After winning their season opener on Thursday, the Panthers were back on the ice Saturday night vs the New York Islanders. In their first meeting since the 2020 NHL bubble in Toronto, the Panthers left the ice victorious, winning by a score of 5-1.
The Islanders, led by Barry Trotz, are expected to be one of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division if not the entire Eastern Conference this season. The Islanders, like the Hurricanes, are one of those teams you don’t want to play from behind against. They’re sound on the defensive end, and have enough playmakers on offense to make it a tough day at the office for their opponents.
Luckily for the Panthers, today was not one of those days.
Panthers vs Islanders Recap
The Panthers struggled to get themselves going in the first period but did take a 1-0 lead into the locker room thanks to a Sam Bennett tap in off a Radko Gudas blast from the top of the zone.
In the second period, you could see that the Panthers were playing with more intensity. I’m sure they got an earful from Q during intermission, and it’s what they needed. Bennett continued his scoring with a beautiful wraparound goal to make it 2-0 (props to Owen Tippett for his work near the crease before the goal) and we can’t tell the story of the second period without talking about the Hail Duke.
This play doesn’t happen without the awareness and pass by Mackenzie Weegar, but man that finish by Duclair was filthy.
Once we got to the third period, it felt like the Panthers were going to coast to an easy victory as long as they kept themselves out of trouble. Outside of a power play goal by the Islanders, they were able to do just that.
Benny finished off the night by taking everyone in the arena’s hats with him, bagging his second career hat trick with a beautiful shot to make it 4-1 Panthers.
Of course, the Captain wanted to get in on the fun and net his first goal of the season, and first since his extension last week.
Was awesome to see Huby get his 500th NHL point, I had the privilege to be there when he scored his first NHL points, and I hope to be there once he scores his 1000th NHL point (hopefully still with the Panthers)
Lundell continues to impress early on, and shows why the team has so much faith in him. Getting huge penalty kill minutes and 4 v 4 time with the big guns will only help him gain confidence
Bob has been a whole different Bob so far this year, and that’s a great thing for the Panthers. 72 getting back to his Vezina roots elevates the floor of this team, especially the goalie room. With an improved Bob and a young star in Spencer Knight who will get better with every start, the Panthers are looking at having the top goalie tandem in the league.
Sam Reinhart learned what it’s like to play for Joel Quenneville tonight. After taking a delay of game penalty in the second period, he and Duclair swapped lines. Reinhart saw limited minutes on the fourth line for the rest of the game while Duclair was reunited with his line mates for most of last season. Reinhart should be back on the top line on Tuesday, but he learned he will be benched for poor performance on the ice.
Overall, a very solid game for the Cats. The Panthers weren’t forced to play from behind vs the Islanders which was part of the game plan. Next up for the Panthers, a quick trip across Alligator Alley for the first edition of the 2021-2022 Sunshine State Showdown vs the Lightning. If you have plans for Tuesday night, you better cancel them because this will be must see television.
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.
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.
Until then, however, we’ll have the preseason to tide our collective appetites over. The Panthers have announced the following games for the 2021 preseason:
September 26 – vs Nashville (split squad doubleheader) 2 P.M. and 6 P.M.
September 29 – at Dallas 8 P.M.
October 1 – vs Dallas 7 P.M.
October 5 – vs Tampa (game played at Amway Center in Orlando) 7 P.M.
October 7 – at Tampa 7 P.M.
October 9 – vs Tampa 6 P.M.
While the preseason certainly does not offer the same level of excitement as the regular season, it still offers appointment viewing for several reasons. Here are three things to look forward to in this upcoming preseason.
Spencer Knight in Net
Regardless of Sergei Bobrovsky’s presence on the roster, Spencer Knight will likely have a large role on this team. How much he plays will depend largely on his play in the preseason. Knight only has 6 total games of NHL experience under his belt. He impressed in those four games, but the true evaluation of Knight will come over a full season of work. Knight has yet to have a full camp and preseason with the team. That extra preparation should help him, but preseason will be Knight’s first true test to see if he can split games with Bobrovsky for a full season.
The battle for the final forward spot
With the top 6 forwards all but certain, the Panthers will be unlikely to play much of the veterans during the preseason. Some of the younger forwards, however, still have something to prove. Anton Lundell, Owen Tippett, Grigori Denisenko, and Aleksi Heponiemi all have expectations to be full time NHLers this season. The Panthers do not have available spots for all of them. In fact, only one spot can be guaranteed in the bottom 6 between the four of them. While it is possible for another to dethrone a roster mainstay from last year, (perhaps Vatrano or Marchment) at least one will certainly be left on the outside looking in. Preseason will largely dictate who gets in and who does not. A true battle unfolding between the four young forwards will undoubtedly be worth watching.
Matchup with Tampa
Three straight games against the defending cup champs — Doesn’t get better than that. The teams will certainly not be at full strength for the matchups, but games between the cross-state rivals always come with a little something extra. In case you haven’t gotten the memo yet: these teams do not like each other. The games will be chippy, scrappy, and charged with raw emotion. Regardless of the stakes, these teams want to beat each other by any means necessary. Beyond that, coaching decisions will be worth keeping an eye on. How each team uses its depth pieces and adjusts strategy on special teams will likely carry into the regular season and perhaps beyond. For hockey nerds and violence buffs alike, these games will be worth watching.