The Panthers headed to Toronto on Thursday night to face the young, talented cast of players donning the blue and white uniforms but fell short 3-2 for the second straight game when the final buzzer sounded. The game started off with some strong shifts by the Panthers similar to Tuesday’s loss to the Penguins, and after a solid early shift from the top line, it took all of 6 minutes and 55 seconds for Jonathan Marchessault to open the scoring with his 4th goal of the season on a 2-on-1 with Jaromir Jagr. Marchessault scored again on a top-shelf bullet in the 2nd period following a long lead pass from Keith Yandle back in his own zone.
The free-agent pick-up, signed for 2 years at just $750,000 per, leads the team with 5 goals and 10 points in 7 games this season while playing in place of an injured Jonathan Huberdeau.
“It don’t mean nothing if you don’t win at the end,” said Marchessault on the first 2-goal performance of his NHL career.
Marchessault’s goals gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the 1st period and a 2-1 lead in the 2nd, but that would be all she wrote as they would go on to allow 2 straight goals on neutral zone turnovers.
Mike Matheson carried the puck towards the offensive zone blue line with a clear lane to send it in deep before getting off the ice on a change, but he chipped it laterally into open ice allowing the Leafs to gain control and head up ice, leading to James van Riemsdyk’s 4th goal of the season.
Tyler Bozak scored his 2nd goal of the game and 3rd of the season when Matheson’s breakout pass deflected off Reilly Smith’s stick hard inside the defensive zone blue line. The puck went out into the neutral zone and right onto the stick of Nikita Zaitsev who turned it up the ice quick before a slick cross-ice pass by Mitch Marner to the front of the net.
“We had a couple mental lapses and it ended up costing us,” said Reilly Smith who, with Vincent Trocheck, had Kyle Rau and Colton Sceviour rotating as the left winger on the 2nd line all night long. “We definitely had enough chances to capitalize and win by at least a couple of goals.”
Smith put a great cross-ice pass on the tape of Colton Sceviour’s stick in the slot as one of many chances before the van Riemsdyk goal, but they weren’t able to solve Frederick Andersen who had a bounce-back night after allowing 7 against Tampa on Tuesday.
“[Andersen is] expected to [make saves]; he’s a good goalie, it’s out job to get past him,” said Smith. “We’ve got two more games on this road trip, so we gotta make up for it.”
In the 3rd period, the Panthers started to mount some pressure, especially late before Colton Sceviour went to the box for 4 minutes after his stick got caught in the mask of Andersen and drew blood. Vincent Trocheck was also the victim of robbery just prior to the penalty as his wrist shot was barely stopped by the glove of Andersen.
“We had good pressure in the 3rd period, it’s just we cannot wait until the 3rd period,” said Marchessault. “Our consistency in the first 2 periods is not good, we’re giving them chances that we’re not supposed to give.”
The Panthers also doomed themselves at times as they looked to make extra passes rather than putting the puck on net. Aleksander Barkov had a scoring chance in front of the net in the 2nd period, but he attempted to pass the puck to Jagr who wasn’t expected it. In the 3rd, Trocheck had a wide open shooting lane on the left side, but sent the puck cross-ice to Smith who had a one-timer roll of the heel of his stick.
Some may argue that the Panthers are too focused on analytics or the team lacks defensive defensemen, but the fact is that goals are being allowed as a result of simple, correctable errors. It’s about paying attention to detail and executing the little things and we’re bound to see improvement as we move along in the season. Overall, the Panthers are controlling shot attempts, and that’s sustainable when compared to winning games in which you allowed more shot attempts than you created. Once the small things are sorted out, we’ll see much better results.
For game 3 of this 4-game road-trip, the Panthers will travel to Buffalo to face the Sabres at 1:00 PM on Saturday before taking on the Red Wings at 5:00 PM on Sunday. It will be the Panthers’ first back-to-back set of the season, and they’ll once again be without Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen, the latter of which is expected to miss about 2 weeks with an undisclosed injury.
Florida won 3 of 4 games last season against the Sabres, who have lost 5 of 6 games this season, are coming off a 4-0 shutout at the hands of Minnesota Wild, and are without star forwards Jack Eichel and Evander Kane.