Rangers at Philadelphia, Arizona at Carolina and Florida at Columbus) and two more (Edmonton at Ottawa [RDS] and Washington at Detroit [NBCSN]) half an hour later. Toronto at Nashville (TVAS) drops the puck at 8 p.m., while Vancouver at Chicago waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Los Angeles at Colorado finds its start at 9 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at San Jose (NBCSN) – closes out the evening’s festivities with a 10 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.
There’s two rivalries on the schedule tonight, including:
- New York at Philadelphia: A fierce matchup like this should get the Rangers excited to snap the Flyers’ three-game point streak.
- Vancouver at Chicago: The beginning of the decade was so long ago, wasn’t it? If the fans were in charge, I’d bet either group of supporters would happily take a loss by their team tonight.
Instead, I’m most drawn to the Panthers-Blue Jackets and Kings-Avalanche matchups, as both are going to have some serious playoff implications.
Considering how hot Columbus is and the fact that the Panthers need only one point to advance into a playoff spot, let’s make the trip to Central Ohio to see how that match unfolds.
For those that still use the Florida Panthers as the punchline to your hockey-related jokes, it’s time for you to catch up to the final third of the 2017-18 season. The 37-27-7 Panthers have not lost consecutive games since February 18 and 20, earning an 11-2-1 record in that time to put them right on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.
Before we jump into just how well Florida has been playing, we should probably have a discussion about its schedule. Over the past 14 games, the Panthers have played only three away from BB&T Center, of which only two were outside the state of Florida.
However, a run like this is not due just to limited travel and the luxury of sleeping in their own beds on a nightly basis. After all, the Panthers have played – and beaten – clubs like Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Boston recently, all of which are currently on the right side of the East’s playoff bubble. Mix in taking the Lightning to overtime at Amalie Arena on March 6, and you have a Florida team that is playing some incredible puck.
This may come as a surprise, but the best offense in the Eastern Conference since February 22 has been none other than the Florida Panthers, whose 3.71 goals per game is (t)second-best in the league in that time.
A major reason for that success has been the brilliant play by the first line, specifically W Evgeni Dadonov. All three of the starting forwards – Dadonov (8-11-19 totals since February 22, 23-33-56 overall), C Aleksander Barkov (6-13-19 since February 22, 26-47-73 overall) and F Nick Bjugstad (7-9-16 since February 22, 17-28-45 overall) – are averaging more than a point per game over their past 14 showings, leading the way for an attack that still boasts F Vincent Trocheck (28-38-66 overall) and F Jonathan Huberdeau (23-41-64 overall) on the second line.
Of course, any good offense these days employs some contributions from the blue line. Enter D Keith Yandle, who’s posted 1-13-14 totals over this 14-game run to improve his season marks to 7-42-49. Yandle has been a vital asset during this impressive run by the Panthers, as all but one of his last 20 points have been registered with either of the top-two lines.
The best way to describe Florida’s offense might be by equating it to a reckless boxer that drops his guard to throw a punch.
Over this run, the Panthers have averaged a whopping 34.43 shots per game. Given the amount of success they’re finding lately, it’s obviously a strategy that is working for them and one I don’t see Head Coach Bob Boughner deviating from anytime soon.
However, there’s such a commitment to the offensive end that Florida’s defense gets left exposed on the regular.
How exposed, you ask?
Even though it seems like Florida is possessing the puck as well as anybody, its defense still allows 34.79 shots against per game, the seventh-most in the league since February 22. Games with the Panthers are high-energy affairs that leave both sides exhausted after everything is said and done.
This style of play would not work if not for the exemplary play of 15-9-2 G Roberto Luongo. He’s started all but three of the Panthers’ last 14 games, earning eight victories with a .926 save percentage and 2.51 GAA. Coming into tonight’s action, Luongo boasts a .928 season save percentage (fifth-best in the league) and 2.53 GAA.
While the Panthers have been hot lately, they’ve still suffered a few losses during this impressive run. If that’s not your style, you’ll love what the 41-28-5 Blue Jackets have been up to lately, as they’ve posted nine-consecutive victories to climb into third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Just like the Panthers, Columbus’ driving force during this run has been an indomitable offense. Since March 4, the Jackets have averaged an insane 4.22 goals per game, easily the best mark in the NHL in that time.
LW Artemi Panarin has saved his best hockey for the end of the year, and nobody in Ohio is complaining.
Hold on, let me check: Hey @jdettro and @vanekatthedisco, are you guys okay with the Breadman going nuts now instead of at the beginning of the season?
Yeah, I thought as much.
Over the last nine games, Panarin has posted unbelievable 7-8-15 totals to improve his season marks to 25-43-68, numbers that have him in line to exceed last campaign’s 31-43-74 effort that earned him a spot on the second NHL All-Star team at season’s end.
Of course, it hasn’t just been Panarin doing all the work, as he’s joined by linemate RW Cam Atkinson on his opposite wing. Atkinson has also averaged a point per game during this winning streak with his 4-5-9 totals, improving his season marks to 17-18-35.
