Hockey

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Game Times: 6:30PM (3/30), 7:00 (4/1)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSN, WGN-AM 720
Applewood Smoked Pork Shoulder: Canes Country

As March comes to a close, the West Side Hockey club now finds itself, if only via tiebreakers, on the outside of the playoff picture now as the results of their games has finally started to match their process. And that task does not get any easier with the Canes coming to town, who now have the best points-percentage in the league thanks to a March where they’ve only lost once in regulation, and to the Red Wings of all fucking teams.

Everything Else

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Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN Ch. 9, ESPN+, WGN-AM 720
Taking Their Talents To South Beach: Litter Box Cats

It took damn near til Christmas and halfway through the season, but the Hawks are riding their first three game winning streak of the season, and have an legitimate opportunity to extend that to four tonight at home against the equally struggling Florida Panthers.

Everything Else

In yet another litmus test between old school hockey red asses and the computer boys, the Florida Panthers chose to revert to entrusting their future once again to the former in the person of this site’s namesake, and all it got them was sitting at home again in the spring once again. For the most part the Cats have remained quiet this off season in part due to financial constraints and also due to the fact that aside from the big ticket item that came to the division, the free agency market mostly sucked out loud. But given the landscape of things within the division and the conference, being judicious still might not be enough.

’17-’18 Season: 44W-30L-8OT 96PTS 248GF 246GA 18.9%PP 80.2%PK 49.19%CF 7.63SH% .9236SV%

Goaltending: Roberto Luongo enters this season having just turned 39 in April, and even at this age, still posted a .929 overall save percentage propped up by a .933 rate at even strength. Borat’s longevity has now become another attribute on what is a surefire hall of fame resume, playoff collapses be damned. However, unfortunately for the Panthers, he started 33 games last year due to a variety of aches and pains commensurate with being able to soon qualify for AARP. James Reimer got the bulk of the action and was slightly below average with a .913 overall and a .915 at evens, which simply isn’t going to cut it in the modern NHL. Reimer is capable of more, as his career mark at even strength is .925 even factoring last season’s dip, but it’s any guess how much he’ll be asked to play given Luongo’s health status or if his play understandably drops off this late into his career. The Cats are carrying a third goalie this year in the form of one-time New Sensation Michael Hutchinson after Connor Hellebuyck finally took the full time gig in Winnipeg. Hutchinson at this point is going to be a career backup but has been known to find the Devil Inside on occasion (particularly against the Hawks), but if he needs to be relied upon too much Florida is going to need a serious Kick elsewhere in the lineup.

Forwards: Over the past few years, the Panthers have compiled a very solid group of forwards that seem to produce both on the score sheet and territorially, and none of it ever seems to make a damn bit of difference. They added to that corps this year by trading for another player like that in Mike Hoffman, fresh off the drama behind the scenes on the set of The Real Housewives of Ottawa. Regardless of who is to blame in that sordid affair, the Panthers added another solid scoring winger to a group that already has the positionally dominant-if-ouchy Sasha Barkov and running mate Jonathan Huberdeau, and one of the more unhearalded #2 centers in the game in Vincent Trochek, whose 71 points nearly earned him a spot on the All Who-Gives-A-Shit team. The Panthers get solid contractual value out of all of these guys as well, having committed them all to reasonable long-term paper, but there’s no transcendent star here, and this is more of a star driven league than most observers are willing to admit. Nick Bjugstad certainly has all of the tools and the behemoth size to become one, but he hasn’t put it all together yet, and the questions are now beginning to get louder regarding if he ever will. The bottom six features a smattering of bums and has beens such as Troy Brouwer and Jamie McGinn and Micheal Haley, and of course franchise fixture and GRITHEARTFART captain Derek MacKenzie. If a forward grouping can manage to be top-heavy while also lacking gamebreakers, it’s this one.

Defensemen: Obviously this group begins and ends with former #1 overall pick Aaron Ekblad, who is entrusted with the most difficult assignments and zone starts and expected to also produce offensively. Ekblad was below the team rate in shot attempts for the first time this past year at 48.01%, but he spent the vast majority of his time covering for the cowboy tendencies of partner Keith Yandle, who can still slightly outscore his positional deficiencies, but at 32 as of tomorrow, his wheels could soon not even get him to the places he wasn’t sure he needed to be in the first place. The Cats are high on both Alex Petrovic (as evidenced by letting Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith go in the expansion draft to be able to sign him) and Mike Matheson, but it’s not exactly clear what either of them do, and Matheson somehow just received nearly $5 mildo against the cap for eternity to ply whatever his trade is.

Outlook: While it’s unclear whether or not Bob Boughner is a Moron or Not yet (and his playing career would heavily suggest the former), what is clear is that he’s going to need to get a lot more than the sum of the parts that he has here to threaten for a playoff spot let alone advance. Counting on a nearly 40 year old goalie to continue to defy his age and mileage is also not a long-term recipe for success, but that’s never been something that’s been synonymous with the Panthers anyway. The same thing that always happens will more than likely transpire this year, where the Cats will make it interesting in mid-March, but ultimately miss out on the post season by the hair on their ass once again.

 

Everything Else

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RECORDS: Panthers 12-14-5   Hawks 14-11-5

PUCK DROP: 7:30pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

I’M OLD AND I’M COMING BACK: Panther Parkway, Litter Box Cats

The Hawks got three games against the remedial class of the NHL to set back their five-game losing streak. It hasn’t been pretty, but they got the four points required against the Sabres and Coyotes, and the last of the set is tonight agains the Cats. The Florida Panthers aren’t quite the same overly-medicated cases that the first two are, but they’re still under .500 and still very much the Florida Panthers. The Hawks will also catch them on the second of a back-to-back, having beaten another fellow jacket-with-mittens-pinned-to-them-year-round crew member Red Wings last night in overtime.

Not much has changed too much for the Cats since you last saw them Thanksgiving weekend. There are four real forwards here in Huberdeau, Barkov, Trocheck, and because I’m in a good mood Bjugstad. Dadonov is hurt. The rest of the crew is just a bunch of reclamation projects and very young kids. So the top line can kick your head in for about a third of the game if they’re on song, and Trocheck can usually conjure something, but they just don’t have the depth to take that over a full 60.

It’s kind of the same story on the back end, where you won’t complain too much about a top pairing of Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle. But beyond that… same story. Matheson and Weegar (my fellow babies) are kids, and Petrovic has been around long enough to fully label himself “a guy.”

The Cats haven’t been helped by Roberto Luongo’s injury, as he was excellent before going down for what looks like a while. Optimus Reim, James Reimer, has been the opposite. And because he played last night, the Hawks might be getting a look at Harri Sateri tonight, which we are told is an actual name and not a condition. He hasn’t played in the NHL yet, so don’t be surprised if Bob Boughner rolls out Reimer two nights in a row. Especially as the Panthers are far enough behind and have enough teams to climb over to get into the playoff spots that they can’t really be pissing away any more points.

For the Hawks, one lineup change that appears to be on the cards is Richard Panik being scratched for Ryan Hartman. While Panik hasn’t scored since Purim, it feels a little harsh on him because the rest of his game has been ok. But then there’s this from Q:

So clearly Q isn’t thrilled with his work when he gets the puck, and I can’t really argue with that. It’s almost as if he’s… Richard Panik? The guy who couldn’t crack the Leafs roster two years ago? That one? Could it be?

Anyway, Hartman is running out of time to actually be of use this season before he’s permanently demoted to the Q Doghouse, and we know trying to escape from there is like trying to escape from a black hole. Playing with Hinostroza and Sharp should at least make for an active line, even if it doesn’t have the slightest clue where to be and when. If you combine Hartman and Hinostroza… well, you’d still have a player that has no idea how to be a center.

The rest of the lineup remains the same, though no word on if Saad and DeBrincat will remain on their off-sides as they were on Sunday. Hope so. Jordan Oesterle remains in the lineup, and Michal Kempny continues to stare straight ahead and wonder what might have been while being unresponsive to anything going on around him. Suddenly the lyrics to “One” make a lot more sense to him.

