Coming Up Big Against Detroit
When the Florida Panthers needed someone to ‘step up’ and put the puck past Petr Mrazek in the overtime frame of Saturday’s tilt with the Detroit Red Wings, veteran defenseman Brian Campbell answered the call.
During a Red Wings line change, Campbell joined the rush, received a beautiful drop feed from left winger Jonathan Huberdeau, and promptly rifled a wrister home over the stick-side of the Wings’ netminder with 3:40 remaining in extra time.
“Big win for us,” head coach Gerard Gallant told FOXSports. When asked about having the defense jump up on the rush in these 3-on-3 situations, Gallant added “Whoever’s on the ice, there’s going to be a scoring chance one way and then if you make the save from your goaltender, you get the up-ice rush like we had.”
Campbell’s goal delivered an immediate 2-1 win in a tight game, shutting down any Detroit opportunity to go the other direction and keeping the Panthers true to their nickname ‘The Comeback Cats.’ More importantly, the play also secured them two crucial points. With 24 already to their credit so far this season, the Panthers sit just one point back of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division Standings, but have two games in hand. However, the Cats still trail Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference by three points – and in this differential the Bruins are the ones holding a game in hand.
“You know you look at the standings and obviously we’d like to get two points and them not,” Campbell told the team’s official website after Sunday’s victory at Joe Louis arena. “We’ve got to keep winning. We’ve got to have a lot of success on this road trip and start climbing those standings.”
In other words, key-moment contributions like Campbell’s are going to be important if the Panthers “don’t want to be chasing” come March.
Par for the Course
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Brian Campbell was the one pulling the trigger on Sunday’s game winning goal. So far this season, he’s been one of the Panthers most productive blueliners. Through 23 games, he leads all Panthers’ defensemen in assists (seven), powerplay points (four), shorthanded goals (one), and average time on ice (21:12 per game). In most other categories, including goals, plus-minus, and shots, he only trails behind last year’s Calder-winner, Aaron Ekblad.
Despite the impressive 465 points that Campbell has accrued over 943 career NHL games, a look at his Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic suggests that his offensive production may be of secondary importance when compared to his impact on team possession (see below). Indeed, over the course of a game it isn’t unusual to see Campbell pinch up the boards to keep the play alive while on the attack, fuel an explosive transition through the neutral zone, or even make a slick passing play to maintain control of the puck.
According to a scouting report produced by The Hockey News, Campbell can also be considered an asset to the Panthers in that he “has plenty of creativity and intelligence with the puck” and “owns outstanding mobility and confidence.” While the same report does highlight some drawbacks of Campbell’s style of play, it is immediately clear how he complements the team’s current roster. For instance, The Hockey News points out that his approach to the game entails a relatively low number of hits and how his work “in the defensive zone, and without the puck in general, isn’t stellar” – roles that are already well-filled by the likes of Alex Petrovic, Erik Gudbranson, and Willie Mitchell.
With the 36 year-old in the final year of his eight-year $57 milion contract, the time to take advantage of having his offensive talent and stylistic synergy with his teammates is now.
A graduate student at the University of Victoria and Editor in Chief of The Graduate History Review, Noah E. Miller has covered the Florida Panthers as a Contributor for The Hockey Writers since 2015.