Another trade deadline has come and gone, and with it another member of the so-called “core” of the Florida Panthers has exited the building. This time, Vincent Trocheck, a Panther since the day he was drafted, was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes as a way to hopefully light a fire under a club that has been drastically underachieving since the all-star break.
In the first game after the trade, that fire looked like more than just embers by the end.
A tight checking defensive effort from the Panthers gave them a much-needed 2-1 road victory over the Arizona Coyotes and kept the Cats two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, who topped the Tampa Bay Lighting 4-3 to nab two points of their own.
The Panthers came out with some early pressure in the first period, putting up a handful of decent chances against just back Darcy Kuemper, but couldn’t put anything by him. Arizona took advantage of some momentum from their goalie and started tilting the ice their way, testing Sergei Bobrovsky with some excellent chances including a couple odd-man rushes. Bobrovsky stood up to the pressure, until an ill-fated power play arose for the Panthers in which four Cats inexplicably allowed two Coyotes to score a shorthanded goal as Brad Richardson potted his sixth of the season.
After heading into the second down 1-0, Florida needed a spark, and although it took nearly twelve minutes it was eventually provided by Frank Vatrano, who ripped a shot over the shoulder of Kuemper as newcomer Erik Haula provided a screen in front. That tied things up and although the Coyotes outplayed the Panthers for the remainder of the period, Florida managed to hang on to a 1-1 score to start the third thanks to constant bailouts from Bobrovksy.
The final frame was full of chances for both clubs, but Florida would strike last for the deciding goal as Mike Hoffman made it 2-1 on the Panthers second power play of the evening. The Cats would manage to hold that lead the rest of the third, even with Kuemper pulled with around two minutes to go. Florida did a great job while down a man, keeping Arizona to the outside almost the entire time and keeping shooting lanes completely shut down.
The next game on the docket will be in Sunrise against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and boy if there’s a game the Panthers absolutely have to be ready for, it’s that game, as it will again be another pivotal contest in deciding that third spot in the Atlantic. Until then, Five for Howling has the opposition’s take on a hard-fought contest for the Coyotes.
- Bobrovsky deserves a ton of credit for the win, as his play saved Florida from a full complement of misplays, defensive breakdowns, and lack of effort at times. He saved the Cats bacon on more than one defensive zone giveaway and was absolutely instrumental in the team leaving Glenadale with two points. He’s lost them some games this year with his sub par play, so this was a little well-earned recompense.
- The shorthanded goal against in the first period was a microcosm of the entire season for the Pantherss. A misplay by their goalie, a lack of physicality behind the net to separate the puck from the opposition, a turnover, and then four separate players watching instead of doing something to get the puck back under their control. Whatever hair Joel Quenneville has left is not going to stay rooted in his scalp past the end of March.
- The third pairing of Mike Matheson and Keith Yandle... yuck. They repeatedly let the opposition get in behind them, and turned the puck over numerous times in their own zone. They made constant mistakes in the neutral zone when the forwards did not have full possession, something that ensured they were not ready for the inevitable oncoming rush from Arizona. They tried to do too much with the puck and were rarely aware without it. I’d rather see Dale Tallon and Chris Pronger suit up at this point.
- The Coyotes were moving their feet the entire game, with and without the puck, something the Panthers need to do more of. There was an instance in the first period where newcomers Haula and Lucas Wallmark both put the puck into open space on different plays, expecting a teammate to either be on their way there, or already be in that space, and found nothing but a Coyotes player. If that’s isn’t telling about the lack of movement I don’t know what else is.
- Riley Stillman is looking more and more like he isn’t going back to Springfield. He had some great physical plays to separate players from the puck, had a few good takeaways, and nearly scored his first NHL goal off a booming slap shot that rang off the pipe. As he gets more games under his belt he’s likely to improve more and more and gives the Panthers a solid bottom four guy for the foreseeable future.
- The Panthers just need more from their top line at even strength. Since the all-star break the duo of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau just haven’t carried the play they way they have most of this season, and without them the Florida Panthers are an incredibly pedestrian team offensively. I don’t know what it’ll take to get them really going again but as the leaders of the club, things are on their shoulders for the final 19 games left this season.