The Oilers will head to Sunrise, Florida to take on the Panthers for the second of two meetings between the teams this season.
1. The Oilers and Panthers have played once this season. It came back on Feb. 12 when the Panthers won that weird game in Edmonton that featured both teams scoring a goal on a penalty shot for the first time in NHL history. Florida won 7-5 but five of those seven goals came by way of the power play, penalty shot, or empty net. Today’s game will be the final meeting between the two teams this season.
2. The last meeting between the Oilers and Panthers came right as Florida was getting started on their season-saving hot streak that nobody saw coming. The Panthers had a five-day break in late January after losing three games in a row. It looked like they were well out of playoff contention, but since then, they’ve won 16 of 21 games and sit just a few points out of a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference.
3. Since the end of January, only the Nashville Predators have more points in the standings than the Panthers do. Another wild thing is that the next three best teams over that span all come from the Atlantic Division. The Lightning, Leafs, and Bruins have all been excellent meaning the Panthers have made up virtually zero ground in the Atlantic while they rocketed up the wild card standings.
4. So what’s happened to the Panthers? Why are they suddenly #ActuallyGood? A lot of it comes down to ridiculously good special teams. Over the span since the end of January, the Panthers are scoring on 29.7 per cent of their power plays and they’re killing 83.3 per cent of their penalties. Both of those numbers are ridiculously good and are well above what they had done otherwise for the season. Before that, Florida hovered around the league average in terms of special teams, but, as we’ve seen this year in the opposite sense, good special teams results can completely change your fate.
5. Another key to Florida’s success has been the excellent play of Aleksander Barkov. Since the end of January, Barkov has 27 points in 20 games, which ranks third in the NHL behind only Evgeni Malkin and Connor McDavid. He’s centring a lethal line with Evgeni Dadonov and Nick Bjugstad, who are both scoring at a point-per-game pace over that time.
6. It’s interesting to think where the Panthers would be had they not given away both Rielly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault last year at the expansion draft. Florida willingly let Vegas have Marchessault so long as they took on Smith’s contract and now the two of them have combined for 44 goals this season.
7. The Panthers have been kind of a soap opera the past few years. They overachieved massively in 2015-16 and made the playoffs with Gerrard Gallant behind the bench, had a front office restructure that favoured analytics, struggled in 2016-17, gave up on it quickly, and are now going through another surprising hot streak. Who are the real Panthers? I think they weren’t as good as their record indicated in 2015-16 and they weren’t as bad as their record indicated in 2016-17. Last year, they dealt with injuries to key players like Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau so that coupled with the inevitable crash back to earth made things seem a lot worse than they actually were. Regardless, the Panthers still have a nice core of young players, though their work at the expansion draft wasn’t enviable.
8. I’ve talked a lot about Florida, but how have the Oilers been playing recently? Well, as you likely know, not all that great. Despite Connor McDavid having a ridiculous 32 points in 21 games over that span since the end of January and Leon Draisaitl playing at a point-per-game pace, Edmonton is just 8-11-2 in that span. The power play is still bad but the penalty kill has improved and ranks ninth in the league since the end of January.
9. Pontus Aberg didn’t skate yesterday and is injured or fighting and illness and will be replaced by Ty Rattie today. Rattie, who’s had a good season with Bakersfield of the AHL, will slide on to Connor McDavid’s wing. I find it odd that an AHL tweener player is being given this opportunity rather than Jesse Puljujarvi who is an important player to the team moving forward.
10. Speaking of McDavid, let’s look in at the McArtRoss Race. He has 86 points, five behind Nikita Kucherov for first, but Evgeni Malkin, who has 89 points, is also in the way too. He’s been flying at an incredible pace as of late but so have Kucherov and Malkin, who aren’t letting up.
QUICK HITS BROUGHT TO YOU BY ATB FINANCIAL
Let’s show Vegas something they’ve never seen before—Alberta hockey fans.
Enter the Vegas Breakaway for a chance to win a trip for two to Las Vegas and tickets to a Golden Knights game. Enter to win at atb.com/vegas
Source: Edmonton Oilers, Official Game Page, 13/17/2018 – 8:00 am MST