The Florida Panthers blew a third period lead and dropped a 2-1 shootout decision to the red-hot San Jose Sharks in Thursday night action from the BB&T Center. After Jaromir Jagr and Logan Couture traded third period goals, Joonas Donskoi and Joe Pavelski easily beat Al Montoya in the shootout, offsetting Nick Bjugstad's second round beauty to give San Jose the bonus point. Jussi Jokinen needed to score in round three to extended the skills competition, but he was stopped by Martin Jones.
The loss, which gave the depleted Cats a 1-2-1 record four games into this six-game homestand, left me feeling a bit bi-polar afterwards, so this morning I'm going to diverge from my usual recap format to deal with my mixed emotions.
Jagr notched his eighteenth of the season, beating Jones five-hole, from Vincent Trocheck and Reilly Smith to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead 2:23 into the third period. The goal was the 740th of Jagr's career, leaving him one shy of tying sniper extraordinaire Brett Hull for third all-time. Jagr has four points (2G/2A) in the last five games the Cats have played without Aleksander Barkov, so the 44-year-old is doing his part to keep his club afloat.
Coming into the game against the Sharks, the NHL's best team since January 9th, a lot of us would have been happy to come away with a point considering the opponent and Florida's rather diminished lineup. Well, mission accomplished in that regard. The Panthers' conservative game plan worked to a tee, severely limiting San Jose's offense and resulting in quite a few good chances for the Cats off of turnovers and breakaways. The Panthers entered the game with a four-point lead in the Atlantic Division and ended the night up by five after losses by Boston and Detroit, so positive movement in the standings was made and that is always a good thing.
After getting shredded by St. Louis and Nashville to open the homestand (and giving up four to the lowly Sabres in Buffalo before that), the Willie Mitchell and Erik Gudbranson-less defense has settled down and is doing its part to help the team win. The Cats' revamped defensive corps held the Sharks to just 15 shots on goal in regulation. The new third-pairing of Steven Kampfer and Brent Regner are holding their own and the unit as a whole managed to limit both the Penguins and Sharks to a single goal. Impressive, most impressive.
Al Montoya delivered the goods in goal again. The veteran wasn't tested often, but came through with the stops when needed. The one goal he allowed, to Couture at 8:56 of the third, was off a blown coverage and not really his fault. Montoya, who finished with 17 saves, lowered his GAA to a stingy 1.91 and raised his save percentage to .930. If the season ended today, both of those numbers would be career-bests for The Big Cubano.
The Cats' penalty kill took care of all four of San Jose's power-play chances. The unit is now ranked 12th overall in the NHL, but just 23rd on home ice, so last night's performance was a welcome, and needed, change, especially with the team's penchant for taking penalties.
Okay, as I mentioned above, picking up a point against the Sharks was nice, but let's face facts here. The Panthers gave the second point away, plain and simple. And don't try to tell me Jones was that good last night, he wasn't. Even with the roster issues, this game should have over and the full two points in the bank sometime in the early to middle stages of the second period, but the Cats blew glorious scoring chances galore. The ground gained on the Bruins and Red Wings was nice, but the Lightning are lurking and they picked up a point on their cross-state rivals with an overtime win against Winnipeg.
It started early when Derek MacKenzie fed John McFarland in the slot for what should have been a sure goal. With enough net to catch a real live shark staring him in the face, McFarland rips the puck off the post instead of buying it. Later in the period, Smith is gifted a turnover with Jones dead to rights and fails to light the lamp, hurrying a shot which sails wide instead of finding pay dirt. Jagr fired the puck by Jones in the second period, but caught iron. I can't be too hard on the vet here. At least Jones was involved in the play, unlike the McFarland and Smith chances, and forced Jagr to have to beat him cleanly and got bailed out by the pipe. Then there was Trocheck going 0 for 2 on breakaways, fumbling the first one and failing to get off a shot. Jonathan Huberdeau also had a breakaway chance, but instead of taking it to the net, he decided to take it behind the cage. Later, Huberdeau recycled his shootout move from the Pittsburgh game and hit the post, again. Time for some new material, Jonny boy. The Huberdeau-Trocheck had another chance to win it pre-shootout, but Huberdeau's pass, while good, didn't stay flat and GI Tro put the bouncing puck into Jones' glove instead of the net.
So you see, in a game where the defense was smothering and Montoya on it, the Cats offense should have had the wherewithal to come up with a second goal, but they didn't. And that had nothing to do with the players out of the lineup. The Sharks didn't seem all that interested in winning the game during the first forty minutes or so and although they put forth a better effort in the third, they only had one shot on goal, the one where no one picked up Couture.
While the Panthers have proved to be superior in the shootout this season, this was their first loss after winning six straight, the team needs to figure out how to win in the new 3-on-3 overtime. The Cats are just 1-5 in games decided in the extra session and then there are the eight games they failed to score in that went all the way to the skills competition. Thankfully, they have worked some serious shootout magic, because they'd be a bubble team if they hadn't. There are nine 10-plus goal scorers on this club, surely someone can score in overtime at some point? There is a lot of extra room out there, isn't there?
Donskoi, a former Panther draft choice in 2010, staked San Jose to a lead in the shootout with a nice first round goal on Montoya. How good would this kid's numbers look in Florida's bottom-six, where there is simply not a lot of a pop on the wings, right now? Donskoi is quietly growing into a case of "the one that got away." I'm a little fuzzy on this, but why exactly wasn't he signed?
The Panthers and Bettman's zany brigade of zebras continued their dysfunctional relationship last night. The Sharks had four power play opportunities, including one in the extra session, to the Panthers one, with Florida getting no chances in the second or third periods. Home cooking? In Sunrise, not a chance. Fairness? Remains a concept that doesn't seem to apply to our local franchise.
Tales & Fins
- San Jose raised their record on the road this season to a pretty astounding 20-8-2, considering they are just 11-12-3 at home. The Washington Capitals lead the league with 21 road wins.
- The Panthers failure to close this one out doomed them to an ugly finish (0-4-2) against the NHL's trio of California clubs. Better luck next year, boys. Our just perhaps, in the Stanley Cup Final...
- Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski drew the assists on Logan Couture's sixth goal of the year.
- In a game where the teams combined for just 39 shots, Brent Burns was the only player to register four. Jussi Jokinen and AHL call-up Greg McKegg led the Panthers with three.
- Is it me, or do South Florida hockey fans just not care much about seeing Western Conference teams, other than Chicago? I know the Cats aren't playing their best hockey right now, but attendance on this homestand should be better. This is still a first place team, after all.
- NHL.com has got you covered with both highlights and a more traditional recap.
- If it's fancy stats you are fishing for, war-on-ice has the breakdown for you here.
- Fear The Fin weaves the yarn about how the lackadaisical Sharks survived a Panther attack and came away with two points.