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Ocean Avenue: Blackhawks-Panthers Preview

The Blackhawks head to sandy Florida for their latest game.

Chicago Blackhawks v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks head to Florida on Friday to take on the Panthers in the second of a three-game road trip. Chicago has lost six out of their last seven games while the Panthers will aim to win their third in a row.

Currently, the Panthers are sitting just outside the last wild card spot, four points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and six behind the New York Islanders. Florida has been on a decent run of late — they’re 6-4-0 in the last 10 — but the two teams ahead of them have been as good or better in the same span. On top of that, the Panthers are being chased by four other teams within spitting distance of them. The East seems like it’s going to be a photo finish, and the Panthers will be looking to build on the mini-momentum of their last two wins as they face the Blackhawks.

The Panthers are built and coached to be an offensive powerhouse, even if their goals-per-game rate has hovered around 10th most of the season. At 5-on-5, they’re first in shots on goal (66.34 per 60), first in scoring chances (34.58 per 60), second in high-danger chances (14.91 per 60), and second in expected goals (3.4 per 60). If Florida had slightly better shooting luck — the have a nearly bottom-10 shooting percentage at 5-on-5 (8.1 percent) — they would easily be top-five in the league in offense. And in their push for the playoffs, the Panthers have upped the ante in all those categories.

Florida is able to produce so much thanks to their deep top-nine, a unit that has seven players at 0.5 point-per-game or better. Two players are over double that — Matthew Tkachuk leads the team with 81 (28 G, 53 A) in 62 games and Aleksander Barkov with 53 points (17 G, 36 A) in 51 games is second — while a third is close — Carter Verhaeghe with 55 points (32 G, 22 A) in 64 games. Sam Reinhart (0.69 point-per-game), Sam Bennett (0.62), Eetu Luostarinen (0.52), and Anton Lundell (0.50) round out the top players for Florida.

In addition, the Panthers also get strong contributions from Brandon Montour (0.81), Aaron Ekblad (0.52), and Gustav Forsling (0.51).

So why exactly are the Panthers fighting for a playoff spot instead of being guaranteed one? They’re below average defensively and in net. Florida’s 30.93 shots against per 60 and 2.73 expected goals against at 5-on-5 are both bottom-10 in the league. This workload has probably strained an already not-ideal situation in goal, where they have just a .904 save-percentage on the season.

Sergei Bobrovsky is averaging a bit better with a .907 save-percentage, but the two back-ups — Spencer Knight and Alex Lyon — have been having trouble in their combined 27 starts. Knight is currently out indefinitely (personal leave), and Lyon has only hit double-digits for games in a season once in his six professional seasons, so expect Bobrovsky to carry the load down the stretch.

Tale of the Tape (statistics from this season)

Blackhawks — Statistic — Panthers

42.96% (32nd) — 5-on-5 Corsi For — 54.15% (3rd)

41.13% (31st) — 5-on-5 Expected goals for — 53.94% (4th)

2.48 (32nd) — Goals per game — 3.37 (10th)

3.55 (25th) — Goals against per game — 3.34 (23rd)

53.8% (3rd) — Faceoffs — 48.4% (10th)

17.2% (28th) — Power play — 21.2% (25th)

76.1% (22nd) — Penalty kill — 74.2% (13th)

How to watch

When: 6 p.m. CT

Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise

TV: NBC Sports Chicago

Radio: WGN 720