This time around, the effort was there for the Florida Panthers.
Thanks to Tristan Jarry and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the two points were not.
The return of a healthy Aleksander Barkov would not be enough as the Penguins topped the Panthers 3-2 in regulation. The Cats have now fallen out of the third spot in the Atlantic Division and sit two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The first period was not too kind to Florida, with some spirited play and solid defensive efforts being overshadowed by two ugly goals by Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Teddy Blueger. Sergei Bobrovsky had little to no chance on either goal, but thankfully Mike Hoffman pulled the Cats to within one with a laser beam of a wrister off an odd-man rush with under three minutes left in the period.
The Cats fared better in the second, trading goals with with the Penguins but controlling the possession game and generating quite a bit of chances throughout. Sidney Crosby scored on a Pittsburgh power play off a deflection in front of Bobrovksy, but an excellent individual effort by Vincent Trocheck allowed Brett Connolly to score his first goal in over a month. The Panthers would get some power-play time but couldn’t beat Jarry and nearly allowed a shortie to Brandon Tanev.
With a one-goal deficit, the Panthers faced a steep uphill battle to try and even things up against the Penguins, who can hold a lead with the best teams in the NHL. Despite a late push by the Cats with Bobrovsky pulled, they could not crack the score sheet in the third and tie the game.
While the outcome isn’t what the Panthers hoped for, they looked significantly better than they have the last few games, outworking the opponent and putting the kind of effort in required to win. Had it not been for some fortuitous bounces for Pittsburgh, the Cats could have easily walked away with two points. Alas, it was not to be, and the Panthers need to take the work ethic from this game and apply in Monday night, as they travel to Philadelphia to take on a Flyers club that is, well... absolutely flying right now.
If you are lacking some perspective, Pensburgh has the other side of the coin, and be sure to join us Monday evening for another classic edition of the LBC GameThread.
- Mackenzie Weegar returned to the lineup, played 16 minutes, and looked pretty comfortable in his return. If he’s back full time, the Panthers have a bit more flexibility with defensive personnel, and it would be nice to see him return to the top pairing with Aaron Ekblad as well.
- Vincent Trocheck just keeps looking better and better as the season rolls on. He’s being aggressive, physical, and fast and is generating offense again, something the second line needs to keep providing as they’ve cooled down quite a bit. His primary assist on Connolly’s goal was a great display of vision, and let’s hope that line is going to start putting up some major points moving forward.
- Pittsburgh does such an excellent job as a team of taking away time and space from the opposition, and they leave so little open in terms of passing lanes. When things do open up, their goaltending has been excellent. Their neutral zone play is among the tops in the NHL and it’s no wonder they’re having such success this season even in the face of some major injuries to their top guys. Credit should go to the coaching staff for making lemonade out of some lemons this year.
- Many want the Panthers to let Hoffman walk in the offseason, preferring the top line remain together by re-signing Evgenii Dadonov. However, there are absolutely arguments to keep Hoffman as there aren’t too many players on the Cats who are as automatic on a scoring chance as he is. He’s making the choice harder on GM Dale Tallon as we approach the trade deadline too, playing pretty solid two-way hockey and skating hard every shift.
- Florida’s power play was mostly ineffective all game, something that is concerning in tight games like this. The offense has been fairly quiet the last few games and the tight even strength play makes the power play opportunities that much more important, especially if the Cats make it into the postseason. Florida’s gotta figure out how to get a bit more consistency from the man advantage.
- I will be at the Panthers/Flyers game Monday night, right against the glass. Let’s hope I don’t run into Gritty in a dark alley afterward.