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

‘It’s embarrassing,’ says Gulutzan after lopsided loss to Oilers

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 21:  Head coach Glen Gulutzan of the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center on November 21, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Battle of Alberta was a tad lopsided Saturday.

The Edmonton Oilers scored early. They scored often. And despite holding a distinct advantage in shots on goal and puck possession, the rival Calgary Flames couldn’t get much going until the third period and by then the damage had been done.

The Oilers, tied in points with the San Jose Sharks, are one point back of the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division lead after their 7-3 win over the Flames. Laurent Brossoit also collected his first career NHL victory.

This game wasn’t even six minutes old when Jordan Eberle scored to give Edmonton a three-goal lead. Chad Johnson was promptly pulled from the Calgary net, making one save on four shots faced.

The Flames were bad from the start. They didn’t get any better in the second period, falling behind five goals after 40 minutes and watching as the likes of Eberle and Connor McDavid piled on for a regular-season series sweep of Calgary.

Flames coach Glen Gulutzan had some strong words to describe the play of his team, which still holds down a wild card spot in the West.

“It’s embarrassing,” he said, per the Calgary Sun. “Our resolve to stick to it wasn’t there.”

“That’s a bunch of games in a row now where we’ve fallen behind and haven’t been able to get any push-back. And in our rink, it’s unacceptable,” added Mark Giordano.

The coach was utterly perplexed by his team’s breakdown on Edmonton’s third goal, which started off as a rush in the neutral zone and finished with Eberle, wide open down the right wing with a clear path to the net, beating Johnson on the shot.

“I don’t know what we were doing,” said Gulutzan. “I actually have no explanation for what our ‘D’ were doing on the third goal. It was a complete mistake.”

That should be concerning for the Flames.

They hold a playoff spot, but just barely with the Vancouver Canucks one point back and with two games in hand.

Talk about a Wild comeback for Minnesota

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The Minnesota Wild took back sole possession of the lead in the Central Division, thanks to a thrilling comeback win over the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Minnesota trailed 3-1 early in the second period. Jason Zucker closed the deficit in the middle period, before they took the lead for good thanks to a frenzy of three goals from Erik Haula, Ryan Suter and Zucker in 1:59 late in regulation for a 5-3 victory.

“When we came in in between the second and third, knowing we were only down a goal, and knowing our history, we didn’t think we were out of it,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, per the Pioneer Press.

And so the Wild remain one of the hottest teams in the league, leading Chicago by two points.

While it’s a comeback for them, the Ducks don’t quite see it the same way.

“It’s not what they did, to be honest. We self-imploded. Gave up too many opportunities, left our goalie out to dry,” said Cam Fowler.

Additional bad news for the Ducks, however, was that goalie John Gibson left the game in the second period with an upper-body injury, and didn’t return.

 

Bust a move: Capitals win includes unlikely OT hero and dad’s dancing in Dallas

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The usual suspects contributed for the Washington Capitals on Saturday. Down a pair of goals entering the third period, Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie helped ignite the comeback on the power play.

But then an unlikely hero emerged.

Jay Beagle scored his 10th goal of the season and the overtime winner to give Washington a 4-3 victory over the Dallas Stars. That aforementioned goal total matches his previous career high from two seasons ago.

He initially accomplished the feat over the course of 62 games. This time, he hits 10 goals in 46 games played.

Officials needed to review the play, although replays quickly showed the puck over the line from the Beagle shot in the slot.

The comeback win led to a memorable post-game celebration.

Disclaimer: Don’t try this at home.

The Capitals maintain their lead in the Metropolitan Division ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This game versus the Stars included some feisty moments, particularly in the first period when tempers boiled over. Tom Wilson and Brett Ritchie dropped the gloves for a lengthy fight. Three seconds later, Daniel Winnik fought Antoine Roussel.

Ducks goalie Gibson leaves game versus Wild with upper-body injury

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 01:  Goaltender John Gibson #36 of the Anaheim Ducks in action during the preseason NHL game against Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Anaheim goaltender John Gibson has left Saturday’s game against Minnesota with an upper-body injury.

A short-angle shot from Mikko Koivu appeared to hit Gibson in the upper chest with 5:39 to play in the first period. The goaltender immediately went down on one knee and was quickly attended to by a trainer. Gibson gingerly skated to the bench and went straight to the locker room.

Anaheim announced that Gibson is doubtful to return.

Gibson is 7-1-1 with two shutouts in his past nine starts. He was replaced by Jonathan Bernier.

Gibson stopped four of five shots he faced while making his fourth straight start.