Jason Brough

AP

Panthers lose a ‘tough one’ in Winnipeg, as frustrations pile up under Rowe

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The frustrations keep piling up for the Florida Panthers, who still have just two wins under interim coach Tom Rowe.

The Panthers lost, 4-3, in the shootout last night in Winnipeg, despite outshooting the Jets, 44-32, through regulation and overtime.

“I think we controlled the pace of the game from the start of the game,” said forward Reilly Smith, per the Miami Herald. “It’s just frustrating. The opportunities are there, we had 44 shots. … With that many opportunities, you need to find a way to win.”

The Panthers are now 2-3-4 under Rowe, who took over from Gerard Gallant after a Nov. 27 loss in Carolina. In those nine games, they’ve outshot their opposition by a combined margin of 312 to 259. Roberto Luongo started eight of those games, going 2-3-3 with a .904 save percentage.

If Luongo had only been able to stop Bryan Little on the Jets’ third shootout attempt, the Panthers would’ve come away with the victory. But Little made a nice move to the backhand and scored, and Mathieu Perreault eventually won it in the sixth round.

“It was a tough one but we did a lot of good things,” Rowe said. “We outshot them dramatically in the first and second period. We had great chances and just couldn’t finish.”

The Panthers are right back at it tonight in Denver, against an Avalanche side that’s lost six straight at home. With the point against the Jets, Florida moved to four points back of third-place Boston in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins lost at home to Anaheim on Thursday.

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Related: The Panthers need to ignore the noise and just start winning

Khudobin hasn’t solved the Bruins’ backup goalie problem

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When we last checked in on Anton Khudobin, he’d just delivered an encouraging performance for the Boston Bruins, stopping 29 of 30 shots in a 2-1 shootout victory over Carolina.

Unfortunately for Khudobin and the B’s, his last two starts have been decidedly discouraging. Last Thursday, he allowed four goals on 22 shots in a 4-2 loss to Colorado, and last night, it was four goals on 27 shots in a 4-3 loss to Anaheim.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing. I’m not really happy,” said the 30-year-old netminder, per WEEI in Boston. “But I’m not going to put my head down and say that I’m done.”

With last night’s loss, Khudobin’s record fell to 1-5-0 with an .882 save percentage. In stark contrast, Tuukka Rask is 15-5-3 with a .930 save percentage.

After missing the playoffs the past two seasons with Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson in the backup role, the Bruins were hoping for much better from Khudobin, who played so well for them in 2013, when he went 9-4-0 with a .920 save percentage.

Read more: ‘Really happy’ to be back in Boston, Khudobin will be key for Bruins

But signing him to a two-year, $2.4 million contract was a gamble by GM Don Sweeney, considering Khudobin had struggled in his previous two NHL seasons, going a combined 11-20-6 with a .902 save percentage for Carolina and Anaheim. He spent most of last season in the AHL.

In case you’re wondering, there is no great third option behind Rask and Khudobin. Zane McIntyre has been good in the AHL, but he’s 0-2-0 with an .859 save percentage for the big club. Malcolm Subban, a first-round draft pick in 2012, doesn’t even have good AHL numbers this season (2-6-5, .903), lest we forget his two disastrous NHL starts, neither of which he finished.

So it may be up to Rask to carry the B’s into the playoffs. Boston is currently three points clear of Tampa Bay for third place in the Atlantic, but the Bolts have two games in hand.

Hitch says we’re ‘starting to see the maturity’ in Tarasenko

AP

ST. LOUIS (AP) Vladimir Tarasenko is known for his goal-scoring ability. Now he’s starting to show other parts of his game.

Tarasenko had a goal and two assists and Alex Pietrangelo scored the go-ahead goal as the St. Louis Blues beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Jori Lehtera, Nail Yakupov and Patrik Berglund also scored for the Blues, who overcame an early two-goal deficit. Jake Allen made 24 saves as St. Louis improved to 13-1-3 on home ice.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Tarasenko is showing an all-around game.

“The part that was good for me was in the third period, he competed defensively,” Hitchcock said. “That’s a big step. He was willing to work for the next goal if it came, and I think that’s just maturity in a player. I think you’re starting to see the maturity in a player, which is a really good sign for this franchise.”

Adam Henrique and Miles Wood scored for the Devils, while Cory Schneider made 26 saves. New Jersey’s losing streak is at a season-high four games and the Devils dropped their seventh straight game against St. Louis.

Henrique gave the Devils a 1-0 lead with a short-handed goal at 7:39 of the first period. Tarasenko whiffed on a shot from the point for the Blues, sending Henrique and Travis Zajac in on a 2-on-1.

Wood scored 4 minutes later to give the Devils a 2-0 lead. Wood put it in an open net after Henrique’s initial shot went wide and caromed off the boards in front of the net.

Tarasenko got the Blues on the board when he scored his second goal in three games on the power play with 2:54 left in the first period. Brad Hunt got an assist and has a point in all four games with the Blues since being called up from the AHL on Dec. 8.

“I thought the one that got us going was the first goal,” Hitchcock said. “He’s (Tarasenko) not feeling great, he’s on for both goals, and then to get one back on the power play kind of just brought us back. To me, we were off and running after that goal.”

Schneider said Tarasenko has one of the best shots in the league.

“He can hold his stick up high, he can look you off or just shoot it at a moment’s notice without any windup or anything like that,” Schneider said. “He’s always been a tough guy to play against and to read and he’s obviously one of the premier players in the league.”

Lehtera deflected a shot by Robby Fabbri for the Blues at 2:05 of the second period to tie it 2-2. It was Lehtera’s fourth goal of the season and first since Nov. 22 at Boston.

Tarasenko found Pietrangelo through the back door for an even strength goal to give the Blues a 3-2 lead at 7:45 of the second period.

