The winning streak has come to an end.
The Florida Panthers dropped their first game of the season on Saturday, losing 3-2 in a shootout to the Boston Bruins.
But given what has unfolded over the past week, the Panthers’ first loss — albeit one in which they still pick up a point — isn’t going to define their season.
What happens as they move forward will.
They’re playing under an interim coach after Joel Quenneville resigned Thursday over his role in the Chicago Blackhawks’ mishandling of Kyle Beach’s 2010 sexual assault allegation against then-Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich. Panthers players have had to deal with that off the ice in addition to keeping up their strong play on the ice as they try to cement their spot as Stanley Cup contenders.
“I think we’re all still emotionally raw,” Andrew Brunette, who has been on the Panthers’ coaching staff since the 2019-2020 season and has been given the interim coach tag, said Friday. “It’s probably not going to go away very quick.”
With the season-opening winning streak ending at eight games, here are eight thoughts on the Panthers’ on-ice production through the first month of the season.
It’s hard to lose when you’re barely playing from behind.
The Panthers have scored first in six of nine games and have trailed for a combined 14:12 of game action through these nine games.
Exactly half of that time trailing came on opening night, when the Pittsburgh Penguins broke open a tied game with back-to-back goals in the third period to go up 4-2 before Aaron Ekblad tied the game with two goals of his own in a span of 1:38 and Carter Verhaeghe scored the game-winner in overtime.
Other than that, they’ve been behind in three games.
They trailed for one minute and 58 seconds against the Arizona Coyotes before scoring four consecutive goals to pull ahead for good in a 5-3 win.
The other two games with deficits were both against the Bruins.
On Wednesday, Mason Marchment tied the game with 5:44 left in the first period — just 3:39 after Boston opened scoring — and the Panthers added goals by Eetu Luostarinen, Anthony Duclair and Owen Tippett after that to win 4-1.
And on Friday, after the Bruins’ Charlie Coyle scored on a wrist shot with 42 seconds left in the first period, Duclair tied the game 47 seconds into the second period. After the teams exchanged third-period power-play goals — Aleksander Barkov for Florida, Charlie McAvoy for Boston — the game remained tied through the end of regulation and the five-minute overtime period before Boston won via a shootout.
“Yes we lost,” Barkov said, “but we had a good game. We battled hard. A couple unfortunate bounces. … We don’t think about streaks or anything. The most important is the whole game and how we played. Just need to fix the little things.”
And they’re doing it against some of the NHL’s best.
Four of their eight wins have come against teams who were among the top-10 betting-odd favorites in the preseason to win the Stanley Cup: The Pittsburgh Penguins (5-4 in overtime on Oct. 14), the Tampa Bay Lightning (4-1 on Oct. 19), the Colorado Avalanche (4-1 on Oct. 21) and the Bruins on Wednesday.
The Panthers’ goaltender duo of Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight are dominating.
After two rough initial seasons with the Panthers, Bobrovsky has gone 6-0-0 in his first half-dozen starts. He has a .944 save percentage and a 1.81 goals against average, both of which are the fourth-best among goalies who have faced at least 100 shots so far this season.
Knight, the ballyhooed rookie, is 2-0-1 through three starts, the lone defeat coming in Saturday’s shootout defeat. He has stopped 79 of 85 shots that have come his way for a .929 save percentage.
As has been the case most years, the Panthers’ high-octane offense is among the best in the NHL.
The Panthers have scored 36 goals through nine games and have tallied at least four goals in seven of nine games. Couple that with the strong goaltending and improving defense, and the Panthers have a plus-19 scoring advantage that second only to the Carolina Hurricanes (31 goals for, 11 goals against).
To single out one guy beyond the main names, Anthony Duclair is off to a hot start.
Duclair leads the Panthers with six goals and has used his speed and his chemistry on the top line with Barkov and Verhaeghe to get off to a strong start to the season. It’s needed production from Duclair. He scored just 10 goals in his first season with the Panthers last year and didn’t find the back of the net until his 12th game in the 2020-2021 season. It’s a different story this year.
But it’s not just one line or one player doing all the work.
The Panthers have 14 players who have scored at least one goal, 10 with multiple goals and six players with at least three goals through the first nine games.
Outside of Duclair’s six scores, Barkov has five goals, Sam Bennett has four, and the trio of Jonathan Huberdeau, Verhaeghe and Ekblad each has three tallies.
Nine goals, meanwhile, have been scored by players primarily on the Panthers’ bottom-two forward lines: Two apiece by Sam Reinhart, Anton Lundell and Luostarinen; one apiece for Marchment, Frank Vatrano and Joe Thornton.
The power play is finally starting to heat up, too.
After starting the season 0 for 9 on the power, the Panthers have since scored six goals on the man advantage, including at least one in five of the past seven games.
The penalty kill, meanwhile, has been successful from the start.
The Panthers have held opponents scoreless on 31 of their 36 attempts with an extra skater. The 86.1 percent efficiency ranks eighth in the NHL.
This story was originally published October 30, 2021 10:44 PM.