This is still a honey part of the schedule for the Hawks. Yes, the Jets are pretty spiky right now but after that it’s the thoroughly mediocre Wild, Stars, Devils, Canucks, Oilers, Flames, Rangers, and Knights. In fact, the Hawks don’t face a team you’d consider “definitely good” until January 12th against the Jets again. So take advantage.

 

 

 

Game #31 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Frank Rekas is the editor of PantherParkway.com. Follow him on Twitter @FrankRekas.

Let’s start with just what “the plan” is in Florida. They fired all the guys they hired to take the team in a more modern and analytic direction after about 12 minutes, and brought back Dale Tallon. But the team doesn’t appear to be any better and in fact there have been a couple bewildering decisions. What’s going on here?

The Florida Panthers are good at one thing: Being consistently inconsistent.  When Dale Tallon came to town in 2010 he had his “Blueprint” which was going to steer the Panthers in a winning direction.  Within two years the Panthers won the Atlantic Division and went to the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.  It’s been said they they may have peaked too early, or that a lot of players had career seasons that year and it was just luck.  Regardless, that was as fun of a season as South Florida had seen in years.  But good things in South Florida don’t last forever and that season was followed by the lockout year, and then the wheels fell off in 2013-2014 and Kevin Dineen was fired because, why not?  It must have been his fault.  It was a roster that was put together with duct tape and staples.  Nothing went right other than re-acquiring Roberto Luongo at the trade deadline.  With new ownership in place, changes were going to be made and they were, starting with a new head coach Gerard Gallant.  The team improved by 25 points in Gallants’ first season behind the bench, followed by another division championship and playoff birth in 2015-2016. THAT’S when the demolition began.  The executives lead by what some of us call the Army Math Team and Pentagon Trading LLC decided that even though the team had it’s best season ever, they needed to make changes cause of analytics.  I’m personally not a fan of Corsi and Fenwick, but I do know that it’s a part of hockey.  They don’t measure however things like character, hockey sense and leadership.  After that season, the Panthers traded fan favorite and an up and coming leader in defenceman Erik Gudbranson.  This pissed off Gallant to no end, but he dealt with it. Until he was fired.  Replaced by then General Manager Tom Rowe, who is about as qualified for either of those positions as any one of us is.  We could likely have done better.  The 2016-2017 season was a dumpster fire.  Now to the present, where Dale Tallon is back in as the General Manager left to fix the mess that Rowe left behind.  The Tom Rowe experience in my mind has set the organization back at least two to three years.  The defense is young and inexperienced, except for Keith Yandle who doesn’t play much defense.  If you can stop the top line from scoring, you pretty much have the game won, and they aren’t tough to play against.  Beyond all this, things are great.  We’ve been told to be patient, which I responded with this,
On the plus side, Vincent Trocheck is over a point-per-game and on his way to a career year. Any difference in his game for this or riding the percentages a bit?
Trocheck is one of those special players.  He’s not big by NHL standards, but he plays like he is.  Never takes a shift off and is probably the real heart and soul of the team.  As one of my favorite former NHL coaches would have said, he’s gone through the “maturation process” and he’s producing like he should.  He’s on pace for a career year at a point per game clip so far, and if he had any decent wingers to play with, who knows how much he’d produce.  But he needs help.  This pace that he’s on can’t last with the linemates that he’s been given.  Hopefully that changes cause Vinny is a good kid that deserves better.  It’s been fun watching him progress and develop into the player he is today.  He has a very bright future, but will that future be here?
We tend to separate NHL coaches and GMs on a binary scale, either Idiot or Not An Idiot and that’s it. What is Bob Boughner?  
Well I’m not fond of his attire, something I joke about on Twitter and have offered to take him shopping.  That being said, it’s 21 games into the season, and he doesn’t really have much to work with.  While it’s too early to say he’s one or the other, he’s made some questionable moves for sure, and insists on keeping Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad together as the number one defensive pair.  Do you remember when the Hawks had Doug Smolek and Brad Brown on defense?  Dirk Graham was the coach for the Hawks that year and we know what happened to him. For a coach that played defense during his career, Boughner hasn’t been much of an influence.  He needs a better roster, and there are a few players that need to look in the mirror.  Otherwise Boughner is trying to get blood out of a rock.  There are some nights he looks like he’s in over his head.  Learning on the job isn’t fun, especially in South Florida.
Jared McCann has some pretty impressive underlying numbers so far. Did the Cats steal this kid from the Canucks?
I think it’s too early to tell on this one.  Last season he clearly wasn’t ready, and this year, up until his recent injury he looked much better.  He’s been back for a couple games, but he’s also suffering from a mixed bag of linemates.  To be honest, I’d like to reverse the trade.  Gudbranson brings more to the table, despite his poor analytics, than McCann.  The Panthers need Gudbranson’s heart, soul, and toughness.  Let’s see a full season of McCann before we pass judgement on his value.
What’s it going to take for the Panthers not to just spasm a playoff berth every so often, but to be a consistent playoff team to build a platform to something more?
They need to stop with all the changes and decide on a direction, other than a consistent swirl down a drain, only to come up for air once every few seasons.  It’s hard to attract players and coaches to an organization when there’s so much change and a history of turmoil.  Yes, it’s sunny South Florida where there’s no state income tax, but honestly, why do you think so many over 35 year old free agents like it here?  No media attention, South Beach, perfect weather during the season, and a great place to retire. Which some players have done while still under contract.  But there’s no pressure to win.  Mediocrity and complacency are being touted as patience.  With the deal the team has with the arena, they aren’t going anywhere, yet with attendance down again, and the team unable to string together three consecutive wins, it’s depressing.  The owners haven’t been afraid to spend money, that’s not the issue.  It’s how they’ve spent it that’s the concern.  That unfortunately is a much longer discussion. The other issue is that the cupboard is thin.  No one in the minors appears to be ready to step in and contribute.  After having been touted as having a plentiful minor league system just a few seasons ago, there’s nothing.  The fan base deserves and wants more.  Patience is thin.  What’s it going to take?  It’s going to take an attitude that losing isn’t acceptable for starters.  Players will need to be held accountable no matter how much money they’re making.  And it’s going to take a change in culture.  The team has no chemistry and it shows.  They were on the way to respectability just two seasons ago.  But ownership apparently isn’t aware of one of the most common phrases:  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Unfortunately they thought things needed to be fixed and they were wrong.
Everything Else

