After three straight shootout losses during a three game homestand, the Panthers wanted to come back with a big win and stop leaving valuable points on the table. They did just that, taking down the Toronto Maple Leafs at home by a score of 5-1 and putting themselves back into the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. Despite the Panthers scoring five goals in the game, the story was the play of netminder Jose Theodore, whose 38 saves on 39 shots kept the Panthers in the game during a slumber-like second period. All this talk of Jacob Markstrom has left Theodore as a bit of a shadow in the corner as of late, but he reasserted himself as The Man in net for Florida, making several great saves to keep the game in favor of the Panthers.
Oh, and Jack Skille, one of the hardest workers and most consistent players on the team this season? He found that cookie he was looking for.
Florida came out and provided some decent pressure in the early stages of the period, but took an early penalty as Mike Santorelli was called for a high stick right off an offensive zone faceoff. The Leafs powerplay had some great puck movement and some great chances but Theodore made save after save, turning away the Leafs early opportunities. The ice tipped both ways for the next few minutes as the Cats and Buds traded chances, but Florida managed to strike early off a nice feed from Mike Weaver, who fired it from the defensive zone to hit Skille in stride, creating a two-on-one with Tomas Kopecky. Skille looked as though he was going to hit Kopecky with a pass, but managed to lure Jonas Gustavsson out of his net and stuck with the play, notching his first goal of the season. Skille's done everything this year except score, so it was great to see him rewarded for his stellar play so far this year. Florida kept their foot on the gas, getting more chances including some great looks by Tomas Fleischmann. Toronto started to respond though, with a very strong shift in the Florida zone as the Phil Kessel line applied a bunch of shots to Theodore and the Panthers struggled to clear the zone. Shortly after Florida escaped that pressure, Brian Campbell manages to draw a hooking call, giving Florida it's first powerplay of the game. This was good news, as the Leafs have the worst PK in the NHL, with Florida having the fifth-best powerplay in the league. That being said, the Cats had a lot of trouble getting into the zone and setting up, and were unable to convert on the man advantage, and the period ended shortly after with the Panthers up 1-0.
Toronto didn't seem to take too kindly to spotting the Panthers a first period lead, as the Leafs came out and absolutely controlled the second period, heavily outshooting and outchancing the Panthers through the first ten minutes. Theodore was huge, stonewalling the Leafs through the first half of the period and saving the Panthers from being down by two or three. Head coach Kevin Dineen was NOT pleased with the terrible play of the Panthers during this stretch, as we saw a lot of the sloppy zone clears and weak play on the puck that cost them points in the last few games, especially the last game where the Cats squandered a 3-0 lead to lose in a shootout to Tampa Bay. The Panthers managed to get a call in their favor around the ten minute mark, getting their second powerplay, but they were again stymied by the statistically poor but very effective Toronto penalty kill. The teams continued to battle, but Florida again benefitted from the speed and tenacity of Skille, whose forechecking caused a turnover (basically a misplayed puck by Gustavsson) which led to Marco Sturm's first goal as a Panther. A mere 19 seconds later, Kopecky rocketed a wrister past Gustavsson, giving the Cats as 3-0 lead and ending Gustavsson's night early. Shortly after, Fleischmann took a cross checking penalty on a very questionable call, giving the Buds another shot on the man advantage, but Florida killed most of it off as the period ended with Florida having a comfortable lead.
Florida came out and started peppering backup Ben Scrivens with pucks, and not long into the period Shawn Matthias fired a shot off the Toronto netminder off a strong rush up ice, leaving a juicy rebound for Sean Bergenheim to punch home for his second of the year. That jumpstarted the Leafs, as they immediately responded with a goal by Kessel less than two minutes later, pulling the Leafs back within three. Florida seemed to wilt a bit after that goal, as they seemed to sit back a bit and let the Leafs come at them. The Leafs continued to bring the heat as long as Florida would let them, but again Theodore stood strong with some help from the guys in front of him. Despite this being a different team, there's still a nice tight clenching of the sphincter when the Cats fall back and try to hold a lead by not attacking; it doesn't suit them and they really should stop doing it entirely. Florida continued to sit back and wait for the Leafs to make mistakes and tried to counter with odd-man rushes, and they managed to get quite a few, but Scrivens was able to shut down any opportunity. That is, until Matthias threw a harmless backhand shot from the goal line that snuck past Scrivens, giving Florida a very solid 5-1 lead with only a few minutes left in the third. They would hold on to close out the win, with Theodore finishing with 38 saves on the night.
- What else can you say about Jose? The man played fantastic all night and doesn't receive enough credit. All the news this past week went to the Panthers future in net, Jacob Markstrom, but Theodore is the guy this year, and he's earning his keep. If it weren't for his stalwart play in the second while the team in front of him struggled to maintain puck possession and clear the zone, the Leafs would likely have tied it up then and it would have been a completely different game. Hats off to Theo who, no matter where he is or how much success he has, always seems to have to prove himself.
- Congratulations to Skille on his first of the season. His play has been great all season and he deserved to get one. Let's hope this is the first of many. His hustle created not only his goal but Sturm's as well, with Skille getting the primary assist.
- Ron Wilson had a mustache. It was weird.
- Keaton Ellerby played again tonight, with Erik Gudbranson sitting and watching from the press box. Ellerby looked much better now that he's getting some regular play time, and looked comfortable on the blueline with Ed Jovanovski. We might be seeing Ellerby getting more and more play time if he keeps this up, which creates a good problem for the Panthers, in that they have too many solid NHL defensemen on their roster. Could Dale Tallon be showcasing Ellerby for a trade with this stretch of starts? Perhaps, but only Dale knows.
- Toronto had a fantastic Remembrance Day ceremony and honored brave folks who served in the armed forces for Canada. Gotta tip your caps to them as well, folks, and nice job by the presentation gurus in Toronto; well done.
- There's still way too much shaky defensive zone play. At one point, Dineen took a timeout in the second and lost his mind, screaming at the bench trying to wake everyone up and make it clear that the lax efforts in the zone to control and clear the puck would not be tolerated. And you know what? It made me smile. That's the type of game management this team needs, especially in moments like this, where they clearly were losing their way. There's a gameplan here, and Dineen is making them stick to it at all costs. It's a good thing they responded with two goals not too long after, else there would have likely been hell to pay in the next few practices.
- The Panthers didn't have much of a physical presence in this game, with the Leafs greatly outhitting the Cats the entire game. If the lower lines aren't going to score much in the way of goals, the forecheck has to be there to at least tire down the opposition's defensive lineup so they can generate more chances. What forechecking the Panthers did generated goals, so that was definitely a positive.
- Fleischmann's cross checking penalty was a horrible call, with Kessel almost looking like he dove a bit. Look Phil, we already see Eric Staal six times a year, we don't need more of that.
- Santorelli is still getting his legs and finding his game. You can tell he's still getting his game shape back, and learning how his linemates function with him as a unit. The Panthers will be relying on Santorelli to be a consistent offensive threat again this season, and the sooner he's back to full speed, the better.
- When Kopecky has time to eye up a wrister, look out. He's got a ton of speed on it and can pick corners quite well. Great to see him contributing offensively with five points in his last five games.
- Cats need to cut down the shots against. I don't care who is in net; 39 shots against is too much in a regulation-length game.