Lately it seems, all the Panthers do is win. It took over 65 minutes to get it done on Tuesday's home tilt against the invading Ottawa Senators, but Brandon Pirri and Aleksander Barkov scored in the shootout, while Roberto Luongo turned aside all the shots he needed to for Florida's fifth straight win.
The Panthers narrowly missed opening the scoring twice in the first five minutes, first when Vincent Trocheck missed the net by just inches on a give-and-go opportunity, then when Jonathan Huberdeau sliced the biscuit just over the net from point blank. Even considering that, the Panthers allowed three Ottawa shots before collecting their first "official" shot on goal at the 6:30 mark. Florida collected four more shots over the next 60 seconds, and had 10 by the 11-minute mark.
Halfway through the first period, and halfway through Florida's first power play opportunity, Senators winger Alex Chiasson blatantly high-sticked Jaromir Jagr in the mouth, right in front of Craig Anderson's goal crease. Jagr bled like a stuck pig, but somehow, none of the officials noticed what should have been a four-minute double-minor penalty. Despite the slight, Jagr returned to the ice after just three minutes of game-time and a quick fixer-upper in the locker room.
The Panthers got another crack at the Senators with the extra skater after Mark Methot held Huberdeau with 5:30 left in the period, but Ottawa ably killed it off.
Although the first period would come to a close with neither team on the board, the Panthers were clearly the better team through the first 20 minutes of the game. Reilly Smith took five shot attempts all by himself, and recently returned Derek MacKenzie dished out two hits and won three-of-four faceoffs. Florida played the frame like they were seconds from getting eliminated from the playoffs, something which hasn't necessarily been missing, exactly, over the last few seasons. The difference is the - to use a basketball term - the Cats are winning the 50/50's well over 50% of the time. They outshot the Senators, 25-to-14 over the first 20 minutes, getting 13 on goal to just eight for Ottawa.
By the six-minute mark in the second period, the Panthers again barely missed taking the lead twice. First when Trocheck challenged Anderson on a breakaway (glove-side save), then on a spectacular give-and-go between Jagr and Huberdeau (pad save).
At the 9:14 mark of the period, the Panthers finally solved Anderson. Jagr started things off with a nice spin-move at center ice, feeding Quinton Howden who in turn fed Corban Knight for his first Florida goal in his fifth game with the club. Overall, it was just his second NHL marker in 14 contests, dating back to the 2013-14 season with the Calgary Flames. Going back further, Knight was a fifth-round draft pick of the Panthers way back in 2009. Sometimes, things seem to come full circle, and wouldn't it be funny if Knight became a mainstay on the Panthers for say, 10 or 11 seasons? He seems to be a solid bottom six contributor - but that's enough editorializing on the guy.
Aaron Ekblad had a moment with Senator's tough guy Chris Neil with seven minutes left in the period. I didn't see exactly what happened, but Ekblad was visibly perturbed. The two were separated without incident.
The Sens got their first power play chance at 13:06 when Willie Mitchell high-sticked Shane Prince. It was unintentional, but a clear infraction. Florida killed it off without incident. Ryan Dzingel returned the favor three minutes later when he slashed Trocheck, but the Senators were also equal to the task.
Jared Cowen hooked Logan Shaw with just over a minute left in the period, and the Panthers managed to put three shots on Anderson before the horn sounded to end the period. Florida put the puck on the net 19 times through the middle frame, to just four for the Senators. Not a single Florida player appeared in the period who did not end it with a positive Corsi, headed by Dmitry Kulikov's plus-11 and Jagr's plus-10.
Third Period & Overtime.
43 seconds into what should have been the final period, the Panthers were finishing up their power play when a bad line-change led to a too-many-men penalty. This, in turn led to Ottawa's only marker of regulation. Erik Karlsson directed a shot at Luongo from the blue-line, which was redirected by Mark Stone just in front of Luongo to tie the game at one with 18 and a half minutes left to play in regulation. Mika Zibanejad earned the secondary assist on the play. Incredibly, it was one of only two shots on goal for Ottawa through the third period.
Three minutes into the period, Kyle Turris was caught hooking Willie Mitchell for what would turn out to be Florida's final power play chance of the night. Despite their five chances, Florida was unable to add to their NHL-leading 17 home power play goals, ending the power play still staring at a 1-1 tie on the scoreboard. The rest of the period played out without either club denting the scoreboard.
The Senators were trying to win through physicality through the third, outhitting the Panthers by a 14-to-5 count, and the Panthers, despite holding Ottawa to only two shots on goal, were only able to generate six for themselves. Each club only challenged the opposing netminder twice through the five-minute three-on-three overtime period, including a literal last-second breakaway attempt by Jagr, the old master.
In no big surprise to anyone, the Panthers started out the skills competition with Brandon Pirri, who slowed it way down before beating Anderson on the stick side to open. It was his fifth successful try in only six attempts this season. Zibanejad couldn't duplicate Pirri's success on the other side of the ice.
Anderson completely ruined Huberdeau's attempt by leaving the crease and poke checking the fourth-year player's attempt before he could make his ultimate move - no telling what that would have been, but we can think about it. Kyle Turris tried to beat Bobby Lou in the Five Hole, but Luongo was not fooled.
The third round would see Aleksander Barkov in his familiar spot, ruining the opponent's night with a shootout winner, five hole. Barkov is four-for-four this season after going three-for-13 through his career prior.
Luongo stopped 15 shots and earned the win, but you could make a case for opposing goaltender Anderson as player of the game, who lost despite turning aside 39 shots.
I watched this game, and came away with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. I think this club may be better than that 2011-12 version that got us so excited not so very long ago - and the really great thing - I think that Dale Tallon has crafted this team in a way that can sustain this kind of success for years. If character is built by how a person handles failure and disappointment, then I think there's a lot of well-built characters about to be happy in South Florida. With disappointment as a form of measurement, then there are no other fans of any other NHL team who are more deserving of a sustained tenure of success, including the disgusting, gag-inducing Edmonton Oilers (sorry, I wrote for the Calgary Flames for a season there, still hate the mostly-harmless Oilers).
Now, the Panthers enjoy a nice little five-day holiday, and prepare for the second half of the season. The Columbus Blue Jackets will kick it off here at the BB&T Center on December 27th. Keep it locked in at LBC for everything Cats. Silver Seven has more on Ottawa.