A lot of the ink spilled on the Florida Panthers this summer was in the vein of, “What are they doing?” Three of their top six scorers were simply let go. Reilly Smith was traded to Vegas (don’t every say, “Las”). Jesse Marchessault was taken in the expansion draft. Jaromir Jagr was just allowed to walk. They had yet another front office shuffle, which landed Dale Tallon back into the GM’s chair. They hired Bob Boughner as coach.

Here’s the thing. The Panthers are weird. And they’re weird because they’re owned by a rich guy who is obsessed with the army. And any rich dude obsessed with the army is fucking trouble. He patterned the logo after the army. The uniforms. He wanted the Panthers to be in the game at West Point. I want to pretend he’s like Buster Bluth and calls it, “Army,” but no, this dude served and thinks it should be the foundation of every company he runs, if not the world at large. This is just bad. And as long as he’s there, the Panthers will be weird.

Florida Panthers

’16-’17 Record: 35-36-11  81 points  6th in the Flortheast

Team Stats: 50.5 CF% (11th)  49.2 SF% (21st)  48.8 SCF% (22nd)  6.5 EVSH% (26th)  .921 EVSV% (2oth)  17.0 PP% (24th)  85.3 PK% (2nd)

Everything Else

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Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: WGN, NHLN (US), WGN-AM 720
Panther Like A Panther: Litter Box Cats

With the season coming around the final turn, the Hawks find themselves nearly completely clear of divisional and conference play with 10% of the schedule still remaining. Of the eight games left, only one is against a Central opponent, and since it’s Colorado it doesn’t even really count anyway. And the first five of that stretch are all against eastern conference opponents, beginning with a Florida trip starting tonight in Sunrise before swinging up to Tampa on Monday.