Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers reaped referees’ rewards the most this season

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Along with celebrating goals, making fun of opposing and “bandwagon” fans and eating greasy, overpriced food, there’s one activity that tends to bond fans of all 30 NHL teams: mercilessly booing officials. Chances are, every fan base has cursed a ref for (what’s usually) a human mistake while fastening a tin foil hat of suspicion.

It brings up an interesting question, though: which fans are most justified in their (assumed) metaphorical fashion statements? Following in last year’s footsteps, I decided to use NHL.com’s team stats to find out which squads have benefited and lost the most from the referees’ whistle.

(Key: “PP Opp” = power-play opportunities, “TS” = times shorthanded and net chances represents the difference between the two.)

Team PP Opp TS Net chances
FLA 286 239 47
SJS 270 225 45
CHI 277 233 44
CBJ 317 274 43
CAR 294 252 42
TOR 267 242 25
DET 298 274 24
NYR 280 260 20
PIT 289 270 19
PHI 335 319 16
NJD 267 259 8
NYI 243 236 7
NSH 250 244 6
PHX 251 249 2
VAN 288 286 2
BUF 258 257 1
LAK 289 293 -4
CGY 260 268 -8
BOS 250 260 -10
ANA 271 283 -12
STL 270 282 -12
MTL 301 315 -14
TBL 269 284 -15
WSH 245 266 -21
MIN 258 285 -27
EDM 262 296 -34
OTT 270 310 -40
WPG 251 292 -41
COL 223 277 -54
DAL 244 303 -59

Some observations

As you can see, the Florida Panthers didn’t just have charity points on their side this season – they also drew 47 more power plays than penalties received. Meanwhile, Dallas Stars fans will nod their heads sadly when they notice that their team went on the PK 59 more times than they had man advantages. That’s essentially an extra penalty to kill in two out of every three games.

You only need to reach down to the fourth-ranked Columbus Blue Jackets to see the first team that couldn’t take advantage of such a disparity. One cannot help but wonder if the Blue Jackets could make a huge turnaround next season if they receive the same advantages (317 power play opportunities!), which is obviously no guarantee. Yet with a potentially luckier James Wisniewski and a full season of Jack Johnson in tow, you never know if they did generate a lot of 5-on-4’s in 2012-13. The Carolina Hurricanes also failed to take advantage of penalty perks by missing the postseason. (Toronto rounds out that group, but they didn’t have quite as much of a dramatic advantage.)

Meanwhile, the five teams that received the worst “treatment” missed the playoffs, while sixth-worst Washington (-21) barely squeaked in as the seventh seed.

Coming soon: A look at which teams benefited or suffered the most from officiating since the lockout.

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.

Kris Letang won’t play in outdoor game; Schultz game-time decision

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 17:  Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins talks before a faceoff during the game against Colorado Avalanche at PPG Paints Arena on October 17, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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An already shorthanded Pittsburgh Penguins defense is going to be without another key player on Saturday when Kris Letang misses their Stadium Series game against the Philadelphia Flyers due to an upper body.

Coach Mike Sullivan announced the news following the team’s morning skate and would only add that Letang remains day-to-day with an upper body injury.

Letang, the Penguins’ best defenseman, played more than 28 minutes in their most recent game, a 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.

In 41 games this season he has five goals and 29 assists. Ron Hainsey, recently acquired in a trade with the Hurricanes, is going to have to immediately take on a pretty substantial role with his new team.

Anytime the Penguins are without Letang it’s a big deal because of how impactful he is on the blue line, but it is an even bigger issue now given the injury situation they are dealing with. Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta are both sidelined for what will most likely be the remainder of the regular season.

Justin Schultz, a game-time decision on Saturday night according to Sullivan, has missed the past three games due to a concussion.