Chris Driedger

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Florida Panthers: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Florida Panthers.

Sergei Bobrovsky‘s slow start

This has not yet worked out as hoped.

Even during the 2018-19 season it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the Panthers were going to do everything in their power to throw a truck load of money at Bobrovsky on the free agent market in an effort to fix their biggest organizational weakness from a year ago — goaltending.

They desperately needed a goalie, Bobrovsky was the best goalie available on the market, and he has a track record of being one of the best goalies in the league. It was a perfect match, even if an expensive one.

The Panthers ended up signing him to a seven-year, $70 million contract. It certainly came with some risks and concerns, with the biggest one being how long he would be worth such a monstrous salary cap number. Given his age and the normal aging curve for goalies there was an expectation that the contract would become an albatross before it expired, but that the Panthers should still get some high-level years out of their prized addition. So far, they have not even received that.

Bobrovsky got off to a massively disappointing start that has resulted in one of the worst overall seasons of his career. It would be entirely unfair to put all of the blame on him — the Panthers are lousy defensively — but there is no question that his performance has been less than expected. He has been better since the start of December, but still not what the Panthers hoped for.

Noel Acciari‘s 20-goal season

The Panthers were extremely busy this past summer on the free agent market, and one of their most successful signings has probably been the one that received the least fanfare at the time.

Before this season the 28-year-old Acciari had scored 18 goals 180 career games with the Boston Bruins.

This season? He already has 20 goals in 66 games with the Panthers, including back-to-back hat tricks in mid-December.

Sure, he is riding an exceptionally high shooting percentage that will eventually regress (18 percent), but 20 goals in 66 games is still a positive development. Can not take those goals away. They still happened.

Chris Driedger a pleasant surprise in net

Before this season Driedger had appeared in just three NHL games, and none since the 2016-17 season.

Even though his sampling this season has been small (only 12 appearances) he has still been one of the more pleasant surprises for the Panthers thanks to a 7-2-1 record and .938 save percentage.

He  has spent most of his career bouncing back and forth between the ECHL and AHL (and posting very good numbers along the way) without really getting much of an opportunity at the highest level. He was able to take advantage of it this season and has helped keep the Panthers in the playoff race when they needed a short-term boost in goal.

The Vincent Trocheck trade made little sense

By little sense, I actually mean no sense.

Just before the NHL trade deadline, and with the Panthers still very much in the race, they traded Trocheck to the Carolina Hurricanes for what basically looked to be a quantity over quality return.

All signs indicated that it was trade done simply to “shake things up” for a team that was struggling.

The problem with that mindset is that Trocheck was not only one of their core players and still signed beyond this season, but they were also moving him at what might have been his lowest value and did not even address their biggest need — defense. What was the point? It simply was not good asset management from a team that has demonstrated some poor asset management habits in the very recent past. It just seemed like the type of move that would be a letdown for Panthers fans that are desperate for a competitive hockey team, and one that might finally make the playoffs with some regularity.

MORE PANTHERS:
Looking at the 2019-20 Florida Panthers

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.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.

The Buzzer: Golden Knights win DeBoer’s debut; Hats off to Ovechkin

Three Stars

1. Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals. Another milestone for the greatest goal scorer to ever play in the NHL. He recorded his 25th career hat trick on Thursday night and reached the 30-goal mark for the 15th consecutive season to start his career, a feat accomplished only by him and Mike Gartner. Read more about it here.

2. David Rittich, Calgary Flames. Huge night for the All-Star goalie as he stopped 35 shots during regulation and overtime and all three shots he faced in a shootout to help lift the Flames to a 2-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Flames have now won six of their past seven games. Thanks to the Arizona Coyotes’ loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Flames are now tied for first place in the Pacific Division.

3. Mark Stone, Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights won Peter DeBoer’s coaching debut on Thursday night, 4-2, over the Ottawa Senators thanks to a big game from Stone. He scored a goal and recorded an assist in his first game back in Ottawa as a visiting player. Stone played the first six-and-a-half years of his career with the Senators and was one of the team’s best players during his time there. He was a key part of their 2016-17 run to the Eastern Conference Final and became one of the league’s best two-way players. The Senators traded him to Vegas at the trade deadline a year ago. He received a lengthy ovation from the Ottawa crowd on Thursday.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Jaroslav Halak gave up a goal to Sidney Crosby just 24 seconds into the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, then slammed the door shut the right of the night to help the Boston Bruins to a 4-1 win.
  • John Tortorella recorded his 200th win as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in their 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. It is a huge win for the Blue Jackets and a costly game for the Hurricanes as defenseman Dougie Hamilton exited the game with a nasty looking leg injury. Read about it here.
  • The Minnesota Wild snapped their four-game losing streak with an impressive win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Read about it here.
  • Sam Montembeault replaced an injured Chris Driedger in the Florida Panthers’ net and helped them get a big win over the Los Angeles Kings.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk continued his great play with the Montreal Canadiens by scoring two goals in a 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. He now has three goals and seven total points in seven games since joining the Canadiens.
  • Rasmus Dahlin scored his third goal of the season to help the Buffalo Sabres beat the Dallas Stars.
  • John Gibson stopped 33 shots for the Anaheim Ducks as they hand the Nashville Predators their seventh defeat in their past 10 games.
  • Philipp Grubauer stops all 27 shots he faces in a shutout win for the Colorado Avalanche over the San Jose Sharks.
  • Jake Virtanen avoids a suspension earlier in the day and then scores the game-winning goal for the Vancouver Canucks in a big win over the Arizona Coyotes.

Highlights of the Night

This might have been Rittich’s biggest and best save of the night.

Cam Atkinson wasted no time making an impact in his return to the Blue Jackets’ lineup with this assist early in the first period.

Chris Kreider scores a game-winning power play with 30 seconds to play in regulation to help give the New York Rangers a 3-2 win over the New York Islanders.

Blooper of the Night

After whiffing on a shootout attempt earlier this week, Brad Marchand had some more problems on a breakaway.

Auston Matthews tried the lacrosse move and it did not work.

Factoids

  • Cale Makar scored his 10th goal of the season for the Colorado Avalanche, tying him for the most in franchise history for a rookie defenseman. [NHL PR]
  • Patrice Bergeron reached the 20-goal mark for the 11th time in his career, the second most in Bruins franchise history behind only John Buyck. [NHL PR]
  • Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov is the 10th rookie goalie to ever win nine consecutive decisions during the regular season. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Calgary Flames 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 1 (SO)
Florida Panthers 4, Los Angeles Kings 3
New York Rangers 3, New York Islanders 2
Montreal Canadiens 4, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Washington Capitals 5, New Jersey Devils 2
Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Carolina Hurricanes 2
Vegas Golden Knights 4, Ottawa Senators 2
Anaheim Ducks 4, Nashville Predators 2
Minnesota Wild 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 2
Buffalo Sabres 4, Dallas Stars 1
Colorado Avalanche 4, San Jose Sharks 0
Vancouver Canucks 3, Arizona Coyotes 1

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.

The Buzzer: Rantanen dominates in return; Driedger gets shutout in first start

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Three Stars

1. Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche. After being sidelined for more than a month Rantanen returned to the Avalanche lineup on Saturday and picked right up where he left off, recording four points in a complete destruction of the Chicago Blackhawks. He is now up to 16 points in 10 games this season, and with him back in the lineup the Avalanche dominant duo of Rantanen and Nathan MacKinnon is going to start taking over games again. They are still without Gabriel Landeskog but have managed to keep piling up points thanks to the brilliance of MacKinnon and the improved depth throughout the roster. Given all of the salary cap space they still have they are going to have a chance to add a major piece before the trade deadline and be a force in the Western Conference playoffs. Joonas Donskoi also had four points for the Avalanche on Saturday, while MacKinnon added three. This game also featured one of the most random and unexpected fights of the season when Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat squared off against Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard.

2. Chris Driedger, Florida Panthers. With big-money free agent Sergei Bobrovsky off to a terrible start this season, the Panthers turned to the 25-year-old Driedger for his first career start on Saturday against the Nashville Predators. He made quite an impact turning aside all 27 shots he faced as the Panthers began a nine-game homestand. Before Saturday Driedger had only made three relief appearances (all with the Ottawa Senators) in his very brief NHL career.

3. Tanner Pearson, Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks have been waiting for some of their depth players to make an impact offensively this season, and it has finally started to happen over the past couple of games. Pearson had a huge game in their 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers, scoring two goals and adding two assists. Unlike Wednesday’s game in Pittsburgh, they were able to hold on to this three-goal third period lead to snap what had been a brief two-game losing streak.

Other notable performances from Saturday

  • Alex Ovechkin became just the fifth player in NHL history to record 15 consecutive 20-goal seasons to begin a career. He also moved into 10th place all-time with his 24th career hat trick. Read all about it here.
  • Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov teamed up for a shutout for the New York Islanders as they beat the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets were one of four teams to lose a defenseman to injury on Saturday.
  • The Toronto Maple Leafs won for the fourth time in five games under new coach Sheldon Keefe thanks to a John Tavares overtime winner against the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Alexandar Georgiev stopped all 33 shots he faced for the New York Rangers in a 4-0 win over their arch-rivals, the New Jersey Devils.
  • Big night for Calgary Flames forward Elias Lindholm as he scored two goals, giving him 14 on the season, in a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.
  • Defenseman Justin Faulk scored his first goal as a member of the St. Louis Blues in a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
  • Logan Couture scored two goals for the San Jose Sharks as they erased an early two-goal deficit to beat the Arizona Coyotes by a 4-2 margin.
  • Jack Campbell was outstanding for the Los Angeles Kings, stopping 32 out of 33 shots in a 2-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets.

Highlights of the Night

Ivan Provorov lifted the Philadelphia Flyers to a 4-3 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday with this incredible goal in the extra period.

Rangers chase Sens’ Hammond, who may be hurt

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Expect a new set of hamburger jokes tonight (some of the cringe-inducing variety*), as Ottawa Senators phenom Andrew Hammond’s storybook season hit a bump in the road named the New York Rangers.

At the moment, the Rangers are up 5-1, and that was enough for “The Hamburglar” to get pulled from the Senators’ net. (At least he’s not alone tonight.)

Hammond allowed five goals on 22 shots before getting taken out late in the second period. Perhaps seeing Tanner Glass score against Hammond was the last straw?

Chris Driedger took over for Hammond. The 20-year-old is seeing his first night of NHL action in relief.

Unfortunately, his last name is nowhere near as friendly to nicknaming. Maybe a Darren Dreger reference or two?

Update: The Rangers ended up winning 5-1, while this disturbing image hangs over Ottawa’s season:

Uh oh.

* – Raises hand.