The Panthers continue to impress, this time vs in-state rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the most recent hockey battle of Florida, the Panthers pulled off one of their most decisive wins against the defending Stanley Cup champs. They improve to 3-0-0 after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1.
Although Tampa was without Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning played a strong team game in both the offensive and defensive zones. They gave the Panthers all they could handle, but the Panthers still prevailed.
While it is only game three of the season, this game could mark a passing of the torch for the best team in Florida. The Lightning have dominated that matchup for the better part of last decade. If this most recent game is any indication, however, the next decade could be very different.
Panthers vs Lightning Game Recap
In the first period, both teams failed to put a puck in the back of the net. Through a combination of good defense and stellar goaltending, the teams went into the first intermission tied at 0.
In the second period, Brandon Montour broke the ice. As a Panthers power play winded down, Anton Lundell won a faceoff. He threw the puck back to Sam Reinhart who tossed it cross ice to Brandon Montour. Montour, wide open on the right side of the ice, capitalized with a beautiful wrister to beat Andrei Vasilevsky glove side. It was the first goal of the season for Montour and the first points for Lundell and Reinhart.
Early in the third period, Brayden Point evened the game for the Lightning. Not even one minute later, the Captain answered. Barkov and his line generated a lot of activity in front of the net, and Barkov tipped it in.
Later in the third, the kid had his moment. A beautiful transition two man game was only outshined by Lundell’s beautiful snipe. His first career goal game on a pass from newcomer Sam Reinhart, and put the Panthers up by two.
Anthony Duclair put in an empty net a few minutes after, extending his goal streak and icing the game for the Panthers vs the Lightning.
While Penalties are still a problem, Penalty killing is not. The Panthers took 6 penalties and killed off every single one, including an extended 5 on 3. Anton Lundell specifically has shined on the penalty kill.
The power play still needs work. The Cats failed to score on the man advantage yet again. To remedy this, Coach Q swapped Reinhart for Hornqvist on the top line. This changed seemed to help a bit, but has not bore fruit yet.
Goalie Spencer Knight continues to live up to the hype. He made 30 saves on 31 shots. That type of performance against this caliber of team at 20 years old is borderline unheard of.
Rookie Anton Lundell had his best game of his career thus far. Besides the goal and assist. He led the team with over 4 minutes of penalty kill time. He is starting to look like a future all star.
Sam Reinhart seems to have good chemistry with Lundell on that third line. Undoubtedly a fair bit of talent to keep on a third line, but if it aint broke…
After a shaky first two games, Radko Gudas had some shutdown penalty kill minutes. They will need more of that from him going forward.
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.
The preseason is over, the final cuts have been made, and the regular season awaits us. The Florida Panthers finally kick off their most anticipated season in franchise history. Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the FLA Live Arena.
On paper, this is the deepest Panthers team I’ve ever seen. Guys who were regulars in the lineup last season will see their ice time reduced. Via off-season acquisitions and the rise of several of the Young Cats.
Patric Hornqvist, started last season on the second line and was a lock for PP1 minutes. He is now looking at a bottom six role and a role on the PP2 unit. Anthony Duclair floated between the top two lines last season, earned a contract extension in the offseason. He is projected to be a third line winger just because that’s how good this team is.
So much credit has to be given to the front office for getting the team to this point. Bill Zito and Co turned this team around from pretenders to contenders in a little over a calendar year.
But at the end of the day, roster moves do not determine who wins the Stanley Cup. The games have to be played. I know the boys are up for the challenge, and while minor I think the team’s new social media hashtag describes the energy in the locker room, it’s #TimeToHunt
This is a team that’s hungry. A team that knew they were good enough to win last year. They were just a bit unlucky with injuries and having to face the Lightning in the first round. This isn’t a group of individuals who are going to make excuses though.
It’s a team who would rather go out on the ice and show just how good they are. It’s a team filled with highly motivated players who all want to win and win together HERE. Aleksander Barkov’s comments at his extension press conference highlight this belief.
Opening Night Roster
As I mentioned before, this is the deepest Florida Panthers team we’ve ever had. The team has changed a bit since we recorded our season preview episode a few weeks ago though.
