After an uninspired loss against a divisional rival on Saturday, and a back-to-back game schedule staring them in the face, the script was written for the Florida Panthers to again come out flat against a very competitive Pittsburgh Penguins squad.
The Panthers took that script and shredded it instead.
Florida would score two in the first period and never look back, as they topped the Penguins 4-1 and slipped into a wild card spot. Chris Driedger got the start after playing the day before against the Buffalo Sabres in relief of Sergei Bobrovsky, and he was again superb for Florida, stopping 31 of 32 shots and making some great saves along the way.
Florida would open the scoring early as Frank Vatrano turned on the jets and beat veteran Kris Letang one on one. The Penguins would score shortly thereafter, but Brett Connolly would notch his 16th of the season to ensure the Cats would leave the first with a 2-1 lead.
After a scoreless second, the game was still close, until midway through the third when Mike Hoffman absolutely rifled a wrister over the glove of Tristan Jarry, giving the Panthers a 3-1 lead as the minutes wound down.
The Penguins would pull Jarry in the final minutes, but a blocked dump-in would send Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov off to the races, with Dadonov taking a sweet saucer from Huberdeau to pot an empty net goal and ice the Pens.
The story in this one was the play of Dreidger, who saved the Cats from some terrible defensive breakdowns throughout the game, including a handful of 2-on-1’s. Florida’s forwards were caught several times not properly covering for a defenseman, or trailing the play too late to pick up a man in coverage. If there’s one area the Panthers need to improve on immediately, it’s team defense, because game after game it’s about the only thing that’s consistent.
After a much-welcomed day off on Monday, the Cats are back at it Tuesday night as they host the streaking Arizona Coyotes at 7 PM. The ‘Yotes have won their last three games, and are just behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the top spot in the Pacific Division. The Coyotes also sport one of of the league’s best road records, so the Panthers once again have to come out focused and ready, without any mental lapses throughout.
In the meantime, head over to Pensburgh and try to remind them that the Steelers will be good again someday.
- Both Jayce Hawryluk and Denis Malgin made their returns to the lineup against Pittsburgh, this time on a newly revamped fourth line that included Colton Sceviour. Talk about ineffective. Malgin had two shots, Hawryluk none, and Sceviour two as well. The Panthers need more from the fourth line, and Malgin isn’t it. Hawryluk is a better forechecker, and the Panthers can better employ Brian Boyle over Malgin. Unless Dale Tallon is trying to showcase Malgin as a trade piece, he probably shouldn’t be in the lineup anymore.
- Aleksander Barkov hasn’t put up a point in the last four games, and has just seven shots in that stretch. He’s not driving the net as much lately and isn’t really generating a whole lot offensively either, something that’s a bit concerning. He’s not going to light it up every night, but he’s not driving play as heavily as he was before the new year. The Panthers need him to be better if they’re hoping to secure one of the top three spots in the division.
- Who scored the only Pittsburgh goal? Yep, Jared McCann. Since he was traded to the Penguins, he’s scored 21 goals in 71 games, and has 23 points in 39 games this season, eating up some big minutes while the Penguins have been shorthanded at center due to injury. The trade has worked out pretty well for him and I’m glad to see him having success.
- Driedger looked very confident and solid all game, making some big saves in the first to keep the game within reach, and standing tall after seeing minutes last game against Buffalo. With the way Bobrovsky has been playing this season, the Panthers really need a solid backup, and Driedger is getting the job done.
- Dominic Toninato slid into the fourth line role vacated by Dryden Hunt, and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s playing very solid defensively and has scored a few as well, and has pretty much cemented his spot in the bottom six. Quenneville has had him out at some key minutes late in games, so he’s definitely earning more trust as the games fly by. Good to see him take the job and run with it.