Panthers special teams woes continue in 4-3 loss to Penguins

Cats cede three power play goals, score none of their own in loss

After putting a deflating defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers behind them, the Panthers hoped to change their fortunes as the Pittsburgh Penguins rolled into the BB&T Center on Friday evening. Despite a blistering start with two early goals in the first period, the Panthers couldn’t hold on and dropped two points to the reigning champs with a final score of 4-3.

The Panthers were outshot but not outplayed at even strength, but special teams were the difference in this one. Pittsburgh put up three power play goals thanks to some bad penalties by Florida, including the game winner by Connor Sheary late in the third period. Meanwhile, the Panthers went 0/2 on the man advantage, and 25% on the PK. Not good stuff from the PP and PK units, who will have to drastically improve to give the Cats any chance at staying competitive in close games like this.

Jamie McGinn opened the scoring for both teams early in the first period, popping home a bouncing puck to the right of Matt Murray just 4:15 into the game. It’s McGinn’s second of the year and continues his trend of crashing the crease for opportunities, something everyone hopes will continue.

Less than two minutes later, Sasha Barkov put home a beautiful wrister from just above the redline off a sweet no-look feed from Keith Yandle, scoring his first of the year. You’d think that by game six, the top pivot for the Panthers would have had one already, but it’s certainly not for lack of trying. He’s played well this season and was finally rewarded, and that is likely the first of many more.

Evgeni Malkin would be the first to strike for the Penguins, at 2:14 in the second period, netting his third of the season while completely alone next to Roberto Luongo on the man advantage. With time and space, any NHL player can make you pay, but with guys like Malkin and Crosby on the ice, you have to be even more aware, and the Panthers seemingly forget that at times.

The depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins can always burn you, and forward Carter Rowney notched his first of the season immediately after Malkin scored, destroying the first period lead the Panthers had built up in the blink of an eye. Not much to say on this one, other than the Cats seemed a bit tentative and sloppy after the Malkin PP goal.

It wouldn’t be a Panthers/Penguins recap without some kind of highlight of Sidney Crosby, and of course this one came on the power play at 11:12 in the second. Similar to Malkin being left alone, Crosby was allowed to stand mostly unmolested in front of Luongo on the power play and tip a pass from Malkin in to give the Penguins the lead.

Mackenzie Weegar got to play his first game of the season, and he made his presence felt with a blast to tie things up at three, coming at 9:19 in the third period. Weegar would see a pretty good dose of ice time in his first game, and he was rewarded with a golden opportunity on this goal, which he did not pass up.

Alas, the Panthers would again play on the PK as Radim Vrbata was called for tripping on Malkin. Connor Sheary would make them pay on the rush, scoring the game winner with less than three minutes left in the third. Florida would then put some solid pressure on Pittsburgh after pulling Reimer, but was unable to tie the game up late despite peppering Murray in the final minute.

Armchair Observations

  • Mackenzie Weegar made his debut this season, paired up with Mark Pysyk on the blueline, and scored the game-tying goal in the third. He had a bad turnover for the second Penguins goal behind his own net, but otherwise didn’t look too out of place. He certainly had some nerves visible but he should get more looks this season. Between Weegar and Ian McCoshen, the latter has looked better so far, but both need more games to prove themselves.
  • This is two straight games agains the Pens where the Panthers mostly ignore their coverage zones down low. The first Penguins goal was a powerplay goal by Malkin who was completely uncovered behind Ekblad, and Crosby had a similar goal in the second period where Matheson had his stick, but neglected to play the body to disrupt the tip-in. Coach Bob Boughner needs to figure out how to get the defensive players to remember the whole zone concept, because that’s a huge reason why the PK has been so bad so far this season. That, and not putting people on their backsides when they get within five feet of their netminders.
  • Luongo looked good when he wasn’t hung out to dry on the PK. So far in this young season, he’s been the better of the the Florida netminders. He suffered a blocker hand injury in the third period and ceded the net to James Reimer; let’s hope Lou is OK.
  • The Cats power play still looks pretty disjointed. The zone entry is similar to an even-strength rush, but once they’re in it’s almost always one or two shots and then a clear. There needs to be a more concerted effort to gain entry with the puck and spread out enough to ensure sustainable possession to generate higher-quality chances. The drop-pass entry isn’t really working too well either.
  • I don’t know if he’s pissed or hungry or what, but Greg McKegg has look like a man possessed in both games against Florida this season. He was a solid fourth-line pivot for the Panthers but with the revolving door in upper management/coaching in Sunrise, he just couldn’t stick. It’s good to see him doing well in Pittsburgh.
  • After a fantastic debut against the Flyers in a losing effort, Owen Tippett was very quiet against Pittsburgh. He’s still just 18 and learning, so consistency is going to be something fans should not expect just yet. He did shoot nearly every time he had the chance, so at the very least that trend should continue.
  • It’s been awhile since I’ve done a postgame recap, feels good to be back. Cheers to Todd for giving me a chance to cover for him once in awhile and give the old veteran a break!
  • Slowly mope your way over to Pensburgh to enjoy some Steel City perspective, and say hi while you’re there./