Despite jumping out to a two-goal lead, Florida Panthers were soundly beaten 7-3 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, ending their five-game winning streak. Mike Hoffman picked up an assist to extend his point streak to 14 games, a new franchise record.
Coming in hot, the Panthers looked confident to start and took an early lead when Nick Bjugstad deflected Mike Matheson’s shot from point by Joonas Korpisalo just 1:44 into the action. Denis Malgin fed Matheson to pick up the second assist. Florida’s power play cashed in 5:01 later to give the Cats a quick two-goal lead. After playing catch with Matheson, Hoffman went cross ice to Aaron Ekblad and the defenseman went down to one knee to pump the puck past Korpisalo, scoring for the second game in a row. The Panthers finished the frame with a 13-7 lead in shots, but as the period wore on, you could see a disturbing sign or two, as Columbus ramped up its forecheck and the Florida defense started to turn the puck over.
The Cats started the period on a power play and disaster struck when Keith Yandle’s short pass for Evgenii Dadonov at the blue line was batted away by Alexander Wennberg. Wennberg headed down ice with Cam Atkinson on a 2-on-2 break. Instead of playing his man, Yandle drifted towards the puck carrier, leaving an opening for Wennberg to slide the puck to Atkinson, who put it home off Yandle’s stick blade just 28 seconds in. Had Yandle kept his position, a back-checking Jonathan Huberdeau would’ve have dealt with Wennberg or forced him into a low percentage shot. Bye, bye momentum. The Blue Jackets tied the game at the 3:46 mark, thanks to a little puck luck. After emerging with the puck after and offensive zone draw, Wennberg went to Zach Werenski at the point. Werenski’s shot was blocked by Vincent Trocheck, but the puck bounced to the front of the net, allowing Brandon Dubinsky to slap it home. Columbus forged ahead 2:30 after that when Anthony Duclair tracked down Atkinson’s nifty bank pass off the boards. Luongo came way out of the net to deny Duclair, only to have the rebound come right to a wide-open Pierre-Luc Dubois, who shot it into the vacated net. A really good shift by Florida’s fourth line, Juho Lammikko in particular, allowed the Panthers to settle things down and stop the bleeding. Yandle tied the game with a dipping wrist shot at 13:12 with the Cats on a power-play. The assists on Yandle’s fourth went to Trocheck and Huberdeau. The goal allowed the Panthers to get to the dressing room tied and gave them a chance to collect more points with a big third period.
Any notion of the Cats pulling this one out quickly evaporated when three Panthers went to puck carrier Zac Delpe, leaving Markus Hannikainen all alone to receive Delpe’s backhand poke and slam it by Luongo at 4:01. Duclair put the Jackets up by two when he tipped Dubois’ headman pass past Yandle and Alex Petrovic and raced in on Luongo before slipping the puck between the beleaguered goalie’s pads 4:48 later. Josh Anderson got behind the Florida defense 3:59 after that and finished after taking an outlet pass from Boone Jenner. Jenner completed the third period massacre with an empty-netter at 14:51 after the Panthers pulled Luongo early facing a three-goal deficit.
After a pretty effective first period, Atkinson’s shorthanded goal turned the tide and the Blue Jackets never really looked back. Yes, Korpisalo came up with a series of big saves and then Yandle got his power-play goal. That goal got the Cats back in game on the scoreboard, but not so much in reality as the wheels came off completely in third. A key moment that might get lost in the sea of subsequent Columbus goals, was Ekblad’s miss, on a pretty set up from an otherwise very quiet Aleksander Barkov, right after Florida tied the game. Unfortunately, we saw a lot of what got the Panthers off to a bad start this season. Poor decisions, poor positioning, poor defending and a lack of the big save when needed. Despite Columbus’ three-goal outburst in the second, the Cats went to third tied with an opportunity to get a win or at least a point and simply melted down. Florida’s October penchant for surrendering goals in bunches also reared its ugly head. I can’t fault Luongo too much, as a few of the goals came off broken plays that wide-open Blue Jackets were able to capitalize on, but easily his worst performance of the season. You wonder where Bob Boughner was with a timeout or a goalie change? Something to break the momentum. Oh well, probably wouldn’t made a differenceIf the Panthers were getting a little full of themselves, this game should rectify that. Expect a much better effort on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)