|@ Islanders (18-9-5)||0||1||0||1|
The Islanders dominated the first five minutes of play. Roberto Luongo made one particularly impressive glove save early in. The Islanders are particularly strong on the defensive side so a huge key to winning the game is being able get the puck to the offensive zone. Once that happens, shooting the puck and not dumping it is imperative. Despite clearly knowing this, the Panthers took ten minutes to even get a shot on goal, while the Islanders already had nine. Brandon Pirri got the first shot on a delayed penalty call. Anders Lee was penalized for tripping and allowed the Panthers to get the first power play opportunity of the game. The Panthers had their best opportunities yet on the advantage but still could not capitalize. Yet, the Panthers went right back on the power play seconds later as Kyle Okposo was called for slashing. Once again, the Panthers were not able to generate offense during the power play. To be fair, before this game, the Islanders had killed 21 penalties in a row. Now, that number has increased to 23. Back-to-back-to-back penalties became a reality in the game but this time, the Panthers were the victims. Quinton Howden was sent to the box on a tripping call and the Islanders got their first power play of the game. Although they were much more successful on the power play than the Cats were, the Islanders were still not able to score. To continue this penalty streak, Kyle Okposo was called for cross checking and Jussi Jokinen was called for embellishment, yielding a 4-on-4. The 4-on-4 didn’t last more than a few seconds, though, because another penalty unsurprisingly occurred. This time, it was Dmitry Kulikov for hooking. This penalty would carry over for 3 seconds into the second period. At the end of the frame, both teams were scoreless. The Islanders had a huge advantage over the Panthers in the shot on goal department 19-2. The Panthers were quick but not quick enough to get a shot past Jaroslav Halak in the first period. Two shots on goal won’t get you anywhere in a hockey game. I know it will not be easy, but the Panthers must find a way to increase their puck possession. Otherwise, they will accept the same fate as they did against the Bruins on Saturday.
The Panthers still were not able to shoot often early in the second, but they took definite advantage of the shots that they could take. Just two minutes in, Reilly Smith found Halak at a weak moment and swept the puck past him to put the Panthers in the lead on their third shot on goal of the game. Dylan Olsen assisted the goal. The Panthers looked a lot better after that goal, but this changed when Dmitry Kulikov was penalized for holding. Luckily, the Panthers were able to maintain some of their post-goal momentum in order to prevent the Islanders from tying up the game. Exploiting Jaroslav Halak’s weaknesses became the Panthers’ forte eight minutes into the second. Aleksander Barkov found himself in front of the net and was able to pull off a turnover to sneak the puck behind Halak on the backhand. Once again, Halak didn’t even know what hit him. The goal was unassisted. After this goal, the Panthers were really on fire. Luongo had been playing incredibly but “Bad Luck Lu” couldn’t stop a Brock Nelson cheap shot thirteen minutes in. The Panthers would have none of this though, as Aaron Ekblad moved the puck down the ice and scored just 20 seconds later. Brandon Pirri and Aleksander Barkov assisted the goal. The period ended with a couple of masterful Luongo saves. At the end of this hectic frame, the Panthers led the Islanders 3-1. The Islanders still led the Panthers in shots on goal 28-12. The Panthers did everything we wanted them to do and more this period. They scored 3 goals on 7 shots, while still playing smart. They played physically but not in a way that would strain their abilities to perform in the busy upcoming week. The Panthers got their third goal this period, which historically has meant that they will probably at least get a point. The Panthers are 9-0-1 when scoring three goals or more. With all that being said, a two goal lead is still not safe. If the Panthers have overcome it, the Islanders can certainly overcome it as well, so the Cats need to keep up the good work in the third.
The Panthers started off the period strong once again. Vincent Trocheck shot the puck over Halak’s shoulder to secure a three goal lead. The goal was assisted by Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith. With this lead emerging, the third and fourth lines began to seem more prominent and their speed did not go unappreciated. The tables seemed to have turned in the third period. The Panthers were able to find opportunities to shoot at a time when the Islanders could not. The Panthers’ energy progression tonight has been exponential. With 8:32 left in the game, Jonathan Huberdeau took a high stick off the draw and Kyle Okposo got his third penalty of the game in the altercation. Islanders coach Jack Capuano actually pulled Halak at this time, which was an extremely bold move, but the Isles goalie had to head back to the ice to combat the Cats’ man advantage. The penalty was killed and as soon as the Islanders got ahold of the puck, Halak quickly skated to the bench again. The Panthers would be two players down with around five minutes left when Vincent Trocheck was sent to the sin bin for hooking. In an interesting turn of events, Huberdeau was taken down on a short-handed breakaway. Since the net was empty, Huberdeau was awarded the goal even though the puck never actually entered the net. That was Huberdeau’s first shorthanded goal and it was definitely achieved in a unique way. Aleksander Barkov assisted the “goal.” The Panthers stayed strong until the end of the game. The Islanders, who were on a ten-game point streak, were defeated 5-1.
Erik Gudbranson, although unable to score or assist a goal, played a great defensive game tonight along the boards. Aleksander Barkov played an incredibly two-way game tonight and was rewarded with a goal and two assists. Also tallying multiple points tonight was Reilly Smith, who always plays well under pressure. He scored and also assisted the Ekblad goal. Aaron Ekblad, the king of the comeback, scored just 20 seconds after the Islanders’ Brock Nelson did. Vincent Trocheck also allowed the Panthers to achieve the ever-so-coveted three goal lead early in the third. Then, of course, there is Roberto Luongo. Without him, the Panthers wouldn’t have been able to overcome that rough first period. He stopped every shot but one and won the Panthers this crucial intra-conference game.
The Panthers’ road trip continues on Thursday, December 17th at 7:00 pm ET against the New Jersey Devils. Stay tuned for a COTP preview and recap of that game.