Noel Acciari received shoulder surgery and is expected to be out for a few months, while 7th Defenseman Kevin Connauton is currently on the IR with the expectation that he joins the team sooner rather than later.
On top of that, the team made a trade with the Vancouver Canucks for Olli Juolevi. Juolevi was the fifth overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft and has had an underwhelming start to his NHL career. The Panthers acquired him for Juho Lammiko and Noah Juulsen and the team hopes a change of scenery can help revive his career. We saw this work out for the Panthers last season with the acquisition of Sam Bennett, and it will be interesting to see how Juolevi plays with an opportunity to impress Joel Quenneville early.
The initial list is not surprising at all. Prospects Grigori Denisenko and Aleksi Heponiemi were cut early in camp, showing that they still have a ways to go in their development. This is a good thing for the Panthers, as they can get a full season of AHL hockey under their belts before being expected to become significant contributors for the team in the 2022-2023 season.
Of all the names on the list, all eyes will be on Anton Lundell. Lundell has been described as “Barkov Jr.” by fans and beat reporters since he was drafted, and we’ll get to see him start in the big leagues. How he plays will be a major area of focus when it comes to the personnel moves made by the team, as they may be forced to move lines around or acquire another center if he isn’t ready.
RIP the Matt Kiersted 7D hype train. Like the forwards list, the defensemen come with zero surprises as well. The team made clear who their six defenders were by their offseason moves, and Juolevi is a shot in the dark until Kevin Connauton returns.
If the Panthers are to make a big move in season, I think it’ll be to shore up their bottom four defensemen. We already know Mackenzie Weegar, Aaron Ekblad, and Gustav Forsling are locked in on defense. Radko Gudas plays the enforcer role, leaving Brandon Montour and Markus Nutivaara. Their play early in the season will tell Zito and Quenneville whether or not a personnel change is needed, and the front office has shown they’re willing to make moves.
With Chris Gibson heading to Charlotte, the Panthers begin the season with Sergei Bobrovsky as their starter. Rookie phenom Spencer Knight as his backup. The word all offseason has been a goalie by committee approach, similar to last season, with Bob getting the bulk of the starts. However, I believe Bob will have a shorter leash than he used to. Knight’s development and play last season has accelerated the timetable for him to become the #1. As he went from winning the World Juniors with Team USA, playing at Boston College, to starting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs within a calendar year.
If Bob can figure it out in Year 3 here, that’s a good thing for the Panthers. The goalie by committee approach worked last season and if the former Vezina winner can get back to that level. The Panthers can ease Spencer Knight into becoming a full-time starter. This will be his first full season in the league.
Opening Night Line Predictions
Take these with a grain of salt, as Q loves to throw his lines in a blender throughout games and change things up.
*Original predictions from a few weeks ago have been scratched out and replaced with those now occupying their spots*
(also shoutout the voice of the Florida Panthers Steve Goldstein for taking the guessing work out of it)
Anthony Duclair Patric Hornqvist
Noel Acciari Joe Thornton
Joe Thornton Eetu Luostarinen
Patric Hornqvist Anthony Duclair
Defensive Pairing 1
Defensive Pairing 2
Defensive Pairing 3
When the team is fully healthy, I expect the guys with their names crossed out to return to their spots.
Line 1- Verhaeghe, Barkov, Reinhart
By the end of the season, this might be the best top line in the league. I wrote earlier this offseason that the team needed another Top 6 forward, and Reinhart is exactly that. Not only that, but Reinhart offers roster flexibility with experience playing at Center. He can help the team should Lundell or Bennett miss any significant time. If that were to happen, Anthony Duclair can be elevated to the top line and we’ve seen what 23-16-10 can do together. Reinhart’s skills should mesh with Verhaeghe and Barkov nicely, and I’m excited to see what they can do throughout the year.
