Frank Vatrano

Andy Greene #6 of the New Jersey Devils is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a goal
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The Buzzer: Devils end Lightning winning streak; Predators shut out Jets

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Three Stars

1) Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

The Atlantic Division playoff race will be fascinating down the stretch. The Panthers captain tallied a goal and two assists as Florida skated to an entertaining 8-4 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Barkov’s goal in the opening period was not anything spectacular, but his assist in the second period to set up Frank Vatrano was impressive. Barkov batted a puck out of mid-air as he intercepted a pass then raced up ice to set up Vatrano to extend the Panthers’ lead to 5-0 at the time.

2) Andy Greene, New Jersey Devils

Every individual has their own leadership style or opts to use different methods depending on the situation. Greene implemented a lead-by-example process when he clobbered a one-timer in the Devils’ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils have been a huge disappointment this season and fired their general manager Ray Shero shortly before puck drop. Expect New Jersey to sell off several pieces as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches.

3) Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

John Hynes collected his second victory behind the bench with the Predators when Saros made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season. Practice time is severely limited in this day and age, but Hynes is starting to implement his defensive philosophy. The Predators have not played up to expectations this season but are within striking distance if Hynes can get the most out of his players.

Highlights of the Night

Huberdeau ties Olli Jokinen for the most points in franchise history with a nifty deke. He would later add an assist to become the Panthers’ all-time points leader.

Barkov displayed his incredible hand-eye coordination on this interception at the blueline and then added an assist at the other end of the ice.

Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian shows off his ability to stickhandle

Stats of the Night

Scores

Nashville Predators 1, Winnipeg Jets 0

Vancouver Canucks 4, Minnesota Wild 1

Buffalos Sabres 5, Detroit Red Wings 1

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Arizona Coyotes 3 (SO)

Florida Panthers 8, Toronto Maple Leafs 4

New Jersey Devils 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1

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.

It’s Florida Panthers Day at PHT

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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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Florida Panthers. 

2018-19
36-32-14, 86 points (5th in Atlantic Division, 10th in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Did not qualify

IN:
Sergei Bobrovsky
Noel Acciari
Anton Stralman
Brett Connolly
Joel Quenneville – coach

OUT:
Roberto Luongo – retired
James Reimer
Troy Brouwer
Jamie McGinn
Derek MacKenzie
Riley Sheahan

RE-SIGNED:
MacKenzie Weegar
Jayce Hawryluk
Sam Montembeault
MacKenzie Weegar

2018-19 Season Summary

If you’re a Florida Panthers fan, do you even care about last season at this point?

You’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten already.

Florida’s offseason began with the hiring of Joel Quenneville, one of the NHL’s most successful and respect coaches of all-time, and it only kept gaining speed.

The Panthers added Brett Connolly and Noel Acciari up front and Anton Stralman on the backend. And then they signed perhaps the biggest piece that’s been missing, a stud No. 1 goaltender.

[More: Three Questions | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

We can debate back and forth about the merit of a seven-year, $70 million deal all day. What you can’t argue is the fact that the Panthers have taken a massive step toward competing with the big boys in the Atlantic Division.

It makes yet another season of playoff-less hockey a little easier to stomach after how aggressive Dale Tallon has been. It’s had pretty much become a given that the Panthers wouldn’t make the playoffs over the past two decades. They’ve reached the postseason just twice in the past 18 years, an undesirable trend in a market that struggles to put butts in seats.

It’s tough to get anything done with inconsistent goaltending and lackluster team defense, two lowlights of Florida’s fifth-place showing the Atlantic last season.

Even with the ninth-best goals-per-game as a team, the Panthers couldn’t outscore their problems from the blue line backward. They collectively allowed the 28th most goals out of the league’s 31 teams.

Stralman coming in should help that, as should the system Quenneville installs along with Bob’s goaltending.

Up front, the Panthers really just need more of the same from guys like Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Huberdeau. All three hit the 30-goal plateau.

There’s also plenty of secondary scoring off the sticks of Evgenii Dadonov, Vincent Trocheck and Frank Vatrano. All three could conceivably reach the same mark. Trocheck had 31 the year before but was limited to 55 games because of injury last season. Dadonov was two shy with 28 and Vatrano had 24. Brett Connolly, too — and if healthy — showed he can reach at least 20 after playing 81 games last season. He hadn’t played more than 71 in any of his previous seven seasons prior.

