If there is one thing the Florida Panthers have done well this season. it's make the opposition's goaltender look like this year's Vezina Trophy winner. That trend continued in spades last night, as they Cats fired 45 shots at Jhonas Enroth and only came away with a single Jesse Winchester goal in an almost inexplicable 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the BB&T Center
The Panthers effort over the first two periods cannot be faulted as they totally dominated the hapless Sabres for the most part. Florida outshot Buffalo by an 18-4 margin in the first period, cashing in on Winchester's second of the season, which was nicely set up by a very energetic-looking Sean Bergenheim, who returned to the lineup after an 18-month absence.
It looked like the stage was set for an easy win, as the Cats continued to carry the play for much of the second as well, but they not could convert to deliver the knockout blow, as Enroth blunted shot after shot.
As the middle period wore on, the Sabres finally woke a bit and ended up tying the game at the 13:32 mark. With Cody McCormick providing the screen, rookie defender Rasmus Ristolainen fired a slap shot from the point past an unready Jacob Markstrom for his first NHL goal.
McCormick tried to retrieve the puck for the youngster and ended up getting into a fight with Erik Gudbranson for his troubles. It was Gudbranson's second bout of the game. Guds, who drew an assist on the Winchester goal, threw down with Steve Ott at the conclusion of the first period.
The Sabres were a much more spirited bunch after the goal and would play the Panthers in a pretty even fashion the rest of the way. The Cats ended up with the advantage in shots (11-7) again in the third period, but it was Buffalo who produced the game-winner.
After the Panthers pulled Markstrom and failed to get a shot on goal, Cody Hodgson scored into the empty net to seal the deal for Buffalo. Markstrom would get pulled again as the Cats tried for a miracle, but once again, no shot was taken on Enroth.
Some quick observations (off to work I go):
- The 3-7-1 Panthers now have losses to the Sabres and Flyers on their resume this season. Not only did they lose to those two terrible teams, they only mustered a single goal for in each of the games. The Cats continue to play to the level of the opposition, and with the Eastern Conference chock full of mediocre to bad teams, that's not a good sign.
- Defensive liabilities Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg were on the ice for all three Buffalo goals. On a positive note, the duo combined for 12 shots on goal, with Flash registering a team-leading 7. The shots are nice, but these two have to finish if the Panthers are going to stay somewhat relevant this season.
- Markstrom was pretty solid in the game, stopping 18 of the 20 shots he faced. He was screened on the first goal, but perhaps could have played it better. The second goal he had no chance on. Two goals against in a home game versus the hapless Sabres should have been enough to get the win. I don't feel like Tim Thomas would have delivered the shutout necessary to guarantee the Panthers a victory last night, so I am not really going to hang the loss on Marky in any way. This one is squarely on the Cats' shooters.
- Once again, Nick Bjugstad failed to stand out to me. Looking at the stats, his numbers seem OK, but I wonder if he would be better off spending some time with the Rampage to build some confidence offensively. I also wonder if he had it written into his contract that he would never see or hear about the fine city of San Antonio.
- No real criticism here of Jonathan Huberdeau, only thinking that he still needs to get physically stronger before he takes the next step forward as a point-producer. Better linemates would help too. In regards to this and the point above, I think I'd rather see Drew Shore get another shot at centering Huby while Bjugs spends some time in the "A".
- A Coyotes on a Tuesday vs. Ottawa-like crowd at the game last night. I know Buffalo isn't the greatest of draws but the Panthers uninteresting brand of play, coming on the heels on last season's disaster, is definitely keeping fans away from the BB&T Center.
- It was nice having Bergenheim back in the lineup. He looked very effective, especially in the early stages of the game. In addition to the assist on the goal, he also made a sweet behind-the-back play to set up another great scoring chance. The Cats will be a better team with a healthy Bergy suiting up on a nightly basis.
- If you like wings with your recap, take a trip to Die By The Blade for their take on last night's action.
Next Up: Our closest NHL neighbors come calling for a late afternoon tilt on Sunday. The Lightning are 6-3 and have done a much better job than the Cats at recovering from last year's woes. Tampa Bay's offense has clicked for 32 goals so far this season, so the Panthers are very likely going to need to find a way to dent the twine repeatedly to keep up. Look for an "Alien" sighting between the pipes again, as Timmeh! remains on IR through the weekend, Panthers vs. Lightning, Sunday at 5:00.