After putting together an impressive four-game win streak over the holidays, the Florida Panthers continued their recent success, shutting out the Montreal Canadiens 2-0 in front of the home crowd at the BB&T Center. The Panthers were once again led by the sublime goaltending of James Reimer, who has really found his groove and is putting the Panthers in a position to win on any given night with his consistent play.
The first period was full of scoring chances for both teams but the always-stalwart Carey Price kept the Panthers off the board, and Reimer provided quite a few big early saves as Florida (see: Matheson, Mike) had tons of trouble getting out of their own zone safely. Florida’s top line looked very dangerous the entire time they were on the ice, but were unable to convert.
The Cats finally broke through in the second period when Connor Brickley corralled a long rebound and spun around, firing it behind Price at 4:02, with Mark Pysyk and Mike Matheson getting the apples. Brickley would not have been on the ice if not for some lineup tweaks from head coach Bob Boughner, who pushed Brickley up to the second line, dropping Evgenii Dadonov down to the third.
After the goal, the Habs started waking up, and Reimer was under assault for much of the remainder of the second. Despite the pressure, Montreal did not put one past him, and the Cats would head into the third period with a tenuous lead. That lead would quickly widen though, as Vincent Trocheck buried a beautiful backhand pass from defenseman Mackenzie Weegar, notching his 15th of the season and giving the Cats a two-goal cushion.
The Canadiens would put an absolute flurry of shots towards the Florida net in the third period, but Reimer and the Cats would hold strong, giving Reimer yet another shutout and securing two more points and a fifth straight win for the Panthers.
Full Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)
Olé, Olé, Olé!
- Reimer has been super effective as of late, and his positioning has been vastly better than earlier in the season. He’s not playing as reactive and looks a lot more like Luongo in that he’s positioned where he should be well before a shot comes his way. He’s also gotten a lot of help from the guys around him, as rebounds are often cleared to the boards quickly and traffic in front is being moved around a lot more than earlier in the season.
- As soon as Matheson looks like he’s starting to generate confidence in his own zone, he has a first period like he had tonight, and you start to wonder if you should contribute to a GoFundMe for eye glasses. His outlet passes have been incredibly dangerous and have resulted in quite a few defensive zone turnovers. He’s gotten lucky in that they have not resulted in goals against, but he’s gotta start making the simple plays instead.
- Denis Malgin is slowly becoming a seriously yet sneakily effective player both in his own zone and beyond. He’s making a lot of little smart plays that are allowing Florida to attack with speed and maintain possession. His vision of the ice is starting to shine through, despite his diminutive frame.
- Florida’s fourth line has been a lot more effective on the scoresheet as of late, and it’s because they’re getting more neutral zone turnovers. The forecheck is important but they’ve been doing something else lately that’s contributed to their success: stealing the puck between the bluelines and getting pressure via controlled zone entries. Not what you’d expect but I’ll take it.
- Mackenzie Weegar looked really good tonight. After enough seasoning, I think he’s going to end up being a consistent bottom-four defender for the Panthers, assuming they retain him. Also, that move to get the backhand pass to Trocheck in the third... dirty.
- Montreal definitely looked gassed at times, and the Panthers really put on the heat, pressuring Price for long stretches of time in each period. The Habs counterattack was mostly one and done, so credit to Reimer and the defense for eliminating second chances for the most part.
- The Panthers managed to stay out of the penalty box entirely, which was huge considering the tight score. Montreal does not have a prolific powerplay, but the Panthers didn’t give them the chance either.
- Montreal really misses Shea Weber on the blueline. His defensive play is still solid, but where he really alters their lineup is with his blistering shot. The Habs don’t have another player at the point who can offer the kind of offense Weber has, and they’re hoping he can return soon. He’s shut down for at least a few more games until his foot injury heals up.
Hit up Eyes on the Prize to find out the scoop from the other side of the ice. Have a happy new year everyone!