After two straight wins which included an exciting victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first big test of the season, the Florida Panthers were blown out on Saturday night. The issue isn't merely a loss, it is a continuation of a problematic trend that could seriously become a barrier in the way of the Panthers second best start in franchise history.
The Panthers 20 5-on-5 goals this season ranks 25th in the NHL. The 6-1 loss featured a lone even-strength goal coming off the stick of Frank Vatrano. The Cats struggles in even-strength is continuing to build up and is becoming an evident complication. While it may not have affected the result of the game, it is the principle that matters. They have to figure this out because it is worrisome and will catch up to them eventually.
The Panthers have had one of the best power-plays in the NHL to start the season. They have depended on the man advantage too much and it burned them tonight. Florida went 0 for 4 on the power-play.
“We could’ve scored there and we should’ve scored there. But obviously when one team kills a four-minute penalty, or even a two-minute penalty, it gives a big boost for a whole team. It changes momentum,” said Aleksander Barkov following the loss.
It was clear that the Panthers didn't deserve to win the game. According to the analytics site called MoneyPuck, their deserve to win o meter gave the Panthers a 32.5% deserve to win percentage.
Tuesday night’s game against the Lightning will test the Panthers ability to recover from adversity.
“We’ve been a great team at bouncing back from losses this year. I know it’s early, but I think we can do it next game. Expect a big push back from us,” MacKenzie Weegar said in the post-game media availability.
One of the elements of the schedule that has changed this season due to Covid-19 is that the divisions were realigned which inevitably leads to more games against divisional opponents.
“When we play a team 2-3 times in a row, things can get out of hand a little bit, But it’s good that we’re sticking up for our teammates and showing a lot of character. Standing up for one another is great. Love to see it,” said Weegar.
It isn't just the wear and tear of playing a team multiple games in a row against teams, but it is also a mental game too. These type of multi-game series’ against teams can create some friction and rivalries.
One thing about these situations that can be very beneficial for teams is that playing against the same team multiple games can help teams learn from their weaknesses against a specific team, learning how to adapt against a specific play style.
“We’ve got to be at our best to beat that team. Whether we get comfortable or not, give them credit. We approached the game, the right way, but didn't handle adversity in the middle of it... We’ll move on from this game and learn from it,” coach Joel Quenneville stated.
It will be interesting to see how the Panthers can rebound and learn from their mistakes in the ugly loss.
Blaming the defense and offense tonight is completely fair, but once again the Panthers were let down by goaltending plain and simple. It is not looking good for Sergei Bobrovsky who has had an awful start to the season.
The first goal of the game came minutes into the second period on the man advantage for the Lightning. Victor Hedman fed it over to Ondrej Palat who made no mistake and utilized a one-timer to fire the puck under Bobrovsky from the right circle.
Just a minute later, Alexander Wennberg had his shot blocked from the point which led to a breakaway for Mathieu Joseph who opened up Bobrovsky and slid it five hole to give Tampa Bay a two-goal lead.
With seven minutes remaining in the second period, Tyler Johnson fired one past Bobrovsky from the slot. It was a great individual play by Gemel Smith who made the play happen. His beautiful setup and Johnson’s finishing touch gave the Lightning the 3-0 lead.
Johnson wasn't done after his first. Jan Rutta shot one from the right circle and Johnson finished the rebound to give the Lightning a decisive four-goal lead.
The Panthers finally were able to get on the board courtesy of Frank Vatrano. Brett Connolly was going down the wing when he fed it to Vatrano, who shot it top corner for his second goal in the past two games.
The Lightning made it 5-1 after capitalizing on a bad defensive play by Weegar which led to a 2 on 0 breakaway. Smith tallied his second assist of the game when he passed it to Alexander Volkov who scored his first career NHL goal.
Barclay Goodrow added the sixth and final tally of the game with a nice breakaway goal.
Here are the 10 takeaways from from Saturday night’s loss against the Tampa Bay Lightning...
1. The Florida Panthers are now 8-2-2 with 18 points, and sit second in the Discover Central Division. They are still in a very good position with several teams below them having played more games.
2. The Panthers put on their Reverse Retro jerseys on tonight for the first time this season. They look fresh and are really nice. It obviously didn't bring good luck, but it would be a nice addition if they wore them more often.
3. The team held a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida three years ago. They will never be forgotten.
4. It was a physical and scrappy game. 36 penalty minutes in total - partly due to the Radko Gudas fight - and 61 hits, 36 of them coming from the Panthers. It is always interesting to see if these type of games boil over into the next ones.
5. Bobrovsky had a tough night plain and simple. Based on the quantity of shots, he saved 22 of 28 which is a .786 save percentage. Based on the quality of the shots he faced, he has allowed 3.37 goals more than he was expected to, which is one of the worst marks by any goaltender in a single game this season.
6. Anthony Duclair was removed from the NHL’s Covid-19 protocol list before the game and was able to play. He has actually been one of the better forwards on the Panthers this season despite still not scoring a goal.
7. Andrei Vasilevskiy was stellar on Saturday night. He made 33 saves and nearly got the shutout. He saved 1.68 more goals than he was expected to which helped lead the Lightning to a decisive win against the Panthers.
8. The Cats had the edge in Corsi, expected goals, and scoring chances but still were blown out due to the lack of finishing and poor goaltending.
9. The Panthers 3 stars of the game are Patric Hornqvist (1st star), Keith Yandle (2nd star) & Alexander Wennberg (3rd star).
Hornqvist had a strong game, he held an absolutely ridiculous 88.46 Corsi for percentage and a 87.97 expected goals for percentage, both of which ranked 1st on the Panthers. He also had the third highest game-score of the night among Panthers forwards ( game-score is a combination of analytics and points).
Yandle had a great game on Saturday night. He is off to a phenomenal start to the season and is playing at a level the Panthers haven't seen him play since his arrival several seasons ago. Yandle held a 70.59 Corsi for percentage and a 57.27 expected goals for percentage. He had the second highest game-score among Panther defensemen.
Wennberg was a very good offseason acquisition and has been a quality contributor so far this season. He had a 67.74 Corsi for percentage and a 55.67 expected goals for percentage. He had the fourth highest game-score among Panther forwards.
10. Looking ahead to Tuesday night’s game — The Panthers will need to fix their defensive mistakes and will have to figure out how to start scoring at even-strength. Driedger most certainly should get the start in net.
I hope you enjoyed the recap of last night’s game. It was fun to write up my first recap with Litter Box Cats, let me know in the comments if there is anything you did or didn't like!
(All Data and Information Via Evolving-Hockey, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Stat Cards & MoneyPuck — All quotes are courtesy of NHL.com)