Call it effort, hustle, moxy, passion, desire. Whatever you want to call it, Florida had it tonight, finally showing a pulse and putting a complete game together for the first time this season. The Panthers showed up both offensively and defensively, putting the Penguins down 6-3 and ending a very frightening three-game losing streak that saw the Panthers return to the bottom of the league in goal differential. Florida desperately needed to come out with a full 60 minute effort, something that has plagued them since the second half of the 2011 playoff season. Whatever head coach Kevin Dineen said to the players before this one, the message was received.
Is this the real Panthers? No, not at all. This team is going to be a rollercoaster at times this season, and that's to be expected on a squad that once again had a ton of roster turnover. What tonight showed, however, is that regardless of the ups and downs, this team has the work ethic in them to be successful, and all the talent in the world can't overcome apathy. With hard work will come rewards, and it's great to see the Panthers put in the work and get rewarded with a big win over a top team. Hopefully the players got the message from more than just the coach himself.
- He did have a bad goal against, but Jacob Markstrom looked pretty solid against the Penguins, especially when the Panthers needed him to make that big save in the second and third periods. His positioning was better overall and he wasn't quite as deep in the crease as last game. It will be interesting to see if his confidence rises this season, because when Tim Thomas is healthy, Markstrom is going to be faced with the prospect of riding the pine (or fiberglass) again, and he's stated in the past that he simply doesn't want to be there anymore.
- I've been saying it in the comments, and I'll say it here: puck support is everything for a team that is struggling like the Panthers have been. Kris Versteeg would score his first of the season off a play that was nothing but support, as Scott Gomez would hit Shawn Matthias on the rush, who would cycle to Gomez and eventually set up Versteeg for the goal. This play didn't look like much, but that's the point: it was simple, effective, and resulted in a goal. Want to have a team that focuses on puck possession? Gotta have puck support.
- The first Pens goal was off an egregious turnover by a guy wearing an "A" on his jersey. Marcel Goc would attempt what was basically a blind backhand pass at the Panther blueline, setting up Beau Bennett with a two-on-one with Evgeni Malkin, and Malkin didn't miss. Can't have your leaders making plays that rookies know better than to try.
- Both Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov would score power-play goals, bringing them each up to two on the season. Huberdeau had a jump to his step, and Barkov looked great nearly the entire game. You noticed him almost every shift. As he continues to eat up minutes this season and adapt to the speed of the NHL game, he's likely going to inherit the top line center position and never relinquish it. He also finished the game plus 3... take that as you will.
- Jesse Winchester may be one of the best Panthers so far this season in terms of bringing the effort on every shift. He doesn't have points to show for it, but he's fantastic controlling the puck on the cycle, and excellent on the forecheck. The rest of the team should follow his lead.
- Brad Boyes now has four goals in the last three games for the Panthers, and has been pretty much the only consistent offensive threat. He'd open the scoring in this one as well with a beautiful wrister. Boyes may have to be one of those players that, like Sean Bergenheim, scores timely goals to motivate the team.
- Matt Gilroy would see his first ice time in this young season and played a pretty respectable game. He was even in plus/minus and ate up 16 minutes of time, which was more than I would've expected him to play. He certainly looked better than Ryan Whitney did and here's to hoping he replaces Whitney in the lineup.
- Mike Weaver had his best game of the season, making several great defensive plays and absolutely crushing Pascal Dupuis late in the third, goading Sidney Crosby into basically slewfooting him in retaliation. The Panthers need Weaver to be at his best defensively as he's one of the few reliable guys on the blue line for this team.
- The Penguins definitely miss James Neal. He's a noticeable presence on the ice for Pittsburgh and not having him in the lineup makes them so much less offensively threatening. I miss him too; he's on my fantasy team. Hurry back, Jimmy, I need you.