And Connolly, a Stanley Cup winner with the Washington Capitals two seasons ago, adds playoff experience, along with Stralman (two Stanley Cup Final appearances) and Acciari (one Cup Final appearance.)

The days of perennial losing in Florida might just be over.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

DeBrincat scores twice as U.S. routs Denmark 7-1 at worlds

AP Images

KOSICE, Slovakia (AP) — Alex DeBrincat had two goals and an assist to help the United States rout Denmark 7-1 on Saturday for the Americans’ fourth straight victory during preliminary play at the world championships.

Jeff Blashill became the winningest U.S. coach in world championship history in the top division with his 18th career victory in 23 games.

Patrick Kane added three assists; Jack Eichel had a goal and an assist; and Frank Vatrano, Clayton Keller, Chris Kreider and Dylan Larkin scored a goal apiece. Goalie Cory Schneider made 21 saves for his third victory this tournament.

”Schneids made a couple of big saves early, and I thought overall we got better as the game went on and picked up an important three points,” said Blashill, also the coach of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. ”We can still tighten up a little defensively, but overall I thought we made some good strides today.”

The U.S. is 3-1-0-1 in Group A and plays Germany on Sunday when Minnesota Wild forward Luke Kunin is to join the team.

Russia beat Latvia 3-1 in Bratislava and leads Group B with a 5-0-0-0 record. Canada beat Germany 8-1 for its fourth straight win, and Norway beat Italy 7-1. In late games, Sweden edged Switzerland 4-3, and Slovakia scored three goals in the first 11 minutes in beating Britain 7-1.

The Americans improved to 6-0-1-1 against Denmark, jumping to a 4-0 lead after the first period.

Vatrano scored the first goal off a breakaway with Derek Ryan. DeBrincat scored 29 seconds later on a power play, putting the puck under goalie Simon Nielsen’s glove. Keller made it 3-0 when James van Riemsdyk deflected a shot by Ryan Suter off Keller’s back. Kreider made it 4-0 late in the first.

Nick Olesen scored at 4:50 of the second to pull Denmark within 4-1. DeBrincat padded the lead at 11:55 with tap-in goal, and Larkin made it 6-1 at 13:17. Eichel scored his first goal of this tournament at 11:19 of the third for the final score.

Mark Stone scored three of Canada’s first four goals, Anthony Matha added two and Dylan Strome and Jonathan Marchessault each had three assists. Canada is tied with Germany for second in Group A behind Finland (13) with 12 points apiece. The U.S. is fourth with 11 points.

Norway avoided relegation with a second win in as many days with Mathias Trettenes’ goal 1:47 into the third the winner.

Italy ended a scoring drought of 447 minutes, 42 seconds at the worlds dating to 2017 when Angelo Miceli scored at 2:03 of the third off a shot by Armin Helfer. The goal was reviewed for a possible kicking motion after going of Miceli’s skate only to be upheld to pull Italy within 2-1. Norway answered with five straight goals.

Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored at 11:47 of the third to lift Sweden to the win just 1:20 after Switzerland had tied it at 3 on a goal by Gaetan Haas.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

U.S. routs France, Russia shuts out Austria at hockey worlds

AP Images

KOSICE, Slovakia (AP) — The United States rebounded from an upset loss to Slovakia in the opening game at the ice hockey world championship by routing France 7-1 on Sunday.

After losing 4-1 to the host, the U.S. was not ready for another upset. Alex DeBrincat scored twice and Frank Vatrano added one in less than two minutes to set the pace early in the opening period for the U.S. to take command in the Group A game in Kosice.

Colin White also had two while Patrick Kane, who captained the Americans to the bronze medal at last year’s worlds in Denmark, scored his first goal in Slovakia and added an assist.

Chris Kreider added one for the U.S. while Anthony Rech had a consolation goal for France.

The U.S. next faces Finland on Monday.

In the Group B game in Bratislava, star-studded Russia recorded its second straight win after blanking Austria 5-0. Evgenii Dadonov led Russia with two goals for the second consecutive game and Nikita Kucherov had a goal and an assist. Alexander Georgiev made 15 saves for the shutout.

Later on Sunday, Canada faces Britain while Denmark plays Germany in Group A. Two-time defending champion Sweden takes on Italy and Switzerland meets Latvia in Group B.

More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports