What a way to start the season! The Florida Panthers begun their 2021-22 cup campaign with an overtime win vs the Pittsburgh Penguins. After getting the first two goals of the night, the Panthers found themselves down by two with less than 10 minutes to go.
A couple quick goals from Aaron Ekblad saved the say, however. In overtime, Carter Verhaeghe sealed the deal with an overtime snipe. The team played far from perfect, so let’s take a look at some of the key takeaways from opening night.
Penalties, Penalties, Penalties
While it may have been opening night for the Panthers, the referees seemed to be in midseason form. FIFTEEN total penalties were called, with 9 against the Panthers and 6 against the Pens. Some could argue that such a high penalty count points to timid and elementary refereeing. I would argue this falls more on the teams themselves, specifically the Panthers. Truthfully, the team played without discipline at times, making bad situations worse.
For example, Mackenzie Weegar received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after arguing with a referee about a previous call. This forced the Panthers to play shorthanded for over five straight minutes. The Panthers must clean these up if they want a chance to succeed this year.
Special Teams not quite as advertised
Something else worth noting about the penalties is the overall poor special teams play from the Cats. The Panthers failed to capitalize on any of their six power play chances. More so, they failed to even generate much of anything during those opportunities. The Penguins on the other hand, looked extremely sharp, converting on two of their nine chances. According to MoneyPuck, the expected goals for the game were 7.6-4.16 favoring the Penguins. If you just look at the 5-on-5 play, the expected goals were 2.82-2.42 favoring the Panthers. The Cats won the 5-on-5 battle, but the special teams woes changed the narrative on this game.
Aaron Ekblad how we missed you
In his first game back since March 28, the mystery media members of the night awarded Aaron Ekblad the First Star of the Game. Deservedly so, as his heroics saved the Cats from an embarrassing opening night loss at home. After giving up four unanswered goals, all hope seemed lost for the Panthers. But Ekblad refused to go down. He first took advantage of a loose puck in front of the net following a dog pile to cut the lead in half and restore the team’s vitality.
Not three minutes of game time later, Ekblad buried another one, this time a beautiful backhand above goaltender Casey DeSmith’s right shoulder. The Panthers missed Ekblad’s presence on the blue line after he went down with injury, and having him back and looking better than ever will be huge for this Panthers team.
Vintage Sergei Bobrovsky
Giving up four goals on most nights would be considered a bad game. Last night was a clear exception, as netminder Sergei Bobrovsky looked stellar. As mentioned previously, the Penguins tallied an unimaginable 7.6 expected goals last night. Bobrovsky only let in four, meaning he saved 3.6 goals above expected. For context, Bobrovsky totaled -2 goals saved above expected all of last year.
The two-time Vezina winner had to deal with teammate deflections, overtime breakaways, and nine shorthanded segments, and yet still did enough for the Panthers to pull out the victory vs the Penguins. Much of this win falls on Bobrovsky’s shoulders, something we did not say often during his first two years in South Florida. Of course, it is only one game, but if this is the Sergei Bobrovsky we get for most of this year, this team goes from finalist to favorite.