After building an early two-goal lead against the Buffalo Sabres, the Florida Panthers would soon find themselves in familiar territory: down a goal late in the game. But this time, the Panthers would recover and instead of having yet another brain-melting late-game meltdown, they would survive and steal a shootout victory from Ryan Miller and the Sabres, ending their recent three-game skid. There were a few heroes for the Cats in this one, namely Shawn Matthias, who scored two of the Panthers four, and Jacob Markstrom, who made a bunch of key saves to keep this game in reach for the Cats. Jonathan Huberdeau would also score the game tying goal and another in the shootout, getting him off his recent scoring drought. Basically, the Cats big players stepped up and made it happen, something we haven't seen much this season.
Oh, and the guy who scored the winning goal in the shootout? Mike Santorelli. Yup.
- Shawn Matthias again looked good, scoring two goals and playing some big minutes. He's been elevating his game with the increased time and was paired up with Peter Mueller and Jonathan Huberdeau as a part of the Panthers' top line. The way he's been playing, he'll probably stay there the rest of the season. I'm sure Huberdeau and Mueller won't mind.
- Markstrom played a pretty good game, even though the goals-against count wasn't the greatest. He got beat a few times on deflected pucks, sometimes off of Panther sticks. He was solid positionally and looked poised, but there's not much even the best goaltenders can do against full-speed deflections like those. He also got some help from his posts as the Sabres rang a few off the iron throughout. It wasn't his best game, but he battled and played pretty well, certainly better than anything we've seen from any of the other Cats goaltenders this season.
- After the Cats blew another early lead and ended up down 4-3 in the third, Mueller would set up Huberdeau with an absolutely perfect feed on the rush, allowing Huberdeau to score his 13th and end a ten-game goal scoring drought. Much has been made of Huberdeau's struggles to score as of late, but I think people need to take a step back and put it into perspective: he's 19, a rookie, and on a team ravaged by injuries to the point where they're fielding nearly two full lines of AHL players. Imagine how he'll be with some experience, some more size and muscle, and more offensive depth around him.
- Drew Shore would be moved to the third line this game, paired up with Scottie Upshall and Mike Santorelli. Shore has really hit a wall in terms of generating any sort of offense and has struggled to produce much over the last ten games. Not having Jonathan Huberdeau or Peter Mueller on your line isn't going to help, but Shore has to fight through the lack of offensive production without them. He's certainly talented and capable, and the point I made about Huberdeau applies to Shore as well. Gotta cut the rookies some slack.
- Pat Kaleta was at it again, nearly beheading Santorelli on a charging call. Erik Gudbranson would immediately step up to Kaleta and deck him right off his feet, but big ol' John Scott would grab Gudbranson like his favorite My Little Pony doll, ensuring Kaleta would live to fight another day. Good to see Gudbranson sticking up for his teammates, regardless of the outcome.
- I think with some more time in the AHL and getting properly eased into the big league lineup, Quinton Howden no doubt has an NHL career ahead of him. You see flashes of what makes him a touted prospect: the hockey sense, the speed, and maybe even a little offensive flair. He was a 40-goal scorer in juniors and although I highly doubt he'll sniff that number in the NHL, he's looking good in short spurts in his limited time on ice. The guys like Howden and other prospects eventually rising through the system are going to be the ones to replace the chaff on the current lineup, guys like Santorelli, Upshall, and even George Parros.
- I still don't know why Filip Kuba is on the powerplay. I know he's played there before, I know he's the safe choice, but I think it's safe to say that this season is already a total loss. As such, I would be giving Erik Gudbranson a shot, or even tinkering with a forward at the point to see if anyone clicks there. But I guess that's why I'm not a coach, right?
- Brian Campbell is tired. Dude needs some rest. I get tired just watching the amount of minutes he plays.