Sunrise, FL – The Florida Panthers took an L on Tuesday as they hosted a struggling Tampa Bay Lightning team, who was playing the 2nd leg of a back-to-back, losing the 1st leg 5-1 against the New York Islanders. Tuesday’s loss dropped Florida out of the playoff picture for the time being. Tonight, Star Wars Night, was no different, as this time it was the Panthers who hosted the Islanders, taking another L and squandering another great Sergei Bobrovsky start. It is the season of snowbirds, after all, so it’s no surprise New Yorkers are running rampant in Florida. They’ll be happy to win two of three on the road, including tonight’s 3-1 victory over the Panthers.
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) December 13, 2019
Since beginning their homestand, the Cats have won three out of six, their other loss coming against an average Minnesota Wild squad on December 3rd. Two of those losses (Wild & Lightning) came at the hands of opponents lower in the standings. That would be understandable on the road, but at home, you have to secure those two points, especially against struggling teams. Florida had only won half of their games coming into tonight’s matchup. If they continue at that pace, that’ll leave them with 82 points from wins at the end of the season. Give them 10-12 overtime losses, which gives them one point each, and they’re putting themselves in danger of narrowly missing the playoffs yet again for the 3rd straight season. However, the squad is notorious for getting hot in the 2nd half of the season, so I’m willing to bet that we’ll continue seeing that trend, especially as they become more and more accustomed to coach Joel Quenneville’s system.
One thing is for sure, this team is going to make things difficult for a lot of teams. These Cats can score. They’re currently the #4 goal scoring team in the league. However, they also give up the 4th most goals in the league. That .500 record makes sense now, huh? How will they get hot in the 2nd half of the season, you ask?
I happen to believe the latter stat is due, in part, to Sergei Bobrovsky’s rough start to the season. He’s on a new team and his defenders, which he’s getting accustomed to, also have a new head coach in Joel Quenneville. In Bob’s last three games, even during the 2-1 loss to Tampa, he recorded a 95%+ save percentage. Before that, he only reached the mark once this season, coming during their 4-0 shutout at home versus Detroit on November 2nd. For his career, Bob’s saving at above a 90% mark. So far this season he’s under 90%, so expect his save-rate to progress to the mean.
Tonight’s game was pretty evenly matched. At the end of the 1st period, it was still 0-0. Neither team managed 10 shots on goal, as New York took eight, and Florida shot nine. The Panthers had two minutes of power-play time, but couldn’t capitalize. The 2nd period is where all the action happened. The Islanders scored back-t0-back power-play goals in the 1st five minutes. The 1st came off a Frank Vatrano tripping penalty at the end of the 1st period. The 2nd Islanders power-play goal came from a Vincent Trocheck holding penalty. The Panthers took one back midway through the 2nd period, as Brett Connolly and Mark Pysyk connected with Mike Hoffman to score his 12th goal of the season.
The 3rd period saw the Panthers become the aggressors, outshooting the Islanders 13-9, but they could not capitalize on their opportunities. Mike Hoffman even had a rat-trick opportunity with the puck right in front of the net, while Islanders goalie, Thomas Greiss wasn’t in position, and Hoffman whiffed on the shot. We could be telling a different story had he buried that one. Florida pulled Bobrovsky with 1:10 left in the game to give them another offensive weapon, but with the empty net, New York closed the game out, scoring their 3rd goal in the final seconds.
— FOX Sports Florida & Sun (@FOXSportsFL) December 13, 2019
It’s worth mentioning that Sergei Bobrovsky had a great start tonight. Neither goal he gave up was even strength, and his save percentage was 93%. If he continues playing like this the Panthers will win more often than not.
Next up, on Saturday, the Panthers face a tough Boston Bruins team, currently sitting at 2nd place in the eastern conference. Boston will be coming off five straight losses, so they’ll be itching to get back into the win column. I expect Bobrovsky to notch another good start and for the Panthers to get back to their scoring ways after scoring only two goals in the past two games.
📸 Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports