In Q They Trust: With Quenneville, Panthers eyeing playoffs

SUNRISE, Fla. — It was April 8, the first Monday after the NHL regular season. As 16 teams were getting ready for the playoffs, the Florida Panthers – as usual – were getting ready to begin an offseason. And as workers were smashing the team’s home ice to get the arena floor ready for summer, players were gathered in a big conference room.

They were listening to Joel Quenneville speak as Florida’s coach for the first time.

His message could not have been clearer: Going forward, things must be different.

”I want every one of you guys to remember where you’re at right now and remember the feeling that you have today,” Quenneville said. ”Next year, we want to be coming off the ice right now with our skates on and preparing for our first-round opponent.”

Playoffs or bust.

It is a most interesting marriage – a team that hardly ever goes to the playoffs, and a coach who hardly ever misses them. Quenneville has won three Stanley Cups as a coach, his 890 wins are second-most in NHL history and he’s inheriting a Florida core that has seen its potential touted for years but still has yet to contend for a title.

”He’s energetic, easy to talk to and he means business,” Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck said. ”He came in, is setting a precedent early and he’s getting the guys’ attention – which is great.”

Quenneville’s hiring in Florida reunited him with Panthers general manager Dale Tallon. Together, they put together the bulk of a team that would win three Stanley Cups in Chicago. Tallon wasn’t around for those hoistings after being let go by the Blackhawks, though Quenneville insists he should be considered a massive part of those titles.

In Florida, they’re looking to rekindle that magic and they have one of the NHL’s best top lines to lead the way in Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov.

”It’s a special line,” Quenneville said. ”They do a lot of things well together. They know where each other are around the ice. Their patience and play-recognition is high-end. They had such a strong year together and did some good things on the power play as well. So it works.”

Quenneville’s hiring was just one of many big moves by the Panthers in the offseason – with the biggest player splash being the signing of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who’ll replace the now-retired Roberto Luongo as Florida’s No. 1 netminder.

Tallon said he thinks Bobrovsky is the best goalie in the game.

”We’re happy to have him,” Quenneville said.

Here’s what to know about the 2019-20 Florida Panthers:

WHO’S HERE

Coach Joel Quenneville, G Sergei Bobrovsky, D Anton Stralman, F Noel Acciari, F Brett Connolly.

WHO’S NOT

G Roberto Luongo (retired), G James Reimer (traded to Carolina), coach Bob Boughner (fired after two seasons).

KEY PLAYERS

The hope for change hinges mainly on Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner who signed a seven-year, $70 million deal and will carry the load in net. Florida’s top six scorers last season – Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, Keith Yandle and Frank Vatrano – all set career-highs for points, and it still wasn’t enough for a postseason berth. The Panthers will need their offense, and perhaps even more.

OUTLOOK

The first 20 games might tell the story. Over the last 19 years, the Panthers have averaged only 17 standings points in the first 20 games – meaning they almost always fall back in the chase for playoff positioning early, and hardly ever recover. This year, 13 of Florida’s first 20 games are against teams that are coming off trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Survive those, and the Panthers could be off and running.

PREDICTION

The Panthers went out and got who they consider the best coach in Quenneville, who they consider the best goalie in Bobrovsky, added more scoring and figure that they shored up a defense that was too porous too often last season. No more excuses. Not only will Florida get to the postseason for just the third time in the last 19 seasons, the Panthers will actually win a series for the first time since 1996.

Fleury’s save of the year candidate extends Maple Leafs’ misery

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If we are being honest, simply calling this a save of the year candidate might be underselling it.

This might actually already be the save of the year because it is really difficult to imagine what it would take to top this.

With the Vegas Golden Knights hanging on to a one-goal lead against the Toronto Maple Leafs late in the third period, Marc-Andre Fleury did this to Nic Petan, who thought he was going to tie the game with the entire net staring him right in the face.

I mean … come on.

That is just completely ridiculous.

