View from Florida
Traditionalists who have been browbeaten in recent years by analytics inclined writers have to feel no small bit of schadenfreude over the struggles of the Florida Panthers, who have embraced an approach heavily influenced by analytics this season. Of course, nobody - including advanced stats proponents - thinks that analytics are a complete substitute for traditional player evaluation, but the Panthers this season are a cautionary tale about how elusive the right balance is.
It should be worth noting however that not all of Florida’s woes can be attributed to the bizarre front office carousel (as of now, Tom Rowe is both the General Manager and interim head coach). The Panthers have simply not gotten the production from leading forwards like Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugstad, while Aaron Ekblad has similarly struggled on the back-end.
As of now, Florida is three points out of a playoff spot, but lacks a game in hand against either Wild Card team, or the two non-playoff teams ahead of them (the Toronto Maple Leafs have four games in hand, while the Carolina Hurricanes have two). The Panthers need to climb over several teams to get to the playoffs, and they need to do so while making up for lost time.
View from Arizona
As bad as the Florida Panthers’ struggles have been, two of the teams that currently have it worse sparred in Arizona on Saturday. The Coyotes however managed to pour five goals on a reeling Tampa Bay Lightning team in two periods before nearly letting the Lightning back in late in the third period. That the team eased off the throttle late was concerning, but thankfully Arizona had banked enough goals at that point where Tampa simply didn’t have enough time to come back.
The victory also reflects some fairly large changes to the Coyotes’ roster over the past few days. Anthony Duclair and Laurent Dauphin both departed to the American Hockey League while Christian Fischer made his way up. With the debut of Alexander Burmistrov on the road and the return of Ryan White from injured reserve, the Coyotes that left a week ago look very different from the one they returned.
- Can the Penalty Kill recover? - Arizona surrendered two power play goals against the Minnesota Wild and another power play goal against the Lightning, after a stretch of extremely good play while shorthanded. Can the Coyotes keep the Panthers’ power play from scoring?
- Can the offense stay recovered? - Arizona has scored 11 goals in its last three games. Obviously the tendency to concede goals is a lingering problem that will likely remain all season long, but they’ll start winning some of those games if they can keep the offense humming.
- Can the defense clamp down on shots? - It’s a rare day where a goaltender can concede three goals and still have a save percentage of .938, but when you give the other team 48 shots, that tends to happen. Can the Coyotes give Smith a bit of a break?
Players to Watch
Florida - Keith Yandle - Remember him? Yandle has three goals and 20 assists in 48 games for the Panthers. His best seasons remain the ones he played with the Coyotes, but he’s not far off from his career pace this year even with the Panthers’ struggles.
Arizona - Radim Vrbata - Vrbata had four points on Saturday, and sits with 11 goals and 22 assists this season, a full eight points ahead of second place on the team. At .71 points per game and a $1 million cap hit, Vrbata has to be one of the more appealing right-wings on the market this trade season.
The Panthers have Jonathan Huberdeau, Alex Petrovic, Aleksander Barkov, and Nick Bjugstad on injured reserve, while James Reimer is with his wife for the birth of their child, and may not be available for tonight’s game.
For the Coyotes, Brad Richardson and Max Domi remain on injured reserve for an indefinite period of time, but the Coyotes are otherwise healthy.
Tonight’s game gets underway at 7 PM Arizona time. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Arizona or listen on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.