A major way that Columbus’ recent attack is different than Florida’s is that the Jackets are getting far more contributions from their third line than the Panthers could ever dream of. Both F Boone Jenner (5-4-9 totals since March 4) and C Alexander Wennberg (2-7-9 since March 4) are averaging a point per game during this winning streak, and their ability to continue to apply scoring pressure even while the first and second lines are getting a breather is a big reason why Columbus is finding so many wins right now.
Remember that bit about how the Panthers are dropping their guard to find their offensive firepower?
That’s a ditto for the Blue Jackets.
During this winning streak, Columbus has allowed an average of 32 shots against per game, the (t)14th-most in the NHL since March 4. Fortunately, it has its own Luongo in 33-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky, who’s started six of the Jackets’ last nine games. In those outings, the Russian has posted an impressive .93 save percentage and 2.17 GAA, improving his season marks to an imposing .92 save percentage and 2.42 GAA.
While nothing noticeable happens if the Blue Jackets win this game, the standings could look totally different if they lose.
Should the Jackets emerge victorious tonight, they’d pull into a tie with Pittsburgh for second place in the Metropolitan Division with 89 points. However, the Pens would hold onto their spot due to having a game in hand on Columbus.
In other words, no pandemonium here.
But, let’s just say you’re not a fan of either of these teams, or even an Eastern Conference club. Let’s just say you’re a fan of chaos.
In that case, you need to cash in on the Panthers tonight.
Not only would Florida snap Columbus’ nine-game winning streak – the longest active in the NHL right now, but a Panthers win would jump them ahead of New Jersey for the second wild card… with another game in hand in their pockets. That game in hand means that all Florida technically needs to advance into the playoff picture – at least temporarily – is one point, as it would win the games-played tiebreaker over the Devils.
Of course, the Jackets not winning tonight has the potential to open up another can of worms, as that brings the Flyers into the picture. Should Columbus fall – whether in regulation or extra time – and Philly win in regulation or overtime, the Flyers would jump back into third place in the Metropolitan Division, forcing the Jackets into the first wild card.
Isn’t this time of year fun?
In addition to the difficulty of playing a team that is performing the best it has all season, the Panthers also have the fact that they’re still looking for their first victory against the Jackets this season lurking in the back of their minds.
In two previous meetings, Columbus has come away with a total of four points, beating the Panthers 7-3 in Sunrise on November 2 (Jenner posted a one-goal, three-point game) and narrowly defending home ice on January 7 with a 3-2 shootout victory (Bobrovsky earned First Star honors with a 42-save performance, plus four more in the shootout).
This has the potential to be one of the wildest games of the season. Skaters are going to be flying up and down the ice at blazing speeds and firing more shots than Head Coach John Tortorella knows profanities. Games like these boil down to which goaltender can make the most saves, which is why – as much as I love Luongo and am impressed by his recent performance – I have to lean towards the younger Bobrovsky earning Columbus two points tonight.
However, there’s no telling how a game between these high-powered offenses could end, so there’s a good shot Florida could depart Ohio with the point it needs to jump Jersey in the table.
With two two-goal periods, the Arizona Coyotes cruised to a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
It took only 1:46 of play before C Jack Eichel committed the first penalty of the game – a holding infraction against D Niklas Hjalmarsson – and Third Star of the Game C Dylan Strome (D Alex Goligoski and W Brendan Perlini) made him pay 1:52 later with a power play deflection. F Jordan Nolan (F Evan Rodrigues and D Nathan Beaulieu) leveled the game at 1-1 on a backhanded shot with 8:18 remaining in regulation, but First Star C Derek Stepan (D Oliver Ekman-Larsson and F Clayton Keller) returned the one-goal advantage to the Coyotes 6:02 later with what proved to be the game-winning goal.
Another first period penalty proved to be the demise of the Sabres, as Beaulieu was sent to the penalty box with 4:06 remaining in the frame for hi-sticking Strome. Once again Buffalo pulled within 10 seconds of successfully killing off the penalty, but Stepan posted Beaulieu’s bail early by waiting out an attempted sliding block by F Scott Wilson and threading a wrist shot from above the right face-off circle through four skaters and past G Chad Johnson‘s right skate.
Second Star G Antti Raanta earned the victory after saving 29-of-30 shots faced (.967 save percentage), leaving the loss to Johnson, who saved 13-of-15 (.867). Johnson was pulled at the 6:04 mark of the second period with a yet to be announced injury, pulling G Linus Ullmark into play. Ullmark saved 12-of-13 (.923) for no decision.
Another DtFR Game of the Day, another two points for the featured road teams. Visitors have earned points in 10 of the last 12 tilts we’ve focused on, meaning the 89-53-20 hosts’ lead in the series is now trimmed to 33 points.
The Carolina Hurricanes are looking for a new general manager and Nick would like to be considered for the job. Meanwhile, Connor’s riding the hype train that is the Arizona Coyotes (and Florida Panthers, you know for their more realistic postseason expectations). Oh yeah, Petr Mrazek is not a good starter. Also the current playoff format is still bad.