After the initial shot from Ilya Mikheyev hit the cross-bar behind Fleury, it bounced to a wide open Petan who attempted to backhand the shot into the yawning net and, well, you saw the replay.

What the hell are you supposed to do about that as a shooter? Nothing. There is nothing you can do. You did everything right, you did exactly what you needed to do, and the universe still punched you in the face.

The Golden Knights added an empty-net goal to go on to a 4-2 win, extending the Maple Leafs’ current losing streak to six games. They have won just two games in regulation in their past 16 (and only five games total during that stretch) and are 9-10-4 on the season. That record is currently one of the worst in the NHL for a team that was supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender.

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.

Kucherov injured as Lightning get shut down by Blues: 3 takeaways

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It has been an odd stretch as of late for the St. Louis Blues.

Even though they entered Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning riding a three-game losing streak, they still collected points in two of them (overtime losses) and were on a 9-2-2 run since Oct. 20.

The majority of those games (seven of them to be exact) extended beyond regulation and were decided in overtime or a shootout. It is a risky way to keep trying to win games and at some point they were going to need to show they could win a game in 60 minutes.

Mission accomplished on Tuesday as they completely shut down the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the league’s most dangerous offensive teams, in a 3-1 win.

Here are three things that stood out about the Blues’ win.

1. This was championship level defense from the Blues. Even with Tampa Bay’s slow start this is still one of the most talented rosters in the league both on paper and on the ice. Shutting them down is never easy. They have started to find their way in recent games and fill the back of the net the way they did a year ago, scoring 29 goals in their previous six games entering Tuesday, but all of that disappeared in St. Louis. The Blues limited the Lightning to just 18 shots on goal and, for the most part, did a great job insulating Jordan Binnington against their forwards. On the rare occasion that Tampa Bay did get something through, the Blues’ Stanley Cup winning goal was up to the challenge.

With Vladimir Tarasenko out of the lineup for most of the season the Blues are going to have a hard time generating offense and are going to need to win games like this.

They showed they could do it last year, and Tuesday was a great example of how they still have it against the league’s best.

2. The game-winning goal from Oskar Sundqvist was a thing of beauty. The Blues did not know if they were going to have Sundqvist for this game after he had a disciplinary hearing for charging Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson over the weekend.

Instead of a suspension, Sundqvist was able to skate away with only a fine.

That was fortunate for the Blues because he ended up scoring the game-winning goal with a perfect snipe that was set up by an incredible behind-the-back pass by Robert Thomas.

3. Nikita Kucherov exited with an injury after a big hit. Perhaps the most important news for the Lightning out of this game wasn’t the result itself, but the status of superstar winger Nikita Kucherov.

The league’s reigning MVP and scoring champion exited the game later in the second period after he was crushed by Blues forward Brayden Schenn.

He did not return to the game.

Kucherov has not been as dominant offensively as he was a year ago when he finished with 128 points, but he had been starting to turn it on lately and carried a four-game point streak into Tuesday (recording seven points in those four games).

The only update coach Jon Cooper had after the game is that Kucherov’s absence was not related concussion protocol.

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.

Islanders point streak reaches 15 games thanks to another crazy comeback

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PITTSBURGH — At this point you have to stop trying to figure out the New York Islanders and this incredible run they are on.

Are they most talented roster on paper? No they are not. Do they play an exciting brand of hockey? Not really. Does their success defy almost analytical evidence we think we know about why teams win and lose? You bet it does. And do you know what? None of it matters. They just keep collecting points. They just keep winning.

They are just good.

Thanks to a late third period rally on Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, they were able to erase a two-goal deficit with six minutes to play in regulation to earn a 5-4 overtime win, extending their current point streak to 15 games (14-0-1).

Along with that streak they also have an .816 points percentage that is tops in the entire league.

