After starting off a five-game western road trip with a win in San Jose, the Florida Panthers sat within striking distance of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lost their last game in spectacular fashion to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With another win, the Panthers could move back into the three hole in the Atlantic Division and bring a little bit more confidence back to a club that’s been slumping hard as of late.
After topping the Anaheim Ducks 4-1, the Panthers have planted themselves in that third place spot and hope they can hold it permanently.
The first period started slow as both teams traded a few scoring chances until Mike Hoffman scored a little over halfway through the period. However, Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins and his staff challenged the play as being offsides, and won the challenge, taking away what would have been Hoffman’s 23rd of the year. That challenge would take any wind right out of Florida’s sails and a few minutes later the Ducks would score as Max Jones picked up a now-trademarked Keith Yandle misplay and roofed it over Sergei Bobrovsky.
The Cats struggled through the remainder of the first, but thankfully Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov would get one final rush before the period expired, and made it count as Huberdeau fed Barkov to knot things up at one before the first intermission. Florida was fortunate to make out of the period tied.
The second period was mostly more of the same, except for a power play opportunity for the Panthers. As it’s been the previous six games, the Cats couldn’t convert on the man advantage, but did shortly thereafter when Vincent Trocheck smacked a puck out of the air as a Riley Stillman shot from the high slot banked off the glass behind the Anaheim net and right to him. His 10th of the season was then promptly followed up by the first NHL goal for Aleksi Saarela, who centered the third line in place of the traded Denis Malgin. Thanks to Bobrovsky, the Cats would hold that lead into the third.
The Panthers managed to lock things down in the third period as Bobrovsky and the defensive play of the entire club worked together to limit Anaheim from too many high danger chances. Mackenzie Weegar would ice the game with a late empty net goal after John Gibson was pulled, and the Cats would celebrate a big win t move to 2-0 on the road trip.
The road trip carries on as yet another back-to-back situation will force the Panthers to be ready for another game in as many days as they take on the Los Angeles Kings tonight. Join us for another GameThread and check out Anaheim Calling for some counter-quacks. Yep, that’s a duck pun.
- It would be really great to see Aleksander Barkov start to use some of his strength to work his way to the middle of the ice more in the offensive zone. Since the All-Star break, Barkov’s been mostly a perimeter player, giving up the puck as soon as he’s in the offensive zone. As the old adage goes, the best players want the puck on their stick as much as possible. With the skill he possesses, Barkov needs to want the puck even more, and keep it.
- The Panthers forwards are still way ahead of where they need to be in regards to supporting the defensemen inside their own zone. The breakouts are proving to be that much harder as the support isn’t there to make safe, short passes and the defense is forced to either dump it high off the glass or try stretch passes that are either missing or getting turned over. Something’s gotta change there.
- He’s not putting up a ton of points, but Frank Vatrano is playing the right way, skating hard, hitting hard, and shooting hard. He’s a bit snake-bitten as of late and not getting the bounces, but if he keeps playing the way he’s been, he’ll cash in soon enough.
- Congrats to Aleksi Saarela on his first NHL goal. He didn’t look out of place and certainly has more offensive upside than Malgin did, so this move seems to make sense for the Cats and has worked out well so far. Many thought Henrik Borgstrom would’ve been the player to come up but Saarela has been producing far better than Borgstrom with Springfield thus far.