For all the talk of Jaromir Jagr, the Florida Panthers of the past couple of seasons have been defined by their young talent. Even while the team struggled to mature, the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, and Aaron Ekblad, to name a few, foretold the great promise of the organization.
This year, that investment in young talent is paying dividends. While veterans like Jagr, Brian Campbell, and Jussi Jokinen are each huge contributors to the Panther's success this season, much of the heart of the lineup is made up of youngsters coming in their prime ahead of schedule. Their talent is undeniable, but there's something to be said for almost 600 combined NHL games played at an average age of barely 21 years.
The Montreal Canadiens, on a much shorter schedule, are attempting to achieve something of the same thing. In some part due to expediency, with many regulars lost to injury, but also in an attempt to maximize the value of an otherwise worthless 13 games, the Habs will ice a roster full of their own young talent.
Whether it's Sven Andrighetto or Mark Barberio, who have each proven their ability in big roles already, or Charles Hudon, who looks ready for the show in limited exposure, or Lucas Lessio, whose trying to make good on perhaps his best chance to audition for an NHL gig, the Canadiens have a lot to gain by playing their up-and-comers tonight.
Facing a competitive squad resting on a foundation of home-grown talent, the Habs are hoping that game's like tonights can be meaningful in the same way they have been for their opponent.
How to Watch
Tale of the Tape
|52.2||Score-Adjusted Corsi %||48.6|
|0.96||5v5 Goal Ratio||1.16|
Know Your Enemy
The Panthers' possession game may not be the driving force toward what looks like a new franchise record total on the horizon, but the Cats are getting the job done otherwise.
Their shooting percentage is near the top of the league, with the team connecting on nearly 9% of their shots. While most of Florida's top guns have healthy shooting percentages, the team average is being dragged up in particular by players like Barkov (16%) and Jagr, who is scoring on nearly 20% of his shots.
Supplemented by deadline pick-up Jiri Hudler, and highly-touted prospect Kyle Rau, the Florida attack now has some depth, as well.
Almost totally healthy and in hot pursuit of the division title, the Panthers figure to be difficult to contain this evening.
Last Time Out
One game removed from a massive pre-Christmas losing streak, the Canadiens started their last game with the Florida Panthers looking to regain some traction. When P.K. Subban found Max Pacioretty in the slot for the game's opening goal, they looked poised to do that.
Newly-acquired Ben Scrivens made several difficult saves, both to allow the Habs to gain the lead and maintain it, but he couldn't hold the Panthers off forever. With a Lars Eller penalty winding down, Dmitry Kulikov carried the puck down the left-side wall just long enough to suck in the Habs' D. That left a hole for Barkov, who stepped into the open space and put a one-timer past the Canadiens' goalie.
Jagr's big frame providing a screen in front was a big reason why Florida got its first goal, and his contribution to his team's second goal was much less subtle. The Panthers expertly executed a three-on-two, with a second pass springing Jagr with half the Canadiens' zone to work with. Jagr didn't hold back, effortlessly circumventing an overmatched Scrivens.
The Habs fought back, with a Daniel Carr chance nullified only by a sprawling Luongo being particularly notable, but couldn't get that second goal. When Barkov took the puck in full flight and went against the grain on Scrivens, it was over.
The Canadiens weren't equipped to handle the Panthers that night, and the reality is that they probably aren't tonight, either. But with some important prospects getting some important, and in many cases overdue, development time, the Habs hope to be in better position to take on their division's contenders going forward.