Scottie Upshall,  Brian Campbell

Panthers’ power play can only improve next season

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The Florida Panthers’ jarringly awful power play (and special teams) from last season inspires a lot of questions, but one of the most amusing ones might be: how much worse would things have been without Brian Campbell?

As much as the scoring defenseman gets grief for a still-bloated $7.1 million cap hit, one wonders if he felt strangely alone at times in Florida. He easily led the Panthers’ woeful power play in points with 12 in 2012-13, factoring into a significant chunk of their disastrously low 27 total power-play tallies.

One way or another, that number should climb next season unless baffling things happen once again.

Comically bad

The Panthers were far behind even the second worst unit for sheer goal scoring on the power play, as the Buffalo Sabres settled for 36. The Winnipeg Jets and Vancouver Canucks are the only other teams who fell short of 40 (both finished with 39). Not surprisingly, Florida’s pitiful 10 percent success rate was easily the worst in the NHL.

Now, some will – reasonably – explain these problems away by noting the Panthers’ lack of on-paper talent.

That’s understandable, yet some of the numbers argue that Florida is likely to rebound from that 2012-13 level of “moribund” to merely just bad (or maybe even good if things swing the Panthers’ way). Based on some numbers from the now-defunct stats site Extra Skater, here are a few intriguing facts:

  • The Panthers’ shooting percentage on the power play was easily the NHL’s worst at 7.6 percent. No other team was below 9.3. If the Panthers merely enjoyed that second-worst percentage, they would have scored six more goals. That’s not going to propel them to a playoff berth, yet it would certainly leave them at far less of a disadvantage.
  • Florida generated 669 “Corsi For” events on the power play, good for 21st in the NHL. That indicates that they were at least creating a respectable amount of chances … at least compared to those absolutely abysmal totals.

Gallant’s opportunity

What does this all say?

The Panthers have a strong chance of being better merely by better luck, but new head coach Gerard Gallant could look brilliant if things roll his way. There’s reason to believe that the team will improve thanks to a combination of busy offseason signings and the maturation of young players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov. If Gallant (or a plucky assistant) can help that group generate better-than-average chances, people might start to get some hype for a “brilliant turnaround.”

***

It’s easy to dismiss the impact of special teams and just as easy to underrate how much that area can impact a league noted for its parity. An improved power play wouldn’t guarantee a leap for the Panthers next season … but it’s hard to imagine them being hindered by such an awful unit like they were in 2012-13.

Then again, they could also trade Campbell and make that prediction a little less confident …

Related: Panthers’ owner uncertain of future in Florida

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Fleury suits up (but won’t start) and other Caps – Pens Game 3 notes

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been out of action with concussion symptoms, participates in a practice session for the NHL hockey playoffs against the New York Rangers, Monday, April 11, 2016, at their practice facility in Cranberry, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
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The Brooks Orpik hit on Olli Maatta isn’t the only factor in lineup changes for Game 3 between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Maybe the most interesting change starts on the Penguins’ bench … where they likely hope that tweak will stay for at least one night.

Marc-Andre Fleury is apparently healthy enough to suit up for the Penguins, although it appears as though Matt Murray will start:

That’s a clear sign that “The Flower” is healthy enough to play, as Murray would be an injury or a coach’s pull away from giving up the net to Fleury. (One would assume.)

Murray has been fantastic for the most part since taking over for Jeff Zatkoff during this postseason, yet you know how the playoffs can be; people may clamor for Fleury after a loss even if it’s not really Murray’s fault.

Circling back to that Orpik hit, the dominoes seem to fall this way:

Penguins: Derrick Pouliot replaces injured Maatta.

Capitals: Dmitry Orlov in for suspended Orpik.

PHT will make note if there are any swerves.

2016 Calder Trophy finalists: Gostisbehere, McDavid and Panarin

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid lines up for a faceoff against the Vancouver Canucks during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 9, 2016, in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Ever since the NHL kept obstruction in check and thus placed a greater emphasis on speed and skill, we’ve seen some fascinating Calder Trophy debates. This 2015-16 season may present the toughest call in recent memory.

The league named the three finalists on Monday, and even that couldn’t have been easy. They are Edmonton Oilers wunderkind Connor McDavid, breakout Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin.

(The NHL made it official here.)

All three make for fantastic debates.

Do you go with McDavid, easily the youngest of the bunch, who produced gaudy per-game numbers but missed almost half of the season?

Perhaps you lean toward Gostisbehere, who also scored at an impressive clip per-game for a defenseman while playing a huge role in the Flyers’ surprising run to a playoff spot?

Or, do you go with Panarin, the guy who easily leads rookies in total points (77, 21 more than Jack Eichel‘s second-place finish) and was so effective that his bonuses will really put the Blackhawks in a bad way? Or do you penalize Panarin for being a little older and for the undeniable benefits he received from riding shotgun with Patrick Kane?

Then again, plenty will merely spend their time griping about “snubs,” as the likes of Jack Eichel and John Gibson were not in the final three despite outstanding work.

Yep, this should be fun … just be nice during your debates.

WATCH LIVE: Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins – Game 3

Washington Capitals left wing Andre Burakovsky (65) fires a shot past Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin (8) during the second period of Game 2 in an NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference semifinals Saturday, April 30, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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There’s only one game on the docket tonight, but it’s a marquee matchup.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals split their games in DC and now switch to Pittsburgh for Game 3. We’ve seen great work from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Backstrom and maybe especially Braden Holtby so far … not to mention a considerable cast of supporting characters.

Which team will take a 2-1 lead in this captivating series?

We’ll find out on NBCSN. You can stream the game live via the link below as well:

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE