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Building off a breakthrough: Evgenii Dadonov

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Florida Panthers.

The Florida Panthers front office missed on a couple of things when constructing its roster during the summer of 2017, but one move that unquestionably worked out in their favor was the decision to bring forward Evgenii Dadonov back to North America on a three-year, $12 million contract.

Usually when we think about “breakthrough” players it tends to be a younger player without much professional experience — or having struggled for a bit while still finding their way in the league — having their first big season in the NHL. In that sense Dadonov is not your traditional breakthrough player because it took him quite a fear years, with a pretty extensive detour in the middle of it all, to have his first big year.

[Panthers Day: Looking back]

Originally drafted by the Panthers in the third-round of the 2007 draft, Dadonov flashed some potential early in his NHL career (20 points in 56 games over parts of three seasons) before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes late in the 2011-12 campaign. Following that season — and after having never played in a game for the Hurricanes — he made the jump to the KHL where he spent five highly productive years split between Donbass HC and St. Petersburg SKA.

Following what was his best season in the KHL in 2016-17, and with the Hurricanes no longer controlling his NHL contractual rights, Dadonov returned to the NHL and joined the organization he began his professional career with. Given that no one really knew what to expect from Dadonov in his return, the $4 million per year cap hit was probably considered a bit pricey and perhaps even a little bit of a gamble.

In the end it turned out to be a bargain for the Panthers.

In his return season to the NHL Dadonov was one of the Panthers’ best players, finishing with 28 goals (second on the team), 68 total points (fourth on the team), and a 53.6 Corsi percentage (best on the team) in 74 games.

He spent much of the season playing on Aleksander Barkov‘s wing, a duo that turned out to be a fantastic one for the Panthers. When they were together, the Panthers outscored teams by a 53-38 margin and controlled more than 55 percent of the total shot attempts, and while it would be easy to attribute a lot of that success to Barkov carrying the line, both players saw their performance drop significantly when they were separated from one another.

Honestly, the Panthers couldn’t have hoped for Dadonov’s return to go better than it did.

Now the question becomes whether or not he can do it again for the Panthers.

There is very good reason to believe that he can.

Not only were his traditional numbers outstanding, but there is nothing in his underlying numbers to suggest any of it was much of a fluke as he was not really benefiting from any sort of an unsustainable surge in shooting percentages (neither his nor his teammates). The Panthers took a bit of a gamble by committing as much as they did to him up front, but the reward seems to be a top-line winger to join their young core alongside Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Vincent Trocheck.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues’ Dunn levels Flames’ Mangiapane with huge hit

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These are painful times for the Calgary Flames … sometimes literally.

By falling 5-0 to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Flames have now dropped six consecutive games. It’s hard not to think a little bit about the Toronto Maple Leafs firing Mike Babcock amid their slump when considering the Flames’ own struggles, both now and in their own disappointing showing in Round 1 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Talk of big changes (to coaching, Johnny Gaudreau, the GM, or anything else) can wait for another day … maybe one soon? For now, let’s bask in the fearful glow of Vince Dunn‘s hit on Andrew Mangiapane, as you can witness in the video above this post’s headline.

Is that hit symbolic of the Flames’ pains lately, or could you best embody that agony by comparing the team to its most snakebitten player, Sam Bennett?

Either way, these are uncomfortable times for the Flames, and not just Mangiapane.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Islanders’ point streak hits 16 games, a new franchise record

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The Penguins spoiled the Islanders’ 10-game winning streak, but not the Islanders’ point streak, back on Nov. 7. The Islanders really haven’t slowed down since then, as Thursday’s 4-3 OT win against Pittsburgh extended their latest winning streak to five games, and allowed them to set a new franchise record.

By going 15-0-1 in their last 16 games, the Islanders set a new franchise mark for longest point streak. Yes, that means Barry Trotz’s odds-defying group has accomplished something the dynastic Mike Bossy-powered ’80s group never did.

At this rate, the Islanders might just bank enough standings points that it might not matter much when/if they “come back to Earth.”

