Jason Brough

Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr (68) is congratulated by forward Aleksander Barkov (16) and forward Jonathan Huberdeau (11) after scoring the go-ahead goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Vancouver Canucks, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)

The Florida Panthers are on a roll


Yesterday in Sunrise, Jaromir Jagr passed Marcel Dionne to become the NHL’s fourth-leading goalscorer of all time, behind only Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, and Brett Hull.

That was the story everyone was talking about, and rightly so.

But you know what else happened? Florida won its fourth straight, beating Vancouver in a shootout. With 10 wins in their last 13, the Panthers have climbed to within three points of first-place Montreal in the Atlantic Division.

“The goal is sweet but the win is even sweeter,” Jagr told the Miami Herald.

And things could get even sweeter soon. The Panthers have five straight home games to add to their three-point playoff cushion. Ottawa pays a visit Tuesday, followed by the Christmas break. Then it’s Columbus, Montreal, New York (Rangers), and Minnesota.

Remember that this is a team that came into the season with high expectations for itself. The Panthers may not have received much national attention, but there was good reason to believe they could make a run at the postseason.

“It’s really all about the playoffs for our team; nothing beneath that will be acceptable,” goalie Roberto Luongo said over the summer.

“I think as a group we realize that and demand that of ourselves.”

Related: New Panthers jerseys, logo will look ‘completely different’


Team USA coach raves about Matthews

LAKE PLACID, NY - AUGUST 04:  Auston Matthews #19 of USA White skates against Team Finland during the 2014 USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on August 4, 2014 in Lake Placid, New York.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

All eyes will be on Auston Matthews when the World Junior Championship kicks off Saturday in Finland.

Ron Wilson’s eyes have already seen Matthews in action, and Team USA’s coach could hardly be more impressed with the teenage forward.

“He just has a knack for going hard all the time,” Wilson told the Toronto Sun. “Matthews controls the puck, he sees the ice really well. And he can dish the puck and make passes like I’ve rarely seen as a coach.”

Barring the most unforeseen of circumstances, Matthews will be the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft. He’s been plying his trade in Switzerland this season as a professional. The 18-year-old who grew up in Arizona has 14 goals and 11 assists in 22 games for Zurich.

Team USA’s first game is Saturday against tournament favorite Canada.

Related: Marc Crawford says Auston Matthews has been ‘phenomenal’

Talbot to have hearing for ‘interference’ on Tlusty

Talbot on Tlusty
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Bruins forward Max Talbot will have a hearing today for “interference” on New Jersey’s Jiri Tlusty, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced this morning.

The play occurred Sunday in Boston’s 2-1 shootout win over the the Devils.

The Boston Globe described it like this:

Referees Gord Dwyer and Mike Leggo missed Talbot’s thump on Jiri Tlusty in the second period. The puck was gone when Talbot nailed Tlusty in open ice. Tlusty stayed down at first, but got to his skates and returned to the bench.

Tlusty, who was able to stay in the game, told NJ Advance Media:

“I didn’t even know who it was. I was trying to curl back and see where the puck went and what [Travis Zajac] was going to do with it and I got hit. I didn’t really see it coming. I don’t know if it was clean or not. I don’t think it was.”

Lundqvist doesn’t have a ‘good explanation’ for Rangers’ struggles

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 20: Justin Williams #14 of the Washington Capitals scores a first period goal against Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on December 20, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Henrik Lundqvist isn’t putting all the blame on his teammates. He knows he needs to be better himself.

And besides, even if did want to blame his teammates, he wouldn’t know where to start. The New York Rangers are in a tailspin, and they can’t seem to pull out of it.

“I don’t really have a good explanation,” Lundqvist told the New York Post after Sunday’s 7-3 loss to the Capitals“Right now when bad things happen, we get out of our structure a little bit and give up chances.”

The Rangers started the season 16-3-2. They’ve gone 3-9-2 since. Sure, there were signs that they might regress a touch. But not many were predicting this.

While Lundqvist definitely needs to be better individually, it’s probably no coincidence that much of the losing has been done without dependable defenseman Kevin Klein in the lineup. The blue line was already a concern when he was healthy. Dylan McIlrath and Chris Summers played versus the Caps, replacing the injured Klein and Dan Girardi, the latter of whom had struggled badly for much of the season.

With all that change on the back end, a team could easily “get out of our structure a little bit.”

“From my standpoint, I know that this group knows how to defend and can defend,” coach Alain Vigneault told CBS New York. “They’ve obviously proved it in the past; we are obviously not doing it at this point in time. We have to regroup, stick with one another, and get back at it on Tuesday.”

The Rangers host Anaheim Tuesday, followed by the Christmas break.

Holland: Larkin has ‘face of the franchise’ potential

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11: Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings leans on the bench during a timeout 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)

It’s no secret that the Detroit Red Wings are in a major transition phase. Nicklas Lidstrom retired in 2012. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are 37 and 35, respectively. Lidstrom has already been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The other two will be there eventually.

And so, for the last few years, the big question in Detroit has been, who will replace those guys? Or, to use Mike Babcock’s words, who will be the Wings’ next “big-time” player?

Today on TSN 1040 radio, Detroit GM Ken Holland was asked if the answer was forward Dylan Larkin.

“It’s hard to be the face of a franchise,” said Holland. “Dylan Larkin, for a lot of reasons — he’s 19 years of age; he’s had a real impact on our team; he’s homegrown; he’s from Waterford, Michigan; he played minor hockey in Detroit — probably has a chance to be the face of the franchise.”

Holland then went on to list all the other good, young players in the organization, like Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Danny DeKeyser, and Petr Mrazek.

“But certainly Dylan Larkin, with what he’s accomplished at the age he’s accomplished it,” said Holland, “has the most potential of the players on our team to become the face of the franchise, or one of the faces of the franchise.”

Anyway, the entire interview is worth a listen. Holland’s interviews usually are.

For what it’s worth, I still wonder about the future of the Red Wings’ blue line, what with Niklas Kronwall turning 35 next month. Yes, DeKeyser is a good young player. But again, there’s a difference between “good” and “big-time.”

Hence, all the excitement about Larkin.