From The Press Box


From The Press Box is a weekly column written by FloridaPanthers.com and NHL.com writer Alain Poupart. Poupart has been covering the Panthers and the NHL for 20 years.

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Arrow Pointing Upward

Many different contributors emerged when the Panthers continued their recent surge with victories at Pittsburgh and Buffalo

Wednesday, 01.22.2014 / 1:00 PM ET / From The Press Box
By Alain Poupart  - FloridaPanthers.com
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Arrow Pointing Upward
Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov celebrates his third period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins (Getty Images)

The Panthers continued to play some good hockey in their recent road trip, stopping a couple of impressive streaks by opponents in the process.

In winning 4-3 at Buffalo Tuesday night, the Panthers became the first opponents in Ryan Miller’s last 18 starts to beat him more than three times. That came one night after the Panthers ended Pittsburgh’s 13-game home winning streak when they handed the Penguins a 5-1 defeat.

The two victories improved the Panthers’ record to an impressive 13-7-2 since Dec. 5 as they continue to claw their way back into playoff contention. For perspective, the 13 victories are tied for second-most in the Eastern Conference during that span behind only Pittsburgh’s 15.

The Panthers stand today with an overall record of 20-23-7. Defenseman Brian Campbell said a few weeks back that the goal was to get back to .500 by the end of January. That could be tough to swing considering the Panthers have only four games left this month — Friday against the Colorado Avalanche at the BB&T Center, and on the road against Detroit on Sunday, Boston on Tuesday and Toronto on Thursday — so perhaps a more realistic goal would be to get to .500 by the Olympic break.

The Panthers have four games in February before their 20-day hiatus, and being able to get back to .500 at that point would get them positioned for a playoff push down the stretch.

Beyond the impact on the standings, the really positive news of the last two nights was the balance the Panthers showed.

After being carried by the Killer B line of Brad Boyes, Aleksander Barkov and Sean Bergenheim for a few weeks, the Panthers got contributions from a lot of different sources against both the Penguins and the Sabres.

Standing right at the front is right wing Jesse Winchester, who has made quite a splash in his return to action after missing 14 games because of an upper-body injury. Winchester clearly provided a spark against Pittsburgh on Monday night when he finished with a career-high three assists. One of those was particularly impressive because it came at the end of a shift where Winchester and Jonathan Huberdeau battled relentlessly near the Pittsburgh net before Winchester finally emerged with the puck and fed Drew Shore for Shore’s second goal of the game.

In that game, Huberdeau stopped his goal-less drought with his rather bizarre goal, which came after he was shoved into the net and the puck bounced off him. It was well deserved, however, because Huberdeau had begun playing much better over the recent games. His assist at Carolina on Saturday night on Marcel Goc’s goal was nothing short of spectacular and he added an assist in Buffalo to push his point streak to three games (1-3-4).

Right wing Jesse Winchester has four points (1-3-4) in his two games since returning from injury including a career-high three points against Pittsburgh (Getty Images)

Having Huberdeau regain his form would rank right up there with any positive development for the Panthers on the just-completed three-game road trip.

Huberdeau, Winchester and Goc actually have formed a very effective line the past two games in the absence of veteran forward Tomas Kopecky.

While he got attention for his plus-5 ratio on Monday night, defenseman Mike Weaver deserved major kudos for his tremendous performance in the Panthers end. No doubt every Panthers fan noticed Sidney Crosby having a rare off night and getting very frustrated, and no one was more responsible for that than Weaver. It’s in games like these where you really appreciate his ability as a defensive specialist.

It’s also been nice to see Ed Jovanovski with an offensive “explosion,” with two two-point performances in the Panthers’ last five games. Not that it’s anything the Panthers should start relying on, but it’s still fun to see, especially given the magnitude of Jovo’s comeback from hip surgery.

In reality, the Panthers’ performance at Buffalo wasn’t without some disappointments, starting with the high number of good scoring chances allowed in the third period when they were trying to protect a lead but the defense and penalty kill units, led by the great goaltending of Tim Thomas.

Of course, it also was disappointing to see Barkov have to leave the game after the first period because of a lower-body injury, but the comments of head coach Peter Horachek in his postgame media session were encouraging. Horachek said Barkov could have gone back in, but the team decided to err on the side of caution.

That leaves hope that Barkov could be in the lineup against Colorado, which would give South Florida hockey fans the chance to see the top two picks in the 2013 NHL draft — the Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon and Barkov — go head-to-head. More importantly, having Barkov in the lineup increases the chances of the Panthers being able to continue the nice little run they’re on.

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

 
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