Despite putting forth one of the best team efforts throughout this mostly-forgettable season, the Panthers couldn't find a way to come out of the frigid confines of Winnipeg with two points, instead dropping the game 3-2 in overtime on a Bryan Little wrister with 16 seconds to go in the extra frame. Despite the loss, there's a ton of positives to take out of this game. The defense looked sharper, turned the puck over less, and fueled the transition game as though they've been doing it all season long. There were still hiccups on the blueline, but it was a vastly improved effort from everyone involved. The same could be said for the forwards, who were not only backchecking well but constantly getting into passing lanes and deflecting shots out of harm's way.
It wasn't all gravy though, as Scott Clemmensen looked pedestrian and Filip Kuba basically gave the game away with a horrible tripping call on a play that should've never happened in the first place. Had he just played sound positional hockey, there likely wouldn't have been a penalty called in OT and the Panthers could have just as easily won the game and left the MTS Centre (see what I did there?) with two points instead of one. But, as we learned last season, a point is a point, and in this lockout-shortened season, every one will count for just a little bit more than normal. Regardless, spotting that extra point to a division rival is a really bad idea, so hopefully the Cats don't make a habit of it.
Speaking of habits, you'd find no complaint from anyone here if the play below could be repeated a couple of dozen more times in the coming weeks. These are NHL rookies, mind you (and more on them later):
- Clemmensen did not look great in this one. You could argue the first goal was a fluke due to the puck getting deflected by Ellerby's stick, but in reality Clemmensen should've been out of his crease further on a shot from the boards like that. The second Winnipeg goal was through quite a bit of traffic, but didn't deflect on the way in. He was struggling with rebound control and didn't look anywhere near as sharp as he needed to be.
- Filip Kuba cost Florida a potential point in this one with a stupid play to pressure Evander Kane, which turned into a tripping penalty. There's been repeated issues with Kuba's play this season, but nothing this egregious, and we'll see if it results in anything from the coaching staff. I doubt it, since he's a veteran and a top-four guy for the Panthers.
- Tyson Strachan needs to stay with the big club. He's playing solid defensively, using the body well, not turning the puck over, and joining the rush at the right times. He looks 50 years younger than Ed Jovanovski and is playing much more consistently than Mike Weaver. He doesn't have the greatest wheels but Florida has enough of those right now with Campbell, Dmitry Kulikov and Ellerby.
- Throughout much of the game, the Panthers did a great job making the tenacious Winnipeg forecheck do a lot of dumping and chasing to little effect. The defense actually looked very composed both with and without the puck, and the forwards repeatedly broke up passes and had tons of active sticks in the lanes. It was probably one of the best defensive games the entire team has played so far this season.
- I wrote it last recap, and it pleases me greatly to write it again: the Panthers have two of their future offensive jewels continually developing chemistry together. Drew Shore went coast to coast, made a few great moves and split the Winnipeg D, and fired a shot on Pavelec which didn't find the back of the net, but instead eventually found the stick of Jonathan Huberdeau, who slammed it home to give the Panthers a first period lead. A great individual effort by Shore, who looks so good this year that the Panthers will likely be keeping him all season, but more importantly Shore's effort wasn't wasted as Huberdeau followed the play and crashed the net.
- Just because he deserves it: Shore was borderline dominant at times. He's making Huberdeau look unimpressive, and that's something. He nearly had the game-winning goal in the third several times and it's really only a matter of time until he scores his first in the NHL. He's just playing beyond his years right now.
- I also remember writing recently about how much I couldn't wait for Dmitry Kulikov to get his NHL game legs back. It looks like he has, along with his reaction time and his focus. He played his best game of this young season and it can't come at a big enough time for the Panthers, who are just starting to get on a roll.
- I don't know what it is, but every time he gets a chance, Weaver tries to destroy Kane. I approve.
- Keaton Ellerby had two bad turnovers in the first period and two more in the third, mainly from holding onto the puck for too long when he had passing or clearing options. He's a smooth-skating blueliner but he's not Brian Campbell, and he might want to try to cut down on those, else you might see 44 instead of 4. He did play a pretty solid game otherwise, although he got a little unlucky on the Jets first goal as it deflected off his own stick while trying to block a Blake Wheeler shot.
- The Jets have the worst PK in the entire NHL, and can't afford to take penalties, yet they took two offensive zone penalties in this game, which likely caused Claude Noel to purse his lips further. It's a shame the Panthers couldn't capitalize on them though.
- If the Panthers' top line from last year can get their collective legs back, and the second line continues to mature and develop chemistry, the Panthers will have two legitimate scoring lines for the first time in a long time. Let's hope that plan works out and we'll likely see the goal differential shrink as the season goes by. If not, we're in for a long ride.
Next up for the Cats: The Panthers will attempt to avenge a brutal 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Flyers that came only five games ago. Florida's playing like a vastly better team than the last time the two met, while the Flyers, who have struggled nearly as much as the Panthers this season, have strung together two wins against both Carolina and Tampa Bay. Should be a good game, so long as the Panthers remember how badly Philly embarrassed them last time. Tune in this Thursday at 7PM to see if, and when, the Panthers choose to exact some revenge.