By Matt Ross
The Panthers are now one game above .500 (25-24-8) after beating two good Canadian teams in their last two outings – first against Calgary and then against Montreal last night.
Both games were exciting, but I thought it would fun to take a look at last night’s 6-3 win over Montreal.
As they did in the game against the Flames, the Panthers came in last night playing the simplified game that coach Boughner called for after their loss to Dallas a few nights back. This wasn’t any sort of coaching revelation; a lot of it is hockey 101 and what a number of successful teams already do, but it’s nice to see the Panthers working at executing the plan of getting bodies and pucks to the net, as well as being strong on the forecheck and throwing their weight around more. You know…getting “heavy” in all aspects of the game.
There’s been a noticeable effort to get traffic in front and it’s paid off. We’re now seeing Panthers stopping in front of the goalmouth instead of doing a flyby and it feels like shots (of all kind) have increased. There’s a lot of truth to the saying that anything can happen if you get pucks to the net. A good example of that is Vatrano’s first period goal against last night. One of the reasons you have a Frank Vatrano in the lineup (aside from skill) is that he has a “shoot first” mentality with the ability to finish. His shot was easily going four feet wide, but happened to redirect off the stick of Candiens’ defensemen Shea Weber and find the back of the net. That goal doesn’t happen if the mentality is to look for the cute pass and not shovel anything/everything on.
The game as a whole was a lot of fun to watch. If you were to look at the score, you would assume that the Panthers dominated – and they certainly did at times, but then would let Montreal back in. It’s the nature of the Jekyll and Hyde identity this team is working on correcting.
The first period pretty much belonged to Florida as they took advantage of a shaky Annti Nemi, scoring on the PP (Barkov) and then again on a knuckler about 40-feet out (Malgin). But it wasn’t long before Montreal cut the lead in half with a goal from Max Domi to make it 2-1. The above-mentioned Vatrano would net the third goal of the period for the Panthers, but Brendan Gallagher would score cut the lead in half (again) for the Candiens to end the period at 3-2.
There’s no doubt about it that Montreal’s decision to start Carey Price in the second was a good one. His presence seemed to help settle the visitors down and it was a much tighter game with the shots favoring Florida 14 to Montreal’s 10. But Montreal would strike first as Domi scored his second to make it 3-3. It was then Barkov’s turn to net his second of the night on a complete face-melter with some between-the-legs-to-topshelf-magic that would put the Cats up 4-3. It will no doubt be a contender for goal of the year. Unreal.
The third period was all Florida, as they not only outshot Montreal 12 to 3, but they would score two more times – one from Barkov, to complete his second career hat trick, and the other by Riley Sheahan (his first as a Panther) on an empty net.
While it’s always great to get in the win column, there are areas to this Panthers game that need improvement.
One of the big ones? Turnovers.
Montreal’s first goal came from Domi forcing a turnover in the neutral zone after pick-pocketing Hoffman. There was also a play in the first period where Pysyk was taking the puck around the Panthers net and did a drop pass, thinking there was a Florida player there, but instead, it was Andrew Shaw who picked it up and drove in hard on Reimer for a prime scoring opportunity. Montreal’s third goal (Domi again) developed from another neutral zone turnover and that’s just naming a few costly ones.
The Panthers overall game could really benefit from working on being stronger in the neutral zone and not so soft/quick to turn the puck over and allow high caliber scoring opportunities as a result.
Puck drop tomorrow at 7PM against a Buffalo Sabres team who has kind of come back to Earth since their stellar play earlier this season. They sit five points ahead of the Panthers in a tough Atlantic Division, so it should be another good game.