Happy day, Panthers fans! Tonight brings us to Brooklyn for Game 3 of the first round. In honor of the occasion, block a third of your TV screen tonight for an authentic experience.
Now, let’s talk Cats.
First things first, the Panthers underlying numbers weren’t as strong in Game 2. That cannot be run away from, as they ultimately fell short 68-49. However, this is not to say the Panthers played patently horrible. On the contrary, they kept pace with the Islanders very well for a vast majority of the game. If you adjust for score, you actually find that the Panthers and Islanders were in a virtual dead heat until around 5 minutes into the third period. Only at that point, as the Panthers protected a lead, did the numbers diverge. For comparison’s sake, here’s the same graph, unadjusted and then adjusted for score and venue.
On an indidivudal level, only three players cracked 50% at 5v5: Aaron Ekblad, Dmitry Kulikov, and Reilly Smith. None of that comes as a surprise, based on what we saw. Ekblad and Kulikov turned in a strong effort all night, and Reilly Smith was on another planet entirely. You could bet if the puck was in the Islanders end, and the Panthers were threatening, Smith’s fingerprints were probably all over the play.
John Tavares, for his part, is putting up absolutely insane numbers for the Islanders over the first two games: 57.8 CF%, +21.0 RelCF%, 74.9 CF60. Basically, Tavares dominates possession whenever he is on the ice, his team engages in navel gazing when he’s off the ice, and all the while the team produces over an on-ice attempt for per minute. The Islanders captain is the heartbeat of his team. Only he, Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, and Calvin de Haan are north of 50% score adjusted on the series.
Meanwhile, 14 Panthers have done the same in this series. They are lead by none other than Reilly Smith (67.7%). As if anyone else would be, with how well he has played.
Now, what might change for tonight’s game. First, there is the obvious, which is that Rocco Grimaldi was sent down, and Logan Shaw was called up. My first thought upon seeing Grimaldi sent down was, “Trocheck is back!?!?” Alas, that is not the case, at least for Game 3. However, he travelled with the Panthers to Brooklyn and appears he may be a legitimate option for the Panthers in Game 4.
If Trocheck is coming back on this trip, then it was necesarry to make room for him. It would also not serve Rocco well to sit in the press box, as opposed to playing playoff games in Portland. This might be good for him, as Grimaldi was simply all right through the first two games. His speed and tenacity were apparent, but it seemed like he was bodied off too many puck, and his underlying numbers were very mundane, at a 47.3 CF% (44.8f/50.0a/-9.7%r).
In the meantime, we will see Greg McKegg at center tonight on the 4th line. There’s no word on Logan Shaw’s lineup status at the moment. However, if he replaces any one, I’d bet its Garrett Wilson. There’s no way he should replace Purcell or Hudler in the lineup, he will not be playing center, and I do not see Shawn Thornton coming out, given all that has transpired in this series so far.