For playing a bare-bones roster ravaged by injury and slowed by age, the Florida Panthers sure know how to stun even their own fans. In a season facing almost blanketing disappointment, a big win against one of the NHL's top teams comes as welcomed surprise as Tomas Kopecky nets his first career hat trick with two power-play goals and an empty-netter while Scott Clemmensen secures the win with 15 saves on as many shots. Without key performances from those two players, the game surely would have had a less than favorable outcome.
Here's an unusual stat from the game, of the 17 points netted by 9 Florida players, only one came from the Kid line, a secondary assist by Shore. I take this as a huge step in the right direction, too often have the other three lines sat back and watched the second line carry the offense instead of generating chances for themselves. Add in some defensive work and speed by all four lines and you've got a forward corps that look like they're slowly grinding back into motion for the first time since last April. 4 functional lines is a beautiful thing.
You have to wonder if this is the turning point for the goaltending, because it's becoming clearer who wants the starting role for the Panthers. I'm guessing one more solid start for Clemmensen and another shaky one for Theodore will determine this season's starter, which is better late than never for the Panthers to build confidence behind.
- Scott Timmins would make his season debut with the Panthers, who had a less than memorable 19 game stretch with the Cats in 10-11. Since those games Timmins has developed into a good AHLer and one of the better players on this year's lame San Antonio Rampage team; so I wouldn't mind him sticking around to add some competition to the sluggish forward lines. It was a bit difficult to judge Timmins' play when half the time he was playing against Crosby.
- One thing that became immediately noticeable in the first ten minutes was the Panthers speed, likely a result of Weiss and Kovalev being out of the lineup. Granted speed doesn't do much when you skate around like chickens with their heads cut off, but take the added pressure and forechecking when you can get it.
- Can't say too much about the first period, though the Panthers would strike first as Tomas Kopecky would score his second in as many games off a rebound from Brian Campbell's point shot. I won't complain when Kopecky decides to hang around in front of the net, that's for sure. Besides that, the Panthers looked pretty uncoordinated offensively.
- Mike Santorelli is not an NHLer. Sure he can sorta fill a Jack Skille role, but grinders aren't meant to play alongside Flash and Goc and log power play time. It's a testament to how totally screwed Dineen is for skilled players, and even though Santorelli had a successful stint in San Antonio, nothing can be made of him in Florida. Hopefully a GM elsewhere disagrees.
- Contrary to what was seen tonight, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven't been a highly penalized team this season. I'm going to make the claim that speed was what changed that fact to the Panthers favor, because over the last few games Florida hasn't drawn many penalties. 4 power play goals is a breath of fresh air for a team that seemed to suffocate on the power play before tonight.
- Jose Theodore must not feel threatened by Jacob Markstrom, because he sure didn't do the Cats many favors in goal tonight.
- On the Pittsburgh side, you can't fault Tomas Vokoun too much for going 18-22 when his team takes 8 penalties in 28 minutes. Has Vokoun ever been pulled against the Panthers?
- Tomas Kopec-ky, Ho-say Theodore, Jonathan Huberdoor and Thomas Fleshman; four players that I've never heard of until listening to a ROOT Sports broadcast.
- Scott Clemmensen would start the third period, a switch I agree with but wish came earlier.
- One player I didn't see nearly enough of tonight was Shawn Matthias, who until tonight has made himself very noticeable. One penalty to start the parade, and then I never saw him again.
- Tomas Fleischmann would finally net #100 in his NHL career on a 2-on-1 with Drew Shore as he exited the penalty box. Flash hasn't had a great season due to instability with linemates, but perhaps surpassing that milestone will help him get his game back on track.
- Erik Gudbranson would briefly leave the game after a hit from Beau Bennett, he would come back a few minutes later but looked a bit reserved in his movements. Now would not be a good time for another injury on the blue line.
- Check in with PensBurgh for a recap from the Pittsburgh view.
The Buffalo Sabres are next up on the Cats schedule, marking the first Lindy Ruff-less meeting of the two squads for the first time in about a million years. The Sabres will play in Tampa Bay tonight and presumably head on down to Sunrise on Wednesday, where Ryan Miller and Mike Weaver will convene in the first ever Lucic therapy hour. Sabres at Panthers, 7:30pm.