The Florida Panthers failed to keep pace with the Toronto Maple Leafs thanks to a disappointing 5-4 loss late last night to the lowly Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
Rookie Gabriel Vilardi scored 1:26 into his NHL debut on the first shot of the game to set the tone and drew an assist on Martin Ffk’s late second period goal that put the Kings up 4-3. Riley Stillman got a piece of Vilardi’s shot with his stick blade, causing the puck to rise and then dip between Sergei Bobrovsky’s pads, but this is definitely one Bob would want to have back.
With stops in Vegas and Arizona left on the five-game road trip, the Panthers really needed to come up with two points against a team that entered the tilt 23 points behind them in the standings and has been busy dealing away veteran players before the trade deadline.
Aleksander Barkov got loose twice and scored back-to-back goals 1:40 apart in the first period to give the Cats a 2-1 lead before Drew Doughty’s power-play one-timer tied the score later in the frame.
Jonathan Huberdeau drew a tripping call on Adrian Kempe and then notched his 22nd of the season from Evgenii Dadonov and Aaron Ekblad 3:19 into the second to give the Panthers its second lead of the game. In addition to his goal, Huberdeau had the primary assist on Florida’s other three goals.
Los Angeles dominated the rest of the period, out-shooting the Panthers 17-8, and solved Sergei Bobrovksy twice with the goals coming courtesy of recently acquired Trevor Moore, his second in Los Angeles garb, at 10:18 via deflection and the aforementioned Mr. Frk, who was left open in the slot, at 18:42.
Mike Hoffman notched Florida’s second power-play goal of the night 36 seconds into the third, knotting the score at fours with a nifty display of hand-eye coordination from the right circle, but Ben Hutton’s rebound goal with 7:15 remaining in regulation would prove to be the final dagger in a night full of cuts.
The winning goal came on the ensuing rush after Frank Vatrano’s centering pass to Barkov in front of the Kings cage just failed to click. Alex Iafallo spotted Hutton open down low and the defenseman was able to convert his second chance after Bobrovsky made the initial save.
Bobrovsky finished the game with 35 saves as the Panthers were out-shot by a 40-29 margin. The Kings also dominated in the faceoff department, winning 65% of the game’s draws.
One wonders if Coach Quenneville erred in rolling Bobrovsky out there for a third start in four days, especially after a busy 35-save effort in Anaheim the night before. This was a spot that seemed ripe for Sam Montembeault to get the call. Not that I am piling fault on Bobrovsky as the front of his net was left unprotected far too many times, but the Cats have played well in front of the backup this season and might have needed the fresher guy in there last night.
The loss, coupled with Toronto’s 4-0 win over Pittsburgh, dropped the Panthers two points behind the Maple Leafs (again) with Florida still holding a game in hand.
More bad news, Philadelphia and Columbus went to overtime so both teams gained points on the Panthers in the wild card race.
Not a good night for the Cats or for a fan base that is growing increasingly frustrated waiting for Dale Tallon to make a move to help plug its leaky defense.
Baubles & Bits
- Aleksander Barkov became the fourth Panther to reach the 20-goal plateau this season. Barkov has hit that mark five straight times now. He had a team-high six shots on goal.
- Jonathan Huberdeau’s four-point night put him back on pace to become the first Florida player to surpass 100 points. With 76 points in 61 games, Huberdeau is tracking to finish the year with a franchise-record 102 points.
- Anze Kopitar collected two assists for the fourth straight game, Kopitar’s streak of four straight games with multiple assists is the longest by a Kings player since Wayne Gretzky had four straight in early January 1996.
- The Panthers went 2-for-4 on the power play after going 0-for-19 in their previous seven games. Hopefully, a sign of things to come over the final 21 games.
- Gabriel Vilardi, who was the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft, scored the fastest rookie debut goal in franchise history. In addition to his two points, Vilardi finished with 2 shots and a +2 rating.
- Aaron Ekblad drew his second assist of the night on Mike Hoffman’s goal and Noel Acciari also had a helper for the Cats. Other Kings with assists were Kurtis MacDermid, Adrian Kempe, Drew Doughty and Blake Lizotte.
- For more on the game that split the season series, stop by Jewels From The Crown.