The Florida Panthers began an arduous journey Thursday night without their captain and on ice leader Aleksander Barkov for the next few weeks. Barkov injured his knee on Tuesday night after a collision with Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield.
Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette described Barkov’s status as “week-to-week.” In hockey coach speak, that translates to a reasonable timetable of about 4-6 weeks. Certainly not season ending, but the team will feel his absence. Over the course of the next month or so, the Panthers will need to prove they can still be a dominant team without Barkov.
Thursday night proved they can do just that. Playing a Devils team that gave them fits earlier this year, the Panthers played one of their best games of the season. The cats got off to a slow start defensively, but took complete control of the game after the first period. In the end, the Panthers cruised to a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Let’s dive into how the Panthers managed to make up for losing Barkov, and how they can repeat this going forward.
Sam Bennett as 1C
Without Barkov, Andrew Brunette opted to reunite the “9-1-1” line as the teams top forward group. For the uninitiated, the so called line consists of Sam Bennett centering Johnathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair. Last season, that line proved to be one of the most dominant in the NHL. The trio spoke on their chemistry after the game.
“We were pumped when we got back together.” Duclair said, “We found a little chemistry when Benny got traded here, and saw a bit of that tonight. We want to build off that.”
Tonight, the they recorded two goals together, one from Huberdeau and one from Duclair. The line will need to be the hub of the offense for as long as Barkov sits if the team wants to maintain their first place position.
Spencer Knight bounces back
The last we saw of Spencer Knight was against these very Devils. In what can be considered the low point of his career thus far, Knight let in seven goals in a rout on November 9th. Tonight, Knight flipped the script. He saved 45 of 46 shots, a performance any goalie would be proud of.
In his postgame interview, Knight reflected on his poor performance and against the Devils, saying “If things go well all the time, you’re not going to learn much.” Knight certainly seemed to learn a ton from his last poor performance. Without Barkov, Knight will need even more performances like these, as goals will likely be harder to come by. Both him and Bobrovsky will have less leeway over the next few weeks.
Fourth line flourishing
Most NHL fourth lines are considered “energy lines.” Mostly, these lines play good defense and light a fire under the rest of the team to generate some chances. Very rarely in the NHL do fourth lines consistently provide offense themselves. So far, the Panthers have been the exception. The fourth line of Eetu Luostarinen, Ryan Lomberg, and Patric Hornqvist have scored in three straight games.
For a group with such little ice time to be so productive has been a blessing for the team. Together, they have found a chemistry several top lines would envy. Head Coach Andrew Brunette said after the game, “”I think they’re doing the right things, they’ve got a nice combination.” Making up for Barkov’s lost production will be a group effort, and thus far the fourth line has done their part.
The Panthers next play at home against the Minnesota wild on Saturday at 6 PM. This will be a great test for the club, as the Wild are currently first in the central division. It will surely be must see TV.
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