On Saturday afternoon in New Jersey, the Devils defeated the Florida Panthers, 3-2, but it wasn’t really that close until late.
The Panthers lost this one, and it’s not part of their DNA to make excuses, so I will. That first goal should not have been allowed. It was clearly goaltender interference. The Devils got away with at least two uncalled goalie interference calls, Weegar was sent to the box for getting punched, basically, and Trocheck was penalized for playing the right way. It was a travesty that the Cats would have to play on slanted ice against the Devils and the officials, who I’m sure, by the way, will sleep soundly tonight.
The Florida Panthers entered this game with a 2-3-3 record, and have started to conjure up images of another wasted year. Both of their victories required extra hockey, and they also have lost games to the expected bottom teams in the barrel, the Detroit Red Wings, the Vancouver Canucks, and the New York Rangers. The saving grace for them is evidenced by their knack for one-goal games. In seven-of-eight to open the season, they have won or lost (mostly lost) by only one goal.
The Devils entered the game with a 4-2-1 record, although that record puts them solidly outside the playoff picture, they have games in hand on every team above them, as many as three in half of the cases.
Through the first seven minutes of the game, each team collected exactly one shot on goal. MacKenzie Weeger then put one on net, easily saved, and Miles Wood incurred a Delay of Game penalty by slapping the puck over the glass. The Panthers generated a few decent chances until 27 seconds remained in the power play, when Eric Gyrba was called for tripping to give the Cats a quick five-on-three opportunity.
The Panthers put a pair of shots on goal before the Wood penalty ended, then Wood came out and got in a scuffle with Nick Bjugstad. Both were awarded two-minute minor penalties, although Wood deserved more as an instigator.
The embattled Panthers power play went 0-for-3 in the first period, although at times it looked to be a much improved unit from earlier in the season.
With 9.4 seconds remaining in the period, Kyle Palmieri notched his eighth marker of the season. He also slightly bulldozed Panthers goaltender James Reimer on the play. His goal, and assists by Damon Severson and Nico Hischier were challenged by Panthers coach Bob Boughner citing goalie interference. It was called a good goal, but it was poor judgement from Toronto.
A familiar tune for the Panthers. They controlled play in the first with 12 shots to eight for the Devils, only to hit the locker room trailing.
A lot of the reason the Panthers were kept scoreless through the first period was the Devils defensive corps, who blocked 10 shots to only three for the Panthers. They also outhit the Cats, 10-to-8. Florida won 16-of-24 faceoffs, led by Vincent Trocheck who was undefeated in six tries. Maxim Mamin and Colton Sceviour led the Cats with two hits registered, although both trailed Blake Coleman’s four.
The crap-show continued in the second for the Panthers. It didn’t take the Devils very long to double their lead. Taylor Hall potted his second marker of the season, beating Reimer stick side when he poked the puck from about 10-feet out. He was fed by Kyle Palmieri and Hischier.
With seven minutes left in the period, Blake Coleman one-timed one past Reimer to make it 3-0 off Mirco Mueller and Travis Zajac. Aaron Ekblad responded immediately by tripping Hischier and giving the Devils a power play. Just a minute later, Brian Boyle took a cheap shot at MacKenzie Weeger, but both were sent to the box.
With 4:40 remaining in the period, Vincent Trocheck had a shorthanded breakaway chance. On the follow through, his stick smacked Miles Wood in the face, and he was called for a hi-sticking penalty, giving the Devils a 5-on-3 that they did not need or deserve. Generally speaking, the follow-through on a shot attempt is not considered a penalty if it hits someone. Panthers bias is a real thing.
Despite the lopsided score, the Panthers and Devils matched up a few key metrics in the second period. Both clubs won 16 faceoffs, with Trocheck leading the Panthers by winning 11-of-17 overall. Aleksander Barkov had taken 13-of-23. The Cats outhit the Devils, seven-to-five. The Devils again outplayed the Panthers in the defensive end, taking the blocked shots metric seven-to-three. Alex Petrovic had three of each.
The Panthers need to repair their second period struggles, but there is no fix in sight.
It’s been that kind of afternoon for the Panthers - Steve Goldstein, on FSFL.
With five minutes left in regulation, Mike Matheson drove deep into the zone and finally beat Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid. It was Matheson’s first marker of the season, assisted by Jonathan Huberdeau. The Panthers suitably woke up around this point, but it was really too late.
Boughner pulled Reimer with around two-and-a-half minutes remaining, then Mike Hoffman added his fifth goal of the season with 14 seconds left. Assists were earned on the play by Keith Yandle and Evgenii Dadonov.
Florida ended up getting 37 shots on goal, to 26 for New Jersey. Each team posted an 0-for-4 effort with the man-advantage, and Florida won 57 percent of faceoffs. The Panthers finished the game with 20 hits to 15 for New Jersey, but the Devils blocked 30 shots in total, to only eight for the Panthers.
Thanks for reading, and my condolences if you watched. It was 55 minutes of frustration followed by five minutes of excitement.
Next up for the Panthers, a “home-and-home” series in Helsinki, Finland, against the Winnipeg Jets.