The Florida Panthers are officially in a post All-Star break funk.
After a sloppy, but entertaining first forty minutes from both teams, the Vegas Golden Knights poured in four in the third period to blow out the Panthers by a 7-2 count in Florida’s first game at the BB&T Center since January 16.
Mark Stone notched the first two Vegas goals and added three assists to power his team’s offense which also got two goals from Max Pacioretty. Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore (shorthanded), Jonathan Marchessault (power play) scored in the final frame before Pacioretty’s second marker, which came against backup Sam Montembeault, completed the scoring after a Riley Stillman turnover.
Stone’s five points tied a career high (he did it twice in Ottawa) and set a new franchise record for the three-year old Golden Knights. He opened the scoring 2:15 into the game when he popped in his own rebound after Sergei Bobrovsky poke-checked Chandler Stephenson and then gave the Golden Knights a 2-1 lead in the second, making Mike Matheson look like an amateur before lifting the puck over Bobrovsky’s glove to finish off a Vegas rush. Matheson was benched during the third period.
Mike Hoffman countered Stone’s first goal with a power-play tally late in the first from Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberedeau. Hoffman finished off a pretty Trocheck pass that left him with an empty net to shoot into for his 20th of the season.
Trocheck would bag the other Panthers goal 11:52 into the second when he took a pass from Huberdeau in his own end and carried all the way down the ice before rounding the Vegas net and stuffing the puck between the post and Marc-Andre Fleuy’s stake.
The tie score lasted a mere 26 seconds before Stone spotted Pacioretty open in front of the Florida goal and he beat Bobrovsky, who made a fine initial save, with yet another rebound goal. This is an area that needs work as the Panthers have let the opposition quickly respond too many times this season.
Schmidt snapped a long shot through traffic to give the Golden Knights a two-goal lead 17 seconds into the third and then Theodore essentially ended it when he burst into the Panthers zone shorthanded while the Cats were in the midst of a line change and solved Bobrovsky with a wrister 3:54 later.
Former Panther Marchessault would sent Bob to the bench for Montembeault with 11:07 remaining when he hammered a one-timer home off a Stoner set-up with Dominic Toninato in the sin bin.
As mentioned above, the first two periods of the game were enjoyable to watch, but after Pacioretty put Vegas up 3-2, the Golden Knights started to pull away and then completely dominated the Cats in the third, out-shooting them by a 15-3 margin.
All of Florida’s warts were on display throughout the game. They couldn’t handle Vegas’ speed or effort, and we saw the mental mistakes, poor defensive zone coverage and questionable goaltending that are usually hallmarks of any Panthers loss.
The Cats wasted one of their two games in hand on Toronto, so a big bounce against Pittsburgh on Saturday night is needed to get the club going again. They have not been good since coming back from the ten-day break and having Aleksander Barkov and Brian Boyle out certainly hasn’t helped matters.
Florida still has a one-point lead on the Maple Leafs, who will host the Anaheim Ducks tonight at Scotiabank Arena.
Swords & Shields
- Sergei Bobrovsky’s recent run of good play came crashing to halt. Bobrovsky surrendered six goals on 29 shots before he was pulled. Sam Montembeault stopped 9 of the 10 shots he faced in relief.
- Sticking with the goalies, Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 23 of 25 shots including a second period save on Brett Connolly’s penalty shot attempt in the second period to post his 460th win. Fleury joined Roberto Luongo as the only NHL goalies with 20 saves on penalty shots since records began being tracked in 1934-35.
- Sticking with Connolly, that makes 11 games in a row without a goal and eight games in a row without a point. Connolly needs to break through soon as Florida’s offense is drying up before our eyes.
- Mike Hoffman became the fifth player to score at least 20 goals in each of his first two seasons with the Panthers. That makes six times in a row that the winger has hit the 20-goal mark.
- Chandler Stephenson and Paul Stastny each finished with two assists and another former Panther, Reilly Smith chipped in a helper as did Pacioretty, Theodore, Schmidt, Jon Merrill and Nick Holden.
- For more on Vegas’ third-ever win over Florida, visit our friends over at Knights On Ice.