Line 2- Huberdeau, Bennett, Tippett
Huberdeau and Bennett are locked into this line, but it’s the RW position where the debate begins. After finding his footing last year and having a strong preseason camp, I believe 74 has earned the right to start on the 2nd line. The chemistry they showed together in the postseason brought out the best in Owen Tippett, and the franchise needs to find out whether it was a fluke or the real deal. If it doesn’t work, Anthony Duclair is still there for the return of the 9-1-1 line (although it’ll need a new name with Duclair now wearing 10)
Line 3- Vatrano, Lundell, Hornqvist // Vatrano, Lundell, Duclair
I’ll break this into two parts, one to talk about early in the season and the other about the playoff push. Vatrano, Lundell, and Hornqvist isn’t a sexy line but I think it can work. You have a proven goal scorer in Vatrano with a guy who has made a career out of parking himself in front of the net in Hornqvist. Those pieces can complement Lundell’s style of play and help him settle into the NHL. I think the Duclair/Hornqvist swap was made to add some speed to the fourth line, and should swap once Acciari comes back.
If we get to see Vatrano, Lundell, Duclair later in the season watch out. We saw how well Duke played with Barkov last season, so we can expect similar results playing alongside Barkov Jr. With Vatrano playing for a contract (and most likely his last as a Panther) he’ll be even more inclined to produce and potentially be an attractive trade chip for the team as the deadline nears.
Line 4- Thornton, Luostarinen, Duclair // Acciari, Thornton, Hornqvist
With the team shipping away Lammiko, we found out Luostarinen is the team’s preferred 4th line center. I’m interested to see how much Thornton plays this season, as Ryan Lomberg and Mason Marchment are younger and can handle the wear and tear of an 82 game season. I’d expect Hornqvist to get similar treatment too, as he and Thornton are going to be more beneficial to the team once the playoffs roll around.
Once Acciari gets back, we’ll have a true grit line. Especially if guys like Lomberg and Marchment get regular playing time. Acciari, Thornton, and Hornqvist are capable of setting the tone and will be a tough line for opposing teams to play against. They’re capable of making teams frustrated and have enough offensive power to make a play when the game is on the line. Thornton came to South Florida to chase a cup, so we know he’ll be hungry and give his all.
Power Play Units
The first Power Play unit is already out there, and it’s lethal. Barkov, Huberdeau, Reinhart, Bennett, and the return of Aaron Ekblad. Like the top line, the power play has a chance to finish on top of the league. Tampa’s power play gave them the edge in the playoffs last season, and the Panthers upgrades should level the playing field.
The second Power Play isn’t set yet, but it’s going to include players like Verhaeghe, Tippett, Duclair, Hornqvist, Montour, or Weegar. That’s an upgrade from last season and should create some good scoring chances if the first unit isn’t able to get it done (which I suspect will not be often)
Penalty Kill Units
Off all units affected by the roster changes, the Penalty Kill took the biggest hit. Alex Wennberg is no longer here and Acciari is out for a portion of the season. I’m not saying that there will be a significant decline in the PK %, just simply stating that the personnel is going to change and we don’t know how effective it will be. Will be interesting to watch how Q and his coaching staff handle the personnel decisions here as the season goes on.
Barkov leading goalscorer
Huberdeau points leader
Owen Tippett breakout season
Knight takes over as the 1 before the Olympic Break
Everyone in the Top 6 finishes with 20+ goals
Panthers win the Atlantic
As I sit here today writing this, I can see this Florida Panthers team winning it all, which has never been a thought I’ve had as a Panthers fan going into a season. The teams bond is so strong, and that’s accredited to the culture change that’s taken place inside the building since Q arrived. They’re highly motivated to win together, and they’ll play harder than most teams across the league.
While this is just year one of the team’s newly formed Cup Window, I think this may be their best shot. The Cats kept their core together, had the best offseason of any team in the NHL, and have the prospect pool and roster flexibility to be buyers at the deadline. On top of that, this is probably Joe Thornton’s last year in the league, and he chose to chase a cup here.
Personally, I’d just love to see us win one playoff series, but the expectations are higher than that. This is a team that can make and win the conference finals, and this is a team that can win the Stanley Cup.
We’ll have to see how the team navigates through the season and the moves they make at the deadline, but it’s going to be a special few years in Sunrise.
Panthers fans, you can exhale now. The team announced this afternoon the signing of the franchise cornerstone through the 2030 NHL season. For the next decade, Aleksander Barkov will be a Florida Panther.
The deal comes in at an even 10 million dollars annually. That makes Barkov tied for the 11th highest paid player in the NHL, pricing him in a similar range to players such as Jack Eichel, Anze Kopitar, and Tyler Seguin.
