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The Rat (P)Review – 2015-2016 Season Preview

Game On!

BBT Center

Where does the time go? It’s hard to believe that October is already well underway, and with it, the beginning of hockey season. Florida is set to embark on the 2015-2016 season with its home (and season) opener against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at 7:00 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. But before the puck drops, and the season officially begins, here are a few key things to keep in mind:

Photo Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Photo Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Ekblad the X Factor

Aaron Eklbad’s franchise record breaking season was one for the ages. He broke nearly every offensive statistical category for a Panthers’ rookie defenseman, and was near the team lead in time on ice per game night in and night out. To the surprise of some, he beat out fellow rookie standouts Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames and Mark Stone of the Ottawa Senators for the title of Rookie of the Year, bringing home the Calder Trophy at this past summer’s annual NHL awards ceremony in Las Vegas. This of course does not come without a cache-22 however, as the dreaded phrase “sophomore slump” is bound to be on the lips of hockey analysts everywhere in the early goings of this season. Many rookie stars fall prey to complacency in their second season, and Ekblad is by no means immune. If the Panthers are going to have a successful season and find themselves competing for the Stanley Cup this season ,number 5 will not only need to avoid the pitfalls of many of his predecessors, he will need to continue to build on the stellar effort he put forth last season.

Photo Credit: panthers.nhl.com

Photo Credit: panthers.nhl.com

Out with the Old

Although Florida GM Dale Tallon has kept a strong veteran presence on his roster with the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Jussi Jokinen, Willie Mitchell, and Roberto Luongo, it is clear that youth is the name of the game in south Florida. Gone are the likes of veterans Tomas Kopecky, Scottie Upshall, Sean Bergenheim, and Thomas Fleischmann. In their stead, fans will likely see a number of young hopefuls, who are being given a chance to prove themselves worthy of a full-time roster spot. Florida’s official opening day roster includes the likes of Rocco Grimaldi, Vincent Trocheck, Quinton Howden, and Connor Brickley. With so many players competing for only a few spots, these kids should come out swinging. Hopefully, they find chemistry with their fellow line mates early on and bring the fans some fast-paced and exciting hockey.

Photo Credit: panthers.nhl.com

Photo Credit: panthers.nhl.com

4 is better than 3

The powerplay was a sore spot for Florida last season. Although its powerplay did finish 24th overall in the league, Florida started to find its way in the latter half of the season. Following the all-star break, the Panthers switched from a 3 forward, 2 defensemen setup, to 4 forwards and one lone defender. The results were immediate. Although a 24th place finish doesn’t seem like much, the Panthers found themselves in dead last in powerplay efficiency prior to the switch, so a six spot jump in a short amount of time is worth noting. The question remains whether or not they will continue with the 4-1 setup, and if a full season of it will pay dividends.

 

The Road Ahead

The Florida Panthers will play game 1 of 82 in just a few short hours. Every season seems to start with renewed optimism, only to end in bittersweet disappointment. Hopefully, the success, and chemistry that the team found in the latter half of last season will push them over the hump, and back into the playoffs. Strap yourself in, because it should be an exciting year of Panthers hockey. Let’s go Cats!

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Top Five Moments Of The 14/15 Season – #3

EkbladsFirst

The Florida Panthers had a rough 2013-2014 campaign, finishing second to last with 66 points. While losing is never fun, and greatly frowned upon, the reward Florida received for their bad season was well worth it. The Panthers won the draft lottery, giving them the first overall pick in the draft. General manager Dale Tallon kept the selection and drafted defenseman Arron Ekblad, and the rest is history. The soon to be named Calder trophy finalist has been outstanding, and his offensive production is a big reason for Florida’s major improvement this year. Everyone has to start somewhere, and for Ekblad that was on November 1st, 2014.

#3 – Ekblad’s First NHL Goal

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Instead of writing a long detailed post about Aaron Ekblad’s first goal in the National Hockey League why not let Panthers play-by-play announcer Steve Goldstein do what he does best. The important detail to know about the goal is that not only was it Ekblad’s first career goal, but it was also a game winning goal for the Cats against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Photo Credit: USA Today, TheScore.com

Video Credit: NHL Youtube

Top Five Moments Of The 14/15 Season – #5

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The end of another Florida Panthers season is quickly approaching. While Florida will not be participating in the Stanley Cup playoffs they can be proud of the fact that they were in contention until game 80. This season was filled with many exciting moments on and off the ice, from Aaron Eklbad’s first NHL goal to the debut of the legend, Jaromir Jagr. From now until Saturday, leading right into the final game of the season, we will be listing our top five favorite moments from Florida’s 2014-2015 campaign. Let’s jump right into the countdown with moment #5.

#5 – #MulletNightInSunrise

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Our number five moment should be fresh in the memory of Florida Panthers fans, considering it happened this past Thursday. In celebration of one Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers held mullet night in Sunrise during their game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Fans from all over South Florida and beyond came to the BB&T Center sporting their best mullet in honor of number 68, while trying to earn the right to join an elite group of fans, the traveling Jagrs. Truth be told, if it were not for the traveling Jagrs, mullet night in Sunrise would not have happened. That is how famous these globe trotting fans of the legendary number 68 are.

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The traveling Jagrs did not make their way to South Florida just to see their favorite player, they had a job to do. Before the puck dropped on Thursday the men in mullets held open tryouts to find a representative for Jagr’s new team, the Florida Panthers. After putting numerous contestants through rigorous physical and mental challenges the traveling Jagrs found their man.

