Jason Brough

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 29: Aleksander Barkov #16 is congratulated by Brian Campbell #51 and Erik Gudbranson #44 of the Florida Panthers after he scored his second goal of the game against the Montreal Canadiens at the BB&T Center on December 29, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Canadiens 3-1. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Streaking Panthers tout record-breaking December

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The Florida Panthers went 11-3-0 in December. According to the club, it was the “highest win and point totals for any month in franchise history.”

From the press release:

Florida’s goaltending duo of Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya backstopped the Panthers to their 11 wins. Luongo registered a 8-3-0 record, .929 save percentage, 1.80 goals against average and one shutout in 11 games played, while also recording a season-high six-game win streak. Montoya recorded a 3-0-0 record, .950 save percentage, 0.98 goals against average and only three goals against in three games played. The Panthers ranked fourth in the NHL this month for least goals allowed (25).

Forward Aleksander Barkov recorded 13 points (5-8-13) in 14 games to lead the Panthers, defenseman Aaron Ekblad, forward Reilly Smith and Barkov each scored a team-leading five goals, while Jonathan Huberdeau led the team with nine assists.

Florida beat the Canadiens, 3-1, last night in Sunrise. The Panthers’ seventh straight win gave them sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division.

They can make it eight straight Saturday at home versus the Rangers.

Related: Panthers have all the makings of a future Stanley Cup contender

Unable to score, Ducks are clogging it up real good

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So far, so good for the Anaheim Ducks following the Christmas break. They beat the Flyers, 4-2, on Sunday and the Flames, 1-0, last night.

It wasn’t the prettiest hockey you’ll ever see Tuesday night in Calgary. Then again, the Ducks can’t afford to worry about aesthetics.

“We had a game plan to try to clog up the neutral zone, try to slow them down. We did a pretty good job of it,” goalie John Gibson told the Associated Press following his 14-save shutout.

Yep, that’s right. Gibson only had to make 14 saves the entire night. In the first 40 minutes, the Flames could only muster seven shots.

The Ducks, of course, have the worst offense in the NHL, averaging just 1.89 goals per game. Hence, the focus on clogging up the ice against a team that features Johnny Gaudreau.

But last night’s game plan doesn’t seem to have been unique to the Flames. In fact, in their last 10 games, the Ducks have surrendered an average of just 23 shots against. Over that stretch, they’ve won games 1-0, 2-1, 2-1, 4-2, and 1-0.

The Ducks play Thursday in Edmonton and Friday in Vancouver, two big games against Pacific Division foes.

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Howard pulled again, calls his performance ‘unacceptable’

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings takes a break during the game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on December 11, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Jimmy Howard‘s last two starts have each ended the same way.

With him on the bench.

The Red Wings’ goalie was yanked again last night in Winnipeg, same as a week before versus New Jersey. He allowed four goals on 14 shots versus the Jets. It was three goals on just six shots against the Devils. Detroit went on to lose both games in regulation.

“It wasn’t good enough for the guys once again,” Howard told MLive. “It wasn’t good enough and I need to be better. … It’s unacceptable.”

His coach, Jeff Blashill, was considerably more supportive, saying he wasn’t worried about the 31-year-old, and that the Red Wings didn’t do enough to help their netminder out.

Of course, Blashill ended his supportive remarks by saying “but obviously we need to get some wins here.” So safe to say Petr Mrazek will get the start Thursday versus Pittsburgh. The Wings have lost three of their last four.

Howard is 7-5-4 with a .910 save percentage. He’s signed through 2018-19 with a $5.3 million cap hit.

Mrazek is 11-7-3 with a .927 save percentage. He’s a pending restricted free agent.

The Leafs are ‘buying in’ to Babcock’s system, and it shows

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In their last four games, the Toronto Maple Leafs have:

— Smoked the Los Angeles Kings, 5-0, outshooting them 34-26
— Filled the net in a 7-4 win at Colorado, halting the Avalanche’s five-game winning streak
— Lost 3-2 in Arizona, outshooting the Coyotes 39-26
— Won 3-1 in Brooklyn, outshooting the Isles 38-26

No wonder Mike Babcock was in such a good mood this morning after practice. Of the four results, the only bad one was the loss in Arizona, and that came after playing the night before in Colorado.

Since a 2-8-4 start under their new, $50 million coach, the Leafs have gone 11-6-3.

“I think we’re playing better without the puck,” Babcock said. “So we have the puck a lot more, and we don’t spend as much time in our own zone. We execute. We have more speed.”

The result? Goals. Plenty of them. The Leafs have potted 25 of them in their last six games. Not too shabby, what with it being “impossible” to score in the NHL.

“We have different systems now and we’re doing a better job of playing with (the) system,” forward Tyler Bozak told the Associated Press. “Guys are buying in.”

And with better goaltending, it’s starting to show in the results.

These Leafs are by no means great, but they’re pushovers no more.

Related: Here are PHT’s mid-season Jack Adams Award picks

‘He’s got to show us, and if he doesn’t, that’ll be it’

Anaheim Ducks v Vancouver Canucks
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The Vancouver Canucks gave up on him.

The Montreal Canadiens did, too.

If the Edmonton Oilers ever give up on Zack Kassian, his NHL career will most likely be over.

“He’s got a few obstacles to overcome,” Edmonton GM Peter Chiarelli conceded today after acquiring the 24-year-old winger in a trade with Montreal.

“He’s got to show us, and if he doesn’t, that’ll be it. He’s had issues, but he should be highly motivated.”

Of course, that’s what the Habs were thinking less than a year ago when they got Kassian from Vancouver.

“There’s a reason why players are available, but I’ve talked to the young man and we’ve done our homework,” GM Marc Bergevin said at the time. “We believe that he has potential.”

A few months later, Kassian was involved in a car accident and ended up in the second stage of the NHL’s substance-abuse program.

“I’m a firm believer in character and that’s a lack of character and judgment on his part,” Bergevin said of the early-morning accident. “I don’t know how many wake-up calls you get.”

As it turns out, when you’re big, have decent hands and can skate, you get a few.

Not that the Oilers are taking a huge gamble here. All it’s cost them so far is a goalie that had no future with the organization (Ben Scrivens) and an AHL roster spot in Bakersfield, where Kassian will start trying to salvage his career, before it’s too late.