In the spirit of Derek Jeter wedging his jersey number into a word where it only kinda sorta works, the Islanders embraced the history of the 16-game streak:

When you’re winning (or at least getting a point) as often as the Islanders have been, you’ll need to win in different ways. After some comeback wins recently, Thursday’s game against the Penguins was a back-and-forth affair where the two teams traded leads, and the Penguins needed a last-minute goal to even get the game to overtime. Brock Nelson‘s two goals were key, including his OT-winner:

There’s been a “cardiac kids” element to this run, especially lately. Thursday’s win marks the third consecutive game where the Isles’ action went beyond regulation, and six of the Islanders’ wins (plus their lone OT loss to the Penguins) have come via either a shootout or overtime goal.

This also marks the best 20-game start in franchise history for the Isles, according to The Athletic’s David Staple.

Just resounding stuff.

It says a lot about the Capitals’ own hot start (16-4-4, 36 points in 24 games played) that the Islanders still aren’t in the lead in the Metro. Of course, the Islanders could close a ton of ground considering their games in hand, as they’re 16-3-1 for 33 points in just those 20 games played.

Looking ahead, the Islanders will go on the road quite a bit as they try to extend this point streak even beyond 16 games. To start, they’ll take a California road trip, and the away-heavy stretch doesn’t end there.

Nov. 23: at San Jose
Nov. 25: at Anaheim
Nov. 27: at Los Angeles
Nov. 30: vs. Columbus
Dec. 2: at Detroit
Dec. 3 :at Montreal
Dec. 5: vs. Vegas
Dec. 7: at Dallas
Dec. 9: at Tampa Bay
Dec. 12: at Florida

As you can see, the Islanders face a run where eight of their next 10 games are on the road. You’d think that maybe there will be stumbles (dare I wonder, *gasp* maybe even a single regulation loss?) along that way, but the Islanders keep buzzing along, and they’re 6-1-0 on the road thus far this season … so who knows?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins’ Rask gives Fleury competition for save of the week/year

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When Marc-Andre Fleury flashed the glove for a ridiculous save, PHT’s Adam Gretz was right in wondering if calling it a save of the year candidate was an understatement. And then Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask came along and gave Fleury competition for save of the week.

Buffalo Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues had so much net to aim for, but also needed to get his shot off quickly. As much as the Bruins swarmed the situation — making for an even better visual — Rask ended up having to save the day, and that he did.

This would have been an amazing glove save, but Rask managing the feat with his blocker hand is just … wow. Watch in awe in the video above.

It sounds like even Rask was impressed.

Again, wow. Let’s take a paragraph break to just mutter wow a few times.

Now, let’s compare and contrast: was it more or less amazing than Fleury’s save? Don’t say it was a tie, cheaters.

Now, what do I think is the better save? Uh …

(Tries to throw a smoke bomb and run away, but Rask and Fleury keep batting it around between each other.)

The save ended up being important, as the Bruins narrowly beat the Sabres 3-2 on Thursday.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

More injuries for Penguins as Schultz, Bjugstad out long-term

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All season the Pittsburgh Penguins’ injury situation has been a case of one step forward only to be followed with two steps backwards.

As soon as they get a key player back from one injury, somebody else seems to almost immediately exit the lineup with another injury.

That trend continued on Thursday when the team announced before their game against the New York Islanders that forward Patric Hornqvist will be returning to the lineup, while Nick Bjugstad and Justin Schultz are both going to be sidelined longer term.

Bjugstad had already been sidelined since Nov. 15 and is going to miss approximately eight weeks after undergoing surgery on a core muscle.

When it comes to Schultz, the Penguins would only say he will be out “longer-term” due to an undisclosed lower-body injury.

Schultz played the entire game against the Islanders on Tuesday, but exited practice on Wednesday and did not return.

The Penguins are already playing without captain Sidney Crosby and top defenseman Kris Letang.

At different points this season they have been without Crosby, Letang, Hornqvist, Bjugstad, Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, Jared McCann, Bryan Rust, and Brian Dumoulin.

Together that group has already combined to miss 65 man games due to injury, a number that is only going to continue to increase in the short-term. Despite all of those injuries they have still managed to remain competitive — while playing very well — in the Eastern Conference and remain on a 98-point pace for the season entering play on Thursday. If they can ever get healthy and stay that way they would seem to have the potential to be a top contender in the Eastern Conference. It is just a matter of whether or not they will ever be able to get there.

On Thursday the Penguins will be trying to snap the Islanders’ 15-game point streak. The Islanders rallied late in Pittsburgh on Tuesday to keep it going. The Islanders’ only loss during this streak was an overtime loss to the Penguins a couple of weeks ago when they surrendered a three-goal third period lead.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.