Undeniably, this number pays him like the franchise player he is, but Barkov almost certainly would have earned more on the open market. Barkov made his intentions to stay in South Florida clear, and reiterated those statements as a press conference today.
“I really love every second here, my whole career.” Barkov said, “Never thought about anything else but being here and playing here and trying to win a Stanley Cup here.” He continued to say, “I feel like I have two homes now, South Florida and Finland,”
General Manager Bill Zito expressed similar enthusiasm about signing Barkov, calling today “an exciting day for the Panthers”
Indeed, Barkov is the type of talent to singlehandedly grow a sport. For many years, hockey and South Florida were thought to be incompatible. Barkov is a huge reason that has changed. “The whole hockey community in South Florida is growing. I see it every day.”
Barkov may not admit it, but he is the catalyst for that growth. The talent he possesses brought the Panthers out of the dregs of the league and has made them into a true cup contender. He means as much to this franchise as anybody.
Keeping Aleksander Barkov in a Panthers uniform had to have been priority number one for Zito and his team. As the season rapidly approaches, both sides must feel a huge weight lifted off their shoulders. Overall, this extension is a true win-win: the Panthers keep their superstar, and Barkov gets paid like one.
If you were in the Amway Center Tuesday night, you were in for a treat. For the first time this season, the Cats and the Bolts shared the ice and it was absolutely electric. I’ve never been a big preseason hockey fan, but the first edition of the Sunshine State Showdown has me looking forward to Thursday’s encore and Saturday’s grand finale of the Panthers vs Lightning series.
1. This was just a preview of what’s to come
There really is no other way to say it; we hate them, and they hate us. There’s always been beef in the Panthers vs Lightning series, but the playoff series in May only amplified that. I mean look at the penalty minutes accumulated in the THIRD PERIOD OF A PRESEASON GAME.
Shoutout Bryan for bringing it up, but the Panthers-Lightning battles may just be the best rivalry in hockey right now. The battles are only going to get more intense as the season goes on, and if we see them in the playoffs, you better hold onto your butts. Maybe we see the modern day version of the iconic Sabres Senators brawl, but that will have to wait for now.
2. Owen Tippett is a Top 6 Forward
Henrik Borgstrom walked so Owen Tippett could fly. Tippett has continued to build off his strong finish to last season by adding two goals against Vasilevskiy on Tuesday.
Tippett showed flashes last season alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Sam Bennett, and I think a full season alongside them can lead to some magic from 74. We’ll see the 9-1-1 line (Huby, Bennett, Duclair) reunite at some point in the season, but right now you have to let Tippett play on the second line and evaluate him from there. On top of that, Duclair offers more stability alongside Anton Lundell than Tippett does, which is important in building confidence of the young Fin.
If all goes well, Tippett will become the most impactful first round draft pick (as a skater, Knight will earn this overall title soon) for the Cats since the arrival of Aaron Ekblad in 2014.
3. Noel Acciari’s Injury
Unfortunately a consequence of the intensity of Tuesday’s game. Acciari left the game early with a shoulder injury, and the Twitter Doctors believe it to be severe.
If Acciari is to miss 5+ months, what the team does from there will be interesting. Acciari projected to play on the fourth line and was going to figure into the teams penalty kill rotation, so his absence will have to be dealt with. Does Joe Thornton center the fourth line or do they look at giving Eetu Luostarinen the opportunity instead?
4. Knight’s Watch is Coming
With Sergei Bobrovsky being unable to play last night (Big congrats to him and his wife on the birth of their child!) it was Spencer Knight’s time to shine.
Knight continues to show that he’s ready for an increased role with the team this season, bringing a sense of calmness in between the pipes along with his elite puck tracking ability. While Bob is expected to be the main guy this season, I feel that his leash is shorter than ever. The franchise used a high draft pick on Knight (otherwise we could be sitting here talking about Panthers legend Cole Caufield) and his rapid development may force Q to make a change earlier than they expected to.
Overall, the team showed they’re ready for the regular season to start and so am I. Looking forward to being in the FLA Live Arena next week when the Cats kick off the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins.