Expect Ekblad to shatter Florida’s rookie D records


For a first overall pick, Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad’s rookie season has been quite under-the-radar, especially considering how well it’s gone.

As the Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov points out, Ekblad tops all rookie defensemen in 2014-15 with five goals, 14 assists and 19 points (while his 22:05 time on ice average comes in second), but it’s not just that. He already owns the Panthers’ franchise record for rookie defensemen with those 14 assists and should shatter Ed Jovanovski’s rookie blueliner points mark pretty soon (Jovocop collected 21 in 1995-96).

By just about any metric, the 18-year-old seems like he’s beyond his years. Only Brian Campbell boasts better possession stats among Florida defensemen, and “Soupy” actually gets slightly cushier zone starts. If you want to talk about blueliners who defy conventional wisdom that it takes years to develop defensemen at the NHL level, you could do worse than to point to Ekblad’s remarkably quick growth.

Roberto Luongo raved about Ekblad’s quick learning to Yahoo earlier this month.

“He doesn’t play like an 18-year-old,” Luongo said. “He plays like he’s been in the league 18 years.”

Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant simply said “we trusted him from Day 1.”

The 2015 Calder Trophy race looks like a pretty crowded field so far, especially if Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg can even approach his current pace over an 82-game season. If nothing else, Ekblad’s made the Panthers look very smart – and maybe a little lucky – in grabbing him with the top pick.

Just imagine if this is merely the tip of the iceberg, too.

(H/T to Rotoworld.)

PHT’s top 14 of ’14: Canada dominates en route to Olympic gold


The numbers alone explain how well Canada played at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi:

Six games, six wins, 17 goals for, three allowed.

But to get a better sense of how truly dominant the team was, consider what the guy that built it said.

“Since I’ve been around, it’s the most impressive, the greatest display of defensive hockey,” Canadian GM Steve Yzerman said after a 3-0 win over Sweden in the gold medal game. “They were committed to this, and I think that’s ultimately why we won is because our leaders, our best players, said, ‘Guys we’re going to win; we don’t care about individual statistics.’

“We’re going to play the right way.”

And play the right way they did. The Canadians re-wrote the history books in Sochi, never trailing for a single second of the tournament while setting an Olympic record for fewest goals allowed. They also became the first back-to-back gold medalists since the Soviet Union turned the trick in 1984 and ’88, and were the first Canadian team to go undefeated at the Olympics since the Conn Smythe-led 1928 team ran the table at St. Moritz.

In Sochi, Canada’s opponents acknowledged just how talented a squad they were up against.

“They played unbelievable defense,” said Sweden’s Niklas Hjalmarsson, per the National Post. “One of the best teams I’ve ever played against, for sure.”

Of course, there were individual standouts. Carey Price finished the tournament with an 164-minute shutout streak and was named top goalie. Drew Doughty led the team with six points in six games en route to best defenseman honors. Shea Weber got one past the seemingly unbeatable Kristers Gudlevskis in the quarterfinal win over Latvia, and Jamie Benn scored the all-important goal in the 1-0 semifinal win over the U.S.

But in the end, it was Canada’s team game that stood out. A collection of individual stars buying in and accepting their roles — P.K. Subban, a Norris Trophy winner, played 11 minutes the entire tournament — while understanding that, for six games, they were all combining for something historic.

“It’s a great team that we had in this tournament,” Jonathan Toews said, per the Globe. “You can see it developing, the chemistry in the locker room, the guys start to understand their roles. It’s not easy for some guys. You look at guys like Roberto Luongo or Marty St. Louis, or even Sharpie (Patrick Sharp) tonight, guys that have made sacrifices to win the gold medal. You ask them, I don’t think they care.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be a part of a team like that, whether your role was big or small … we’re just an amazing team to watch, the way we work together.”

Who have been the best and worst shootout goalies in 2014-15?


Of the 503 games that have been played in the NHL so far this season, 75 of them have gone to the shootout. So, about 15 percent of them. Like it or not (count me in the not department), the shootout remains a significant factor in the standings.

Here are three goalies who have been good (and busy) in the breakaway competition:

Jhonas Enroth (Sabres) — Has faced 18 shots and saved 17 of them. In a related story, Buffalo is 5-1 in the shootout. Which perfectly demonstrates my problem with it. There’s little, if any, correlation between a good shootout team and a good hockey team.

Pekka Rinne (Predators) — 19 shots, just two goals allowed. The Preds, who went 2-9 in the shootout last season and missed the playoffs by three points, are 4-1 this season.

Roberto Luongo (Panthers) — a whopping 49 shots, with 11 goals allowed. Not the best save percentage, but he did make this save on Chris Kunitz last night:

Honorable mentions: Sergei Bobrovsky (26 shots, 4 allowed) and Jaroslav Halak (15 shots, 3 allowed)

Now, here are three goalies who haven’t fared so well:

Jimmy Howard (Red Wings): 15 shots, 11 goals allowed, for a save percentage of .267. Which is absolutely dreadful. Detroit, as a result, is 1-7 in the shootout.

Steve Mason (Flyers): 15 shots, 8 goals allowed. Philly has yet to win a shootout, going 0-5.

Jonathan Quick (Kings): 10 shots, 5 goals allowed. The Kings are 1-4 in the “gimmick.”

Panthers hold off Penguins for shootout win


One team just seems to do enough to win even with mounting injuries and illnesses. The other has been winning a lot lately, even if people mainly pay attention to their occasional attendance issues.

The Pittsburgh Penguins showed some moxie in grabbing a point on Monday, but the Florida Panthers ultimately got the “W” via a 4-3 shootout victory.

The Penguins grabbed an early 1-0 lead that they protected through most of the second period, but Jussi Jokinen scorned his former team by tying it 1-1 with about 30 seconds left in the middle frame. Jimmy Hayes scored twice early in the third period to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead, yet goals by Nick Spaling and Evgeni Malkin sent it to OT.

The Panthers generated a 37-27 shot advantage on Monday, yet Marc-Andre Fleury helped his team stay in there.

Many believe that Sean Bergenheim’s hit on Bobby Farnham served as one of the pivotal moments of the contest:

(Bergenheim also collected two assists, if you’re into more objective measures.)

Oh yeah, there was also that absolutely wicked Aleksander Barkov shootout goal:

Not to mention Roberto Luongo’s brilliant shootout save on Chris Kunitz:

Pittsburgh’s success has been remarkable with all of its health issues, as they’ve generated a point in all but one December contest, going 6-1-3 in its last 10 games. The Panthers haven’t been far behind with a 6-3-2 record in December.

There’s plenty of season left, but the Panthers made a statement that they shouldn’t be taken lightly while the Penguins showed that they’ll be a tough out even with plenty of players out of the lineup.

Goalie nods: Rinne vs. Bobrovsky is your matchup of the night


All the latest from the crease…

Bob vs. Peks

Scintillating goalie battle tonight in Columbus as Sergei Bobrovsky takes on Pekka Rinne.

Rinne, who’s returned to form this season after battling with a hip injury all of last year, has won four of his last five with a 1.77 GAA, .941 save percentage and one shutout. He’s been great all season long and is an early Vezina candidate, if not the leader.

Not to be outdone, Bobrovsky is putting forth an effort that should have him in the conversation for December’s first star of the month. The Russian ‘tender is 8-0-1 this month with a 2.01 GAA and .940 save percentage, one of the big reasons the Jackets have rallied from their awful start to the season to climb within seven points of Washington for the final playoff spot in the East.


Sens at Caps: Craig Anderson vs. Braden Holtby

Pens at Panthers: Marc-Andre Fleury vs. Roberto Luongo

Coyotes at Canucks: Mike Smith vs. Ryan Miller

Sharks at Ducks: Antti Niemi vs. Frederik Andersen

Flames at Kings: Jonas Hiller for Calgary, Jonathan Quick likely for L.A.