After losing their last 2 games to the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs, the Panthers dropped yet another game to the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon in a lifeless 3-0 shutout.It’s been a struggle for the Panthers to formulate a consistent offensive attack over the past several games, and today was no exception. Head coach Gerard Gallant shuffling some things up by sitting Mike Matheson and Kyle Rau in favor of Steven Kampfer and Shawn Thornton, both of which made their season debuts.
Kampfer was paired up with Aaron Ekblad while Thornton slotted in on the 4th line with Greg McKegg and Derek MacKenzie. In the middle-6, Shane Harper moved up to play with Denis Malgin and Jared McCann while Colton Sceviour filled the empty left wing position on the 2nd line.
“We made a couple of changes in our lines and we didn’t get a whole lot out of it [today],” said Gallant after a demoralizing loss to the Sabres who are without Jack Eichel and Evander Kane. The shutout was the first for Sabres goaltender Anders Nilsson since the 2011-12 season when he suited up for the New York Islanders.
Buffalo won for just the second time this season and in doing so snapped a losing streak which increased to 4 games on Thursday when the Wild defeated them 4-0.
“Obviously you get an outcome like that when you don’t play a full 60 minutes the way that you want,” said Keith Yandle, who was paired with Jason Demers today.
The Sabres scored the first goal of the game 7:47 into the first when Johan Larsson put a wrist shot past Roberto Luongo from the right face-off circle. The puck came out from the corner and Larsson had time and space to shoot with 5 Panthers standing around him watching the play unravel.
The second goal came at about the same time in the 2nd period, but this time, the Panthers were on the penalty kill. The puck when up the left wing boards in the defensive zone where Rasmus Ristolainen threw it towards the net. Sam Reinhart deflected it out of the air and at the crossbar before it fell to the ice, allowing Kyle Okposo to backhand it behind Luongo from the side of the net.
Once again, the Panthers were spectators on the play as Reinhart and Okposo were both alone in front of the net just as Ristolainen shot the puck, and that gave them the upper hand once the rebound fell to the ice.
Sam Reinhart scored the 3rd and final goal – also his first of the season – in the 3rd period when he banked a shot from behind the net off the skates of Mark Pysyk which then went between the legs of Luongo. On this one, however, it’s tough to place the blame on anyone as everyone was positioned well and Reinhart was just able to make a super quick play to the front of the net.
The story of the night, however, was the Panthers’ inability to much of anything in any of the 3 zones. The forecheck was completely off and there were countless one-and-done plays where a chance was had off the rush or after a brief amount of zone time and then the puck was easily cleared out by the Sabres.
Puck battles weren’t being won along the boards and quality opportunities to put the puck on net were being passed up which made it really easy for the Sabres to take care of their own end. When shots were being taken, there was no traffic in front, so Nilsson had no trouble making saves.
“A little bit too much on the perimeter,” said Shawn Thornton. “Last couple of games I think we’ve made team’s opposing goalies look pretty good. There hasn’t been a ton of traffic, there hasn’t been a ton of pucks getting there with traffic and haven’t been winning a ton of battles in the blue paint. I think we gotta do a better job there.”
Not only that, but the Panthers seemed to lack any sort of consistency when it came to an intensity level. There were patches where things ramped up, but for more than 3 quarters of the game, there wasn’t much of a push. Florida went o-for-4 on the power play after scoring at least once with the man-advantage in each of their last 4 games, and considering the Sabres went 2-for-4, that sticks out as something that could’ve changed the course of the game.
Early in the 3rd period, Jason Demers was cross-checked into the corner boards by Johan Larsson, and after remaining briefly in some pain, he got off under his own power, went into the locker room for a short while, and returned to finish the game. The 3rd period ended with a Vincent Trocheck penalty shot attempt which he put high over the net towards the glove side of Nilsson.
Aside from the fact that the Panthers are without three players with top-6 abilities, they’re shooting themselves in the foot by not executing on the basic plays throughout each game. They’re losing coverage, making poor passes, and looking to make extra plays when the most simple one (just shooting the puck at the net) is wide open.
On Sunday, the Panthers will face the Red Wings at 5:00 PM in the second game of their first back-to-back set of the season. As of now, they’ve won 6 straight games since losing to the Panthers 4-1 in Florida back on October 15th. They’re led by Thomas Vanek and Gustav Nyquist who both have 8 points in 7 games this season as well as Jimmy Howard who has allowed just 1 goal on 63 shots in 2 starts. The Red Wings face the Bruins tonight in Detroit.