Kukla's Korner Hockey
from Travis Yost of TSN,
I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that Gerard Gallant’s Florida Panthers are the ultimate X-Factor as it pertains to the Eastern Conference playoff race, primarily due to the fact that most prognosticators had this team suffering through another tough year as their young team develops.
The fact that Florida has suddenly developed into a quality playoff hockey team has to be particularly disheartening to the couple of Eastern Conference teams who are hanging on for dear life right now. In particular, Toronto. One of the biggest – and really, only – endorsements one can give Randy Carlyle’s team right now is that there isn’t a whole lot of competition outside of the top eight with the ability to throw them from a potential playoff berth. Beyond that, the Maple Leafs once again stand on shaky ground.
What makes Florida particularly fascinating as a contender is that it seems as though everything’s come together at the right time. Obviously, competition isn’t ripe right now in the East. But, they’ve benefited greatly from a combination of faster-than-expected player development and the venerable Roberto Luongo in net, who is able to bail the team out of trouble when things get dicey.
Richard Panik of the Toronto Maple Leafs left the game after this hit from Scottie Upshall of the Florida Panthers.
He will not return.
video via Sportsnet,
from George Richards of On Frozen Pond,
The host Penguins won a penalty-filled game 3-1 that was a one-goal game before Sidney Crosby scored seven minutes into the third.
Afterward, a number of players didn't have much good to say about the home team, with more than one insinuating Monday night couldn't come soon enough.
"We're lucky we get to play them again on Monday,'' said defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who fought Steve Downie in the second period.
"We have to find a way to win. If we want to be among the upper echelon in this league, conference and division, we have to find ways to grind out wins. All in all, we're leaving here with a pretty good mindset.''
The Panthers apparently don't like the Penguins, and by the looks of things on Saturday, the feeling is mutual.
from Nicholas J. Cotsonika of Yahoo,
It’s good to be Aaron Ekblad. It’s good to be around Aaron Ekblad and his combination of maturity and youth, poise and skill. He has five goals and 18 points in his first 28 games in the NHL – third among rookies, first among rookie defensemen – while averaging 21:56 of ice time and playing a top-four role. He’s a reason the Panthers are competing for a playoff spot.
“He doesn’t play like an 18-year-old,” said goaltender Roberto Luongo. “He plays like he’s been in the league 18 years.”
Nothing fazes him. His welcome-to-the-NHL moment came Dec. 2 when the Panthers played for the first time in Detroit. He grew up across the river in Windsor, Ont., going to games at Joe Louis Arena, rooting for the Red Wings, idolizing Nicklas Lidstrom. He had family and friends in the stands. When he lined up for the opening faceoff, he found himself across from Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall and Henrik Zetterberg – the guys he used to watch. But listen to how he described it. No awe. No sense of accomplishment.
“Just a really special, surreal feeling,” Ekblad said. “Not an ‘I made it’ feeling or anything like that, but just more of a cool challenge. Just the realization that this is where I am and this is the kind of challenge that I’m going to face and I want to rise to the challenge.”
from Bob Duff of the Windsor Star,
“He’s real impressive,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “How many D-men have seven points in their last five games?
“He’s just a kid, but obviously with size and skill and skating – but his smarts, and his ability to get the puck through from the point – I don’t know, you don’t want to say too much too early.”
Hockey Hall of Fame defenceman and Florida TV analyst Denis Potvin jumped right from the Ottawa 67’s to the New York Islanders in 1973 and can understand better than most the significance of what Ekblad is currently achieving.
“I’ve seen a lot of young defencemen come up, really good kids who are out there in the league right now,” Potvin said. “They’ve got skill, the shot, the size and can skate – but they don’t think the game like this kid.
“That’s what is so impressive about him to me.”
from Matthew DeFrank of the Sun Sentinel,
Just two months into Aaron Ekblad's NHL career, it seems like nothing the 18-year-old does is surprising anymore.
Leading the Panthers in assists? Ho-hum. Third among NHL rookies in scoring? Okay. Even his three-assist performance on Saturday night against Buffalo drew a tempered response from Panthers coach Gerard Gallant.
"He played a good game [Saturday] night but he's been good all season long," Gallant said. "I don't think last night was an outstanding game for him. It was a good game, but he's had a lot of those."
While good games have become the norm for the No. 1 overall pick, the Panthers have also become accustomed to Ekblad firing shots from the point to create offensive opportunities. He is tied for the team lead with 17 points.
from George Richards of On Frozen Pond,
Florida general manager Dale Tallon apologized to Buffalo owner Terry Pagula and general manager Tim Murray for the team's pregame video on Saturday night.
The video interspersed scenes from Buffalo's recent major snowstorm with those of the Panthers' mascot fishing and doing other activities outside in the South Florida sun.
Pagula, who lives in Palm Beach County and recently purchased the Bills, was incensed as he spoke with Tallon about the video.
from George Richards of the Miami Herald,
With road victories over teams such as Anaheim, San Jose and Detroit, people around the NHL have taken notice of the Panthers this season.
Florida came into Wednesday three points in back of Boston and Toronto for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers were ranked eighth overall in the conference with 26 points in a league-low 23 games.
If the Panthers want to continue their ascent in the standings, they need to take care of the teams below them.
Yes, a team that finished at or near the bottom of the NHL standings the past two seasons now believes it had better get all four points from its current two-game homestand against Columbus and Buffalo.
from Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette,
At a time when the average value of an NHL franchise increased by 18.6 per cent, the value of the Panthers declined by 21 per cent and the team lost an estimated $15.6 million.
A good spin doctor would point out that the Panthers have room for growth, but there’s nothing to suggest the team has a future in the swamp. Last season, the Panthers announced average attendance of 14,525. This season, the team has set franchise attendance records, but they have been records for the smallest crowds in team history, bottoming out at 7,311. The Panthers’ average crowd is 8,895, but there’s hope of topping 9,000 by the end of the month because Québécois tourists ensure a sellout for the Canadiens-Panthers game on Dec. 30.
The decline in attendance in southern Florida isn’t a result of an eroding fan base. It is a reflection of the true fan base there. Attendance is down because new owners came up with a novel idea — they asked fans to pay for their tickets after years of freebies and deeply discounted seats.
Whether the NHL wants to admit it or not, the Florida franchise is on life support.
via Harvey Fialkov tweets.
A team source confirmed the Panthers r trying to trade some unnamed vets to make room for players like Trocheck and Grimaldi.
One doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to figure Fleischmann is at top of list. Perhaps Bergenheim and Kopyecky as well.
Bergy has been too injury prone.All are in final years of dealsTeam may have to wait til deadline but they want Rocco ASAP.
About Kukla's Korner Hockey
Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
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