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During a TV time out in the third period Jagr’s super fans took the stage to properly crown their newest member. The entire event was a huge success and everyone in attendance had fun with it. Having the traveling Jagrs in the crowd must have been a good luck charm because Florida defeated Carolina 6-1, and Jaromir Jagr recorded a goal and an assist in the victory.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for our number four favorite moment of the 2014-2015 Florida Panthers season.

The Playoff Race: By The Numbers

playoff push

The Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, and Boston Bruins are currently locked into the tightest playoff race in recent years. Only four points separate the three teams, with Boston holding onto the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. The Senators and Panthers are right behind the Bruins, with ten games remaining for the Cats, nine for the B’s, and eleven for the Sens. To makes things easier to follow here is a statistical breakdown for all three clubs.

standings

Points For

As stated above, only four points separate The Bruins, Senators, and Panthers from the final wildcard spot. Florida’s win in the shootout against Boston, and Ottawa’s regulation victory over Toronto on March 21st gives BOS 84, OTT 83, and FLA 80 points. This means that the Senators are only one point away from passing the Bruins, with two games in hand. Meanwhile, Florida sits three points behind Ottawa and four behind Boston with one game remaining against the Sens and two versus the B’s.

The Last Ten

The record of a hockey team is a good indication of how well that club is playing, and the last ten shows just how hot, or cold, they are. With a record of 9-1 in their last ten games there is no team in the NHL hotter than the Ottawa Senators. A lot of their success is thanks to 27 year old rookie goaltender, Andrew Hammond. The Sens netminder has posted a record of 13-0-1 with a .947 save percentage and 1.65 goals against average. If Ottawa wants to make the playoffs they are going to need the hamburglar at his best for their final eleven games.

Boston is currently trending in the opposite direction, losing their last five games. They have struggled offensively and on their powerplay while posting a 5-3-2 record in ten games. The Bruins slump has allowed the Panthers and Senators to gain ground on that final wildcard position in the Eastern Conference. If Boston wants to stay ahead in the playoff race they will need to fix their special teams.

The Panthers just refuse to die, but have the toughest challenge ahead of them. Giving Boston a loser point in the shootout on Saturday night did not help their cause, but at least they gained an extra point in the wildcard race. Florida is 6-3-1 in their last ten and have ten games remaining. Included in those final contests are two meetings against Boston and one versus Ottawa. Members of the media state that the Panthers will have to go 8-2 in their final ten games to have a chance at making the postseason, and that includes picking up wins against The Bruins and Senators.

What’s Left

bosDucks @ Bruins – 3/26
Rangers @ Bruins – 3/28
Bruins @ Hurricanes – 3/29
Panthers @ Bruins – 3/31
Bruins @ Red Wings – 4/2
Maple Leafs @ Bruins – 4/4
Bruins @ Capitals – 4/8
Bruins @ Panthers – 4/9
Bruins @ Lightning – 4/11

flaPanthers @ Lightning – 3/24
Panthers @ Maple Leafs – 3/26
Panthers @ Canadiens – 3/28
Panthers @ Senators – 3/29
Panthers @ Bruins – 3/31
Hurricanes @ Panthers – 4/2
Lightning @ Panthers – 4/4
Canadiens @ Panthers – 4/5
Bruins @ Panthers – 4/9
Devils @ Panthers – 4/11

ottSharks @ Senators – 3/23
Rangers @ Senators – 3/26
Senators @ Maple Leafs – 3/28
Panthers @ Senators – 3/29
Senators @ Red Wings – 3/31
Lightning @ Senators – 4/2
Capitals @ Senators – 4/4
Senators @ Maple Leafs – 4/5
Penguins @ Senators – 4/7
Senators @ Rangers – 4/9
Senators @ Flyers – 4/11

Fan Poll

Rangers Steal Two Points From Panthers

FLA Jagr

When a team racks up over 70 attempted shots they usually come away with the win. Sadly, that was not the case for Florida tonight against the Rangers. New York came away with a 2-1 victory over the Cats this evening, even though the Panthers controlled play for 40 out of 60 minutes. Cam Talbot, the backup goaltender who has taken over for a Henrik Lundqvist, injured January 31st, played a fantastic game in net for the New York Rangers, stopping 39 shots.

Panther of the Game

Tonight the honor of “Panther of the game” has to go to the 43 year young Jaromir Jagr. The veteran was all over the puck tonight, and New York could do nothing about it. He created numerous chances, especially in the second period. Jagr finished the game with five shots, an even +/-, and 17:37 TOI.

The Jagr Affect

Florida, led by the Huberdeau/Barkov/Jagr line, dominated play in the second and third periods. Their line accounted for 25 of the 70+ attempted shots. Acquiring Jaromir Jagr on February 10th caused an instant boost to the overall offense of the Florida Panthers, especially in regards to Jonathan Huberdeau and Alex Barkov. Both young forward were struggling offensively before the arrival of Jagr. Now, as shown in tonight’s game, both players are finding the offensive skill that Florida knew they had when selecting them as high draft choices.

Scoreboard Watching

The Panthers will be keeping an eye on two games this evening. Ottawa plays host to Philadelphia and the Capitals welcome in the Bruins. The Senators and Flyers are both behind Florida in the standings while Washington and Boston are currently tied for the final two wildcard spots in the Eastern Conference. Hopefully neither of the two games goes into overtime. As long as that is the case Florida will remain six points behind either Boston or Washington.

What’s Next

The Cats head home after a quick two game road trip to play host to Montreal on Tuesday (March 17th), Detroit on Thursday (March 19th), and Boston on Saturday (March 21st). This is the biggest home stand of the season for Florida and could very well decide their playoff fate. Be sure to come out and cheer on the Panthers as they try to gain ground on Washington and Boston.