Who is the most frustrating Florida Panther?

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olesz.jpgEvery now and then, Pro Hockey Talk will ask for insight from some of the best team bloggers out there. For this feature, we asked a simple question: “Who is your team’s most frustrating player?” Just for fun, I decided to throw my guess in the hat, too.

First, here is my guess for Florida.

Everyone? No, that’s not fair. Keith Ballard? Also, not fair. Instead, I’ll choose Stephen Weiss. To me, the guy represents the Panthers’ potential-over-production movement now that Jay Bouwmeester is gone and Nathan Horton is actually proving himself. Weiss was supposed to be better than a 60-point player. Wasn’t he?

For Florida’s perspective, I nabbed the great Donny Rivette  from The Litter Box (or is it Litter Box Cats? I never know.). His blog is the go-to source for all things Panthers.

Players who frustrate? In Florida? As Zelda Rubenstein’s character opined at a pivotal moment in Poltergeist: “This house has many hearts”.

As is the case with all clubs, the Panthers are not immune to carrying underwhelming or oversold assets who consistently leave fans with bald spots bloodied from chronic head-scratching. For every Dmitry Kulikov there is evidently a limitless supply of Anthony Stewarts, Branislav Mezeis, and Martin Lojeks. To name but a few.

Today’s variation of the team sports a few who’ve approached career bests (Weiss), others who undoubtedly would have if not for long-term injuries (Booth, Horton), youngsters taking that crucial next step (Garrison, Matthias), along with the expected setbacks (Stillman losing a step, Frolik’s sophomore slump).

Brushing aside the Cats’ annual struggles, ask any Panthers fan which player frustrates them above all others and you’ll get an immediate, instant answer: left winger Rostislav Olesz.

Jump for more on the oddly named frustration.


First, the disclaimer: There is no debating Rusty’s talent; his speed and agility are among the best on the club. He’s got heart, appears to work diligently, and no one’s got a better goal celebration. And he’s simply a nice guy. Unfortunately, none of those admittedly positive attributes have been enough to cover his deficiencies.

A 2004 first round (7th overall) pick by Florida, Olesz has redefined “enigma”, even for this franchise. Injuries have forced him to miss 101 games over his first five seasons. Point totals feature jagged peaks and valleys: 21, 30, 26, 9, 27. He’ll likely top his career-best 30 points, but by no means place money on it. One assist over his past 24 games (through March 28th) is warning enough. The entire league has the book on him in the shootout: he’s firing low from the backhand. Tends to lack adrenaline as the game wears on. Doesn’t use his body enough along the boards (though this has improved slightly in recent months). Gets beaten to the puck too often, regardless of his speed. Other than a four-game point streak in mid-December (1g), there hasn’t been much at all to cheer about. Imagine Radek Dvorak – another Florida product and similar to Olesz in many categories – minus the consistency and “go-to guy” status.

It’s one of those deals where Rusty gets the puck and you instinctively know something will go wrong. Miss the check. Break the stick. Run out of space. Or worse.

All those missed games obviously contributed to a somewhat stunted development, but he’s now passed the 300-game mark (March 29th), and that excuse no longer carries significant weight. He’s grown up in this organization, but he hasn’t broken out. Like so many former first-rounders the Panthers short-sightedly lost patience with, it would be a crime to see Olesz dealt and blossom elsewhere. He’s got the goods to do it here, but when? That’s the frustration among fans.

Kings activate Jonathan Quick from IR and he is starting against the Ducks

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 08:  Goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings tends net during a preseason game against the Colorado Avalanche at T-Mobile Arena on October 8, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Colorado won 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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For the first time since the season opener the Los Angeles Kings are going to have starting goaltender Jonathan Quick in their lineup on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Anaheim Ducks.

Quick, who has played just 20 minutes of hockey this season, has been out of the lineup since Oct. 12 due to a groin injury. The team activated him from injured reserve on Saturday before the game.

In his absence the Kings had to rely on Peter Budaj to carry the load, and he did a pretty admirable job with a .917 save percentage (the best performance of his career) in 53 appearances. Keep in mind that Quick’s save percentage the past four seasons has been .914.

While Quick’s absence seemed like it could have been a big deal at the start of the year, the biggest factor in the Kings’ disappointing season has been on the offensive side, especially in recent weeks as the team’s goal scoring woes have seemingly hit rock bottom. In their past nine games the Kings have managed just 15 goals, and that includes one game where they scored six. Simple math says they scored only nine goals in the other eight games. Not great. They were also shutout three times during that stretch.

Even if Quick is the Kings’ best goalie, and even if he returns to the lineup and plays extremely well down the stretch, it is not going to make much of a difference if the offense continues to score at that sort of abysmal level.

