One night after suffering its most disappointing loss of the season, the Florida Panthers rebounded with one of their better efforts of 2018-19, thumping the Minnesota Wild by a 6-2 count at the BB&T Center.
Instead of breaking down the goals and the flow of the game as I usually do, I am going to focus on some of the individual performances that made last night so fun to watch.
In a bit of a box score oddness, Florida scored six goals and all of that offense went through just six players and became the fourth team since 2000-01 with two defensemen with two or more goals in a game. For those that didn’t see the game, the Panthers also had two goals waved off.
Aleksander Barkov set a new franchise record with five assists and finished the game with a +5 rating. Since the All-Star break, Barkov has taken his offensive game to a new level, piling up 28 points in 20 games. If you factor in the last game before the break, he has 31 points in his last 21 games. Heady stuff when one projects that kind of torrid pace over an 82-game campaign. Maybe next season we’ll see the captain become the first 100-point Panther. Barkov almost had a goal, but the clock had just run out at the end of the second period and he would have had another helper had Aaron Eklbad’s beautiful backhander not been canceled out by an offsides call.
Samuel Montembeault made 25 stops to pick up his first NHL win in his second career start. Instead of hanging him out to dry like the last time around, Montembeault got spotted a 1-0 lead when Jonathan Huberdeau scored 1:01 in and ran with it. The 22-year-old made a few key stops and then Florida took the game over with a couple more goals later in the frame. It looks like the Cats are going to go with three goalies the rest of the way, so we should be seeing more of young Samuel.
In addition to his game-opening goal, Huberdeau tacked on three assists and set a new career-high with 72 points. Like Barkov, Huberdeau also finished the game with a monster +5 rating. Also like his centerman, Huberdeau has been dynamite since the All-Star break. His 20-game stat line since the calendar turned to February: 9 goals and 14 assists.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, MacKenzie Weegar scored some goals in the QMJHL and AHL. In 109 career NHL games, the defenseman had only found the back of the net three times. That all changed in the first period of last night’s tilt when he scored twice in a 1:40 span, his first multi-goal game, to put the Cats up by three. Yeah, his first was going wide and deflected in off Wild defender Ryan Suter, but the second one was a real nice blast with Barkov screening Devan Dubnyk, who didn’t return for the second period after allowing three goals on seven shots.
Speaking of big first periods, Evgenii Dadonov had a hand in all three Panthers goals, including the lone assist on Weegar’s second marker. It doesn’t look like Dadonov will match the 65 points he put up last season, but a second-straight 60-point campaign is now within reach. Bringing Dadonov back from the KHL has been one of Dale Tallon’s better moves.
As mentioned above, Weegar wasn’t the only Panthers defensemen to bag two goals. Mike Matheson also delivered a brace, the second of his young career. Matheson notched Florida’s fifth and sixth goals of the games, countering a J.T. Brown tally in the middle frame with deadly wrister and then he scored again on a wrap-a-round midway through to third to answer Marcus Foligno’s late second period marker. Matheson has had a real tough season, so it was nice to see him have a big night.
The Panthers got another power-play goal last night, a 5-on-3 conversion, and once again it was Mike Hoffman one-timing a Barkov feed into the cage. Hoffman, another nifty Tallon pickup, is up to 31 goals now.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)