Last year their success left the non-believers (like me) perplexed for all of the reasons mentioned above, always waiting for the inevitable regression to hit (even into this season!). But sometimes you just have to take the loss (like everyone else currently is against the Islanders), admit you’re wrong, and stop trying to make sense of it.

The impressive thing about Tuesday’s comeback is they managed to score five goals on a night where their best and most dangerous offensive player — Mathew Barzal — was completely held off the scoresheet.

The big line was the the trio of Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, and Derick Brassard.

When that trio was on the ice during 5-on-5 play they controlled possession against the Penguins and held a 2-0 margin on the scoreboard, before also being on the ice for the game-tying goal (in a 6-on-5 situation) in the final two minutes.

Once the game reached overtime Nelson and Beauvillier teamed up for the winner in the 3-on-3.

This come-from-behind win comes after the Islanders erased a three-goal deficit against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday to pick up a 4-3 win.

Islanders coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday that he felt the effort was better on Saturday than it was in Pittsburgh and that the team just needs to keep focus on getting better every game, no matter how many games their point streak reaches.

Trotz was asked if the streak brings any added motivation each night, a suggestion he quickly dismissed while trying to claim the team wouldn’t even be aware of it if they weren’t being asked about it every day.

“Not really,” said Trotz when asked about the motivation factor. “The funny thing is the only ones that are talking about are the media. Honestly, and this is with all true honesty, we wouldn’t even know. Our team would have no clue if we won 10 in a row, or five in a row, we would just know we haven’t lost in a while. That has been our mentality, but the media keeps bringing it up so we are starting to understand the numbers now but the mentality has been just get better for the next game.”

Their only loss since Oct. 11 was a 4-3 overtime loss at home (after leading 3-0 in the third period) to the same Penguins team they rallied against on Tuesday.

They will have a chance to continue the streak on Thursday when they face the Penguins again.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Oilers take on Sharks on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Last Tuesday, the Sharks beat the Oilers 6-3 in San Jose. The Sharks had six different goal scorers. These teams will play four times this season, with the final two matchups coming in Edmonton on February 6 and March 27. San Jose enters this game on a six-game winning streak – the longest active streak in the NHL.

Martin Jones has started every game during the winning streak. Although the statistics have not significantly improved (he’s allowed three-plus goals four times during the streak), he has been a key factor in the team’s No. 1 ranked penalty kill, and has come up with big saves when needed

Edmonton began the season winning its first five games, but since then, the team has lost more games than it has won (8-6-3), never winning or losing more than two in a row. On Saturday, the Oilers led Dallas 4-2 entering the third, but lost 5-4 in overtime.

Leon Draisaitl (43 points) and Connor McDavid (40) are the only two players in the NHL who have reached the 40-point plateau so far. The last time two teammates finished 1-2 in the NHL scoring race was Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. The last time it happened in a full season was 1995-96 with Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr of the Penguins.

[COVERAGE OF OILERS-SHARKS BEGINS AT 10:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Edmonton Oilers at San Jose Sharks
WHERE: SAP Center
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Oilers-Sharks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

OILERS
Leon Draisaitl – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Jujhar KhairaRyan Nugent-HopkinsJames Neal
Joakim NygardGaetan HaasAlex Chiasson
Markus GranlundRiley SheahanJosh Archibald

Darnell NurseEthan Bear
Oscar KlefbomCaleb Jones
Kris RussellMatt Benning

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

SHARKS
Evander KaneLogan CoutureKevin Labanc
Timo MeierTomas HertlBarclay Goodrow
Marcus SorensenJoe ThorntonPatrick Marleau
Lukas RadilDylan GambrellMelker Karlsson

Radim SimekBrent Burns
Marc-Edouard VlasicErik Karlsson
Brenden DillonMario Ferraro

Starting goalie: Martin Jones

Randy Hahn, Kendall Coyne Schofield and Bret Hedican will call the Oilers-Sharks contest from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. Paul Burmeister will host Tuesday’s coverage on NHL Live alongside analysts Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.