The Kings enter Saturday’s game five points out of the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

Goalie nods: Murray, Neuvirth get the call at Heinz Field

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When the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers take their long-time rivalry outside on Saturday night it will be Matt Murray and Michael Neuvirth getting the starts in goal for the teams.

For the Penguins, Murray getting the start is no shock at this point since he has clearly taken over the No. 1 job, starting 14 of the past 17 games the Penguins have played and currently owning some of the best numbers of any goalie in the league this season. His .925 save percentage that is currently fifth best in the NHL while his .935 save percentage during even-strength situations is tied for second best.

He has allowed just 10 goals in his past six starts.

The Penguins’ goaltending situation is still going to be one worth watching over the next couple of days leading up to the NHL trade deadline. With Murray as the guy in net trade speculation surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury has picked up, and even though general manager Jim Rutherford said earlier this week that he would prefer to keep Fleury, he mentioned on Friday that a decision resulting his short-term future will be made in the 24-48 hours leading up to the deadline.

Meanwhile, on the Philadelphia side, it will be Neuvirth getting another start as he tries to shake off the rust he has shown since returning to the lineup from an injury that sidelined him for a large portion of the season. Since returning he has just an .894 save percentage in eight starts, continuing what has been an overall disappointing season for him in net.

He faced the Penguins earlier this season in a 5-4 loss, giving up two goals on 12 shots in relief of starter Steve Mason.

Elsewhere on Saturday…

— It will be Jonathan Bernier vs. Jonathan Quick on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles when the Ducks and Kings face off.

— Phillip Grubauer gets the call for the Washington Capitals when they visit the Nashville Predators and try to prevent Filip Forsberg from recording yet another hat trick. No word yet on who is starting for the Predators.

— Joonas Korpisalo will be giving Sergei Bobrovsky the night off for the Columbus Blue Jackets when they host Thomas Greiss and the New York Islanders.

— The Rangers will go with Antti Raanta for their rivalry showdown with the New Jersey Devils. Cory Schneider goes for the Devils.

— Huge game in Toronto when it comes to the Atlantic Division standings with the Maple Leafs facing off against a Canadiens team they trail by only four points. It will be a Carey Price vs. Frederik Anderson goalie matchup.

Ryan Miller, suddenly the subject of trade speculation, will start for the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday when they face the San Jose Sharks. Look for Martin Jones to go for the Sharks.

Robin Lehner and Calvin Pickard go for the Sabres and Avalanche respectively on Saturday night in Denver.

Antoine Vermette’s 10-game suspension upheld by Gary Bettman

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The NHL announced on Saturday afternoon that commissioner Gary Bettman has upheld the 10-game suspension the league issued to Anaheim Ducks forward Antoine Vermette for an abuse of official incident that happened earlier this month.

Bettman met with Vermette on Thursday and heard his appeal, and has ruled that the 10-game ban will remain in place.

Vermette was ejected from the Ducks’ Feb. 14 game against the Minnesota Wild after he slashed linesman Shandor Alphonso in the leg following a face off. The NHL ruled that it was a Category II abuse of official foul, which carries an automatic 10-game suspension. He has already served four of those games. He will lose $97,222.22 in salary as a result of the entire suspension.

Vermette’s suspension is the third abuse of official suspension we have seen in the NHL over the past two years following the 20-game ban Dennis Wideman received last year (later reduced to 10 games) and the three-game suspension given to Arizona Coyotes defenseman Anthony DeAngelo this season.

After signing a two-year, $3.5 million contract with the Ducks in free agency, Vermette has eight goals and 14 assists in 58 games this season.

Blackhawks’ Hjalmarsson ‘day-to-day,’ will not play on Sunday

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 11:  Niklas Hjalmarsson #4 of the Chicago Blackhawks fires a shot against the Washington Capitals at the United Center on November 11, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Capitals defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Just about the only downside to the Chicago Blackhawks’ latest win, a 6-3 dismantling of the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night, was the injury suffered by defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson.

He ended up leaving the game after taking just four shifts in the first period and did not return.

Along with missing almost all of that game, he will also be out of the lineup on Sunday when the Blackhawks look to continue their recent hot streak when they host the St. Louis Blues.

In 60 games this season Hjalmarsson has five goals and nine assists while mostly playing alongside Duncan Keith. On Thursday the Blackhawks had seven defensemen in the lineup and relied on Michal Rozsival to fill some of the minutes left vacated by Hjalmarsson. He ended up scoring his first goal of the season in the win.

The Blackhawks have been on a roll over the past few weeks, winning eight of their past nine games and scoring at least four goals in every win during that stretch.

They will miss Hjalmarsson on Sunday, but it seems to only be a short-term issue.