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Recap: Panthers avoid trap, post 5-3 win over Coyotes to remain undefeated

Jumbo Joe gets first goal as a Cat in latest victory

Arizona Coyotes v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

Joe Thornton scored his goal of the season and Jonathan Huberdeau added a goal and an assists as the Florida Panthers posted its sixth straight win with a 5-3 victory over the winless Arizona Coyotes at FLA Live Arena.

Florida dominated the first period, out-shooting the visiting Coyotes 11-1, but Arizona took the lead late in the frame when Clayton Keller got loose for a breakaway and beat Spencer Knight at the 17:43 mark after reeling in a long outlet pass from Nick Schmaltz. Knight got a piece of the puck with his stick, but not enough to keep it out.

The Panthers bit back 1:58 later to knot the score with a power-play goal. After a Sam Reinhart faceoff win, Brandon Montour played catch with Owen Tippett before driving a shot on goal that Carter Hutton couldn’t handle with his glove. Reinhart pushed the loose puck over to Thornton, who deposited in the back of the net for his first marker in Cats gear.

With rookie Karel Vejmelka having taken over the Arizona net to start the second, Frank Vatrano put an end to this five-game goalless streak six minutes into the second when he pounced on the rebound of a sharp-angled shot from Montour. Patric Hornqvist collected the secondary assist on The Tank’s first of the season.

The Panthers power play would click again at 10:19 with Aaron Ekblad getting the goal. After Ekblad missed wide, Huberdeau collected the rebound and sent it back to the point and this time the defenseman dented the back of the twine with a shot that deflected off Jakob Chychrun and by a screened Vejmelka. Sam Bennett would be credited with the second assist on the play.

Bennett and Huberdeau would add second points 6:54 into the third when Tippett stripped Shayne Gostisbehere of the puck as he exited the Arizona zone, leading to a 2-on-0 break. Huberdeau skated in on Vejmelka before dishing it off to Bennett, who went right back to Huberdeau for the well-executed put-away. With five points in the last two games, Huberdeau now leads the team in scoring with 8 points.

Despite being completely outplayed for the most part, the Coyotes strung together goals from Liam O’Brien and Phil Kessel in a 34-second span in a late attempt to steal a point or two. O’Brien took a drop pass from Christian Fischer and fired a short-side shot into a small space over Knight’s shoulder, and Kessel was left all alone on the right side to finish off a rush with 7:29 left to go in the game.

Not to worry, the Cats put the leash firmly back on the Desert Dogs and Anthon Duclair iced it with empty-netter from MacKenzie Weegar and Aleksander Barkov with time running out.

Aside from the brief wobble midway through the third, the Panthers delivered a very effective performance in what was a classic trap game instead of playing down to their lowly opponent as we’ve seen many times in the past. Florida out-shot Arizona 41-21, went 2 for 3 on the power play and avoided potential trouble by giving the Coyotes only a single man-advantage opportunity. The Cats will face a much sterner test when they host the 3-1 Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

Kibbles & Bits

  • The Panthers became the 25th team in NHL history, and the first since the 2015-16 Montreal Canadiens, to win at least its first six games to start a season.
  • Joe Thornton (42 years, 115 days) became the second-oldest player, after Jaromir Jagr (45), in franchise history to light the lamp.
  • Spencer Knight finished with 18 saves to maintain his perfect (6-0) regular season record.
  • Arizona starter Carter Hutton stopped 10 of 11 shots before departing after the first period because of a lower-body injury. His replacement, Karej Vejmelka made 26 saves in relief.
  • Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett, Gustav Forsling and Patric Hornqvist each totaled four shots on goal with nary a goal between them. Barkov won 75% of the faceoffs he took.
  • Former Panther Anton Stralman, Ilya Lyubushkin and Johan Larsson picked up assists for the Coyotes.
  • For more on the latest battle between Cats and Dogs, visit Five For Howling.

Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)