After a tough loss on Friday night in Pittsburgh against the Penguins, the Detroit Red Wings headed home and welcomed the well-rested Florida Panthers for the second of back to back games, likely tired from a very physical Penguins team and the travel back to Detroit.
The Panthers made sure to take advantage of that and picked up their tenth road win of the season,
Despite a very admirable effort from the Red Wings, the Panthers fought through en route to a 4-1 decision, earning them a big two points and vaulting them back up into the third spot in the Atlantic Division, ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lost 6-2 against Chicago earlier in the evening.
Sergei Bobrovsky would return to man the pipes for the Panthers and he looked solid all evening, finishing with 27 saves on 28 shots. The only goal against him was a full breakaway for Dylan Larkin, who had just exited the penalty box and was in alone on Bob. For not playing a game in the last nine days, Bobrovsky looked poised and comfortable in net, which was certainly comforting to see.
After Jimmy Howard held them at bay for most of the first period, the Cats would jump out to a 2-0 lead late in the frame thanks to a beautiful Jonathan Huberdeau breakaway feed, as he hit a streaking Evgenii Dadonov just inside the blue line. Dadonov would bury his 21st of the season, and about a minute and a half later Mark Pysyk would score his fourth of the year, giving the Panthers a cushion going into the second.
The Red Wings had some fight left in them, and controlled much of the shot totals and time of possession in the second period. Larkin would net his breakaway opportunity, putting Detroit within one, and the Red Wings applied a ton of pressure through the rest of the period, testing Bobrovsky regularly. The Cats netminder stood tall though and the third period would start with a one-goal game in Florida’s favor.
Up until the halfway mark of the third, it looked like the game could go either way, until captain Aleksander Barkov tipped a gorgeous, sneaky feed from Keith Yandle in to give the Cats another two-goal lead. Birthday boy Denis Malgin would ice the game with a late empty-netter, cementing the score and ensuring he would get at least one slice of cake at the after party.
The Panthers looked a little wobbly at times during the game, ceding a bit too much time and space to the Wings, and the passing just wasn’t crisp most of the game. Chalk it up to Detroit playing a very physical, hard nosed style, as it seemed they got into the heads of some of the Panther players most of the night, drawing a few uncharacteristic penalties in the process.
The Cats will look to make it five in a row as they continue their short road trip by heading to Minnesota to take on the Wild on Monday night. The Wild have been struggling as of late, going 4-5-1 in their last ten games and falling further out of the playoff picture in the West. The Panthers will need to be prepared as the Wild are still a club the Cats have traditionally struggled against when in Minnesota.
Look for the LBC Game Thread on Monday, and in the meantime tune into the rebuild chatter at Winging It in Motown. Remember how that feels?
- Defenseman Riley Stillman left the game in the third period after blocking a shot with his hand but came back shortly after. He had another excellent game, playing responsibly and getting involved offensively when it made sense. He’s been a pleasant surprise since being called up and looks like he might be staying for awhile.
- I don’t usually say much about refereeing, but most of the penalties called against the Panthers were... crap. There were some pretty weak calls against and although the Red Wings didn’t capitalize, Florida was lucky to survive some of the Detroit opportunities. At least the Cats had a half dozen power plays of their own.
- There are so many instances where you can see the influence of Joel Quenneville in the play of this team. Players immediately pushing the puck out of the zone, either high off the glass or carrying as far as possible and willing it out. Gone are the rampant blind feeds up the middle of the ice, or the constant drop passes that get constantly intercepted and turned over. The Panthers play their best hockey when they play simple and consistent, and let the talent shine through the rest of the time. They’re doing that now and here’s to hoping it continues.
- Aaron Ekblad had a great game, assisting on Pysyk’s fourth of the year and looking very calm and confident with and without the puck. He’s playing some really tough minutes this year and has been up to the task all season, and it’s exciting to watch him in the offensive zone, as he’s carrying the biscuit and making things happen when he is able.
- Brian Boyle was pretty noticeable all night, winning faceoffs and setting up some scoring chances a couple of times. He’s been a better choice for the nightly lineup than Denis Malgin, who also played against the Wings in place of Dominic Toninato, who missed the game due to injury.
- When playing physical teams like the Red Wings, the Cats need to learn to keep their composure. Vincent Trocheck’s interference call in the third period after leveling Filip Hronek at center ice was a selfish play that could’ve cost the Panthers as they only had a one-goal lead at that point. If the Cats make the playoffs this season, that kind of self-control will be paramount.
- Frank Vatrano has been playing some of his best hockey of the season. He’s scoring, he’s hitting, he’s skating hard, and he’s looking really confident with the puck. The Panthers need Vatrano to provide that key depth scoring and he’s finally starting to heat up.