“Not a set play, but 4-on-4 is more of a creative game,” Tarasenko said. “We have really good players like Alex and he can read the game well so if he gets open its easier to get the puck to him.”

The three-point night gave Tarasenko 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in his last five games.

“When you shoot the way he does, goalies and d-men really have to respect it,” Pietrangelo said. “It opens up a lot of seams.”

Yakupov made it 4-2 in the third period with his this third goal of the season and first since Oct. 20.

Tarasenko has 22 assists through 31 games and is on pace for a career-high 58.

St. Louis tightened defensively, holding the Devils without a shot for the first 11:23 of the second period.

 

Pre-game reading: Radulov has been a real hit in Montreal

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— Up top, Tuukka Rask is focused on getting the Bruins back to the playoffs. He’s gonna have to be good, and busy, especially if Anton Khudobin can’t find some consistency in the backup role.

— Has any player resurrected his reputation more than Alex Radulov has this season in Montreal? “The big Russian forward has quickly become one of the Canadiens’ most popular players, if not the most popular,” writes the Montreal Gazette. It sounds like Radulov was a real hit Wednesday when the Habs visited Montreal Children’s Hospital to spread some Christmas cheer. He forgot his teeth, which is always good for a few laughs. (Montreal Gazette)

— Pierre LeBrun breaks down the Los Angeles Kings’ situation ahead of the expansion draft. “It’s a given that Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin will be protected.” What’s in question is whether they’ll protect a fourth defenseman, Brayden McNabb, which could leave forwards like Marian Gaborik, Kyle Clifford, and Trevor Lewis unprotected. A tough decision for GM Dean Lombardi, who still has to get Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson signed to extensions. Shedding Gaborik’s cap hit may actually be advantageous for the Kings, which makes you wonder if Vegas would bite. (ESPN)

— The statistics don’t look good for the slumping Detroit Red Wings. “Particularly alarming has been their inability to generate shots, a category in which they currently sit 30th in the league. They’re 26th in overall shot share as a result, sandwiched between the Senators and Canucks, and in a rather unfamiliar neighborhood.” Indeed, the playoff streak may be coming to an end in the Motor City. (Sportsnet)

— Todd McLellan on coaching Connor McDavid: “I think coaching a superstar from the start of his career is probably a little easier than taking a job where your team’s superstar has already been in the league for seven or eight years and he’s in his prime and you have to figure him out. We’re growing together as a team, a coaching staff and a superstar.” An interesting remark, and probably a fair bit of truth to it. Recall all the hand-wringing when new coaches have taken over the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and especially the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin. (CBC.ca)

— Remember the name Cale Makar, who’s making quite an impression with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Some believe the 18-year-old defenseman should have been invited to Team Canada’s World Juniors camp. Makar was not draft-eligible in 2016. Where he’s selected in 2017 remains to be seen, but one NHL scout said he “has skill that could make him best defenseman in North America for the draft.” (TSN)

Enjoy the games!

The Panthers need to ignore the noise and just start winning

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Whatever’s happening behind the scenes of the Florida Panthers — and there are varying accounts, to be sure — the only real solution for this team is to start winning some hockey games.

Keep losing and the criticism will continue, whether it’s fair or not. The Panthers do things their own way, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But when a team that hasn’t won a playoff series in a couple of decades starts talking about winning “multiple Stanley Cups,” there are bound to be people who hope that team fails.

This is also what happens when a team that used to be ignored starts getting more league-wide attention. The Panthers are doing some interesting things. They are going out on a limb with analytics, and more and more people are watching to see how they fare. Some want them to succeed. But again, others want them to fall flat on their faces.

When the Panthers fired Gerard Gallant, it became “a PR nightmare” after photos emerged showing the ex-coach taking a taxi in Carolina. A few days later, Gallant said things were “getting blown out of proportion,” but by then, the damage had been done. That the team has continued to lose under interim coach Tom Rowe has only brightened the spotlight.

Read more: A ‘philosophical divide’ led to Gallant firing

Then came yesterday’s report that Dale Tallon was back in charge of hockey ops. The Panthers fired back, saying he’s never not been in charge.

That, in turn, led to Bob McKenzie’s radio rant today, during which the widely respected TSN/NBC insider said, “Technically, nothing has changed in Florida. Everybody’s got the same title. They’re going out of their way now to say nothing has happened. I will tell you what happened. After the game the other night, where they lost, and lost badly, and Roberto Luongo smashed his stick on the boards and threw a tantrum as he went off the ice, and Tom Rowe threw a tantrum on the bench, and that put them to 2-3-3, seven points out of a possible 16 since they fired head coach Gerard Gallant, we do know that the owner, Vinnie Viola, met with Dale Tallon the next morning and immediately following that, there was certainly word out in the NHL community that, whatever role Dale had before, that there may have been some added responsibility.”

For the players, it’s all a bunch of unwelcome noise. They’ve got enough on their plates, what with being five points back of a playoff spot. The way the top five teams in the Metropolitan are rolling, it looks like only three Atlantic teams are going to make the postseason. Montreal’s already got a nice cushion, which could leave only two spots for Ottawa, Boston, Tampa Bay, Florida, Detroit, Toronto, and Buffalo to grab. So whatever happens, there are going to be some very noteworthy teams that miss the playoffs this year.

Looking ahead, the Panthers play tonight in Winnipeg against a Jets team that should be rested and ready to go. Tomorrow they’re in Colorado, where the Avalanche continue to flounder. After that, Florida returns home for five huge divisional games with Buffalo, Boston, Detroit, Toronto, and Montreal.

When all’s said and done, these next seven games could very well determine whether the Panthers make or miss the playoffs. And we can only imagine the fallout if they miss.