For being the second game in a back-to-back and against a team as high-powered as the Pittsburgh Penguins, you would've expected the Panthers to really struggle and possibly endure another blowout. Instead, the Panthers put on their hardhats and came out with a pretty solid, though incomplete, effort against the Pens. The score didn't show it but the Panthers played well enough to stay in this game, and had it not been for a pretty questionable penalty called against Tomas Kopecky in the third, this game may have gone either way.
The Panthers would give "rookie" netminder Jacob Markstrom his first start of this season and despite the loss he would look pretty good, as did his posts. The Penguins fired 40 shots on the young goaltender and he would respond with some pretty solid saves. The Panthers only managed 23 shots and not many of them high-quality ones, leading to a single tally on the scoreboard and another game in the disturbing and completely incomprehensible trend of scoring little to no goals the game after putting in five. It seems that the Panthers still have a ton of work to do to find their every-night scoring touch and until they do, we're going to continue being frustrated to know what could have been in each one of these losses. Hard work and skill and determination are the keys to a winning club, and the Panthers only seem to have one or two of those things working for them in any given game.
Get all three together every night? Now you're talking.
- As mentioned, Markstrom would get his first start of this short NHL season. He looks more than fine to me, and ready to receive regular starts in the NHL. It's a well-known fact that goalies tend to reach NHL maturity in their mid to late 20's, and Markstrom's only 23. Too early? At this point, I'm not sure that more AHL time for Markstrom is going to benefit him as much as NHL time will. Neither Jose Theodore nor Scott Clemmensen has looked worthy of a starting gig this year, and Markstrom looks better in one game than either of the regulars have in nearly every game played this season. I say bring him up, ease him in, and let him take the reins next season.
- Mike Santorelli is back, and although he's not showing up on the scoreboard, he's got his legs moving and is playing pretty good two-way hockey. Will he stay up with the big club permanently? With the way this team plays Jekyll and Hyde hockey, the guys who compete the hardest every game will likely be the ones in the lineup. If Santorelli keeps putting in the work, he will see ice time.
- Alex Kovalev would get a chance to suit up against the Pens and had some jump. He's still not playing the best defensive hockey but there's no question he plays better when he's had some rest. It's pretty nice for Kevin Dineen to have the option of throwing a guy like George Parros on the ice for a team full of goombas like Philly, and a skill guy like Kovalev against a talented team like Pittsburgh. That said, Parros has more goals than Kovalev as of late.
- Chris noted this against Philly and I'll repeat it: Erik Gudbranson looks like the most consistent Florida defenseman outside of maybe Dmitry Kulikov. Gudbranson is hitting everything in sight, and hitting hard, something you're not seeing from the rest of the defensive group on each one of their shifts. Not only is he playing the physical role well, he's not making mistakes very often (if at all) and that's given the blue line some serious stability. The Cats really need some defensemen who make the opposition's forwards think twice about going behind the Panther net or driving the net with the puck.
- The Panthers did a pretty good job of keeping the Pens to the outside and forcing long shots on Markstrom. Most of those shots came through quite a bit of traffic and the Panthers also did a good job clearing the loose pucks Markstrom couldn't absorb. They also did a good job blocking a fair amount of shots, which is good because if they didn't the Panthers might've had 60 shots against. Florida did allow some great opportunities for the Pens at times, but it's the Pens. You try to keep Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, etc. from getting any scoring opportunities in a game and let me know how that goes.
- Mike Weaver has a career as a point guard in the NBA in case this defenseman career ever gets going. He's got all the traits: he's short, he's smooth, and the man can dish out the helpers. He also can elbow Chris Kunitz in the face pretty well.
- Tomas Fleischmann may be second on the team in scoring, but I think just about everyone wants to see more out of him. He's one of those guys who can be an offensive difference-maker and use his speed and puck-handling skills to create plays. He hasn't been doing enough of that and he really hasn't had much help from his linemates in that department either. This is where the Panthers miss Kris Versteeg the most: offensive creativity. Yes, he can be a horrible turnover machine some nights, but he creates space for the other guys on the ice and no one is really doing that right now, leaving the scorers like Flash struggling to get anything going.
- Malkin would leave in the third period due to injury after hitting the end boards very hard after taking a shot. Gudbranson would push Malkin but not in a dangerous (nor suspendable) position, causing him to lose his edge and hit the wall hard with his back and head. Hopefully he'll be alright, and I only say that due to him being my fantasy team stud.
- Man it's weird seeing Tomas Vokoun in a Penguins sweater.
- Stephen Weiss just looks hurt to me. He has none of that elusiveness in the corners and isn't creating space for himself with his shifty cutbacks and changes in direction. There's no question that until he heals up completely he's just not going to be very useful for Florida.