Louie, Louie, Louie, Louie. Louie, Louie, Louie, Lou-I. Roberto Luongo started his second stint in South Florida off in fine fashion. The veteran goaltender made 25 saves as the Florida Panthers posted a 2-0 shutout win over the sluggish Buffalo Sabres, who played the night before in Tampa Bay.
Luongo was reacquired by the Cats from the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday for center Shawn Matthias and longtime goaltending prospect Jacob Markstrom.
The Panthers fired 44 shots at new Buffalo keeper Michal Neuvirth, who came over from the Washington Capitals on deadline day, en route to just their second win in the last seven games.
Jesse Winchester opened the scoring at 11:11 of the first period, finally converting after 6:25 of power play time due to a delay of game call on a Matt D'Agostini and a boarding major to Marcus Foligno.
Scottie Upshall and Scott Gomez combined to set up the goal, which was Winchester's ninth of the season.
The Panthers continued their dominance of the Sabres in the middle frame, but could not add to the lead, thanks to 16 stops from Neuvirth.
In the third period, Dmitry Kulikov finally gave Florida some breathing room when he fired home his seventh goal, from Brad Boyes and Nick Bjugstad to complete the scoring.
Luongo had his busiest period as the Cats closed out the game, stopping all 12 of the Buffalo shots he faced in the third.
To put it simply, last night was a great way to start out the Neo-Luongo Era. The Panthers dominated from start to finish, out-shooting the Sabres 44-25 in the process, and got a good performance from both sides of their special teams for a change. Luongo definitely provided a much-needed spark to a team that had been looking destined for a lot of losses as they played out the string. Hopefully, we'll see a lot more of this over the final part of the schedule so the Cats can build up some momentum, and interest, heading into next season.
Odds & Ends
- It sure was nice to wake up this morning and see our Florida Panthers on the front page of the hockey sections of major sites like TSN and ESPN, especially for something positive.
- The Panthers took the last three over the Sabres to win the season series three games to one. Buffalo did manage to take the Cats to a shootout in one of those losses.
- Michal Neuvirth had an impressive first game for the Sabres. He made 42 saves, including a penalty shot chance by Sean Bergenheim, to prevent Florida from rolling to a blowout win.
- Speaking of Bergenheim, he ended up with a game-high twelve shots. Talk about being involved.
- The shutout was the Panthers' first since March 11, 2012, when Jose Theodore blanked the Carolina Hurricanes.
- Vincent Trocheck made his NHL debut and didn't look at all out of place. The 20-yeard old center logged 17:35 of ice time, had three shots on goal, and won 8 of 18 face-offs.
- No scratches for the now lean and mean Cats, as they dressed all 20 active players on the roster. Tomas Kopecky and Aleksander Barkov remain on injured reserve. At some point, a reinforcement or two will be need to be summoned from San Antonio.
- The only negative last night was the attendance. I know that Buffalo isn't the most attractive of road draws, but less than 15K on a Friday night with Louie back in the fold? The Panthers have their work cut out for them both on and off the ice during the offseason. Putting a solid, winning team together will be of the utmost importance, but personally, I think it might take adding a bona fide scoring star (Thomas Vanek?) as well, to get asses back in seats.
- Make like a Buffalo gal, and go 'round the outside to Die By The Blade for the opposing view on last night's action.