To finish off a long, 6-game road trip, the Panthers faced off against the Flyers on Tuesday night looking to right their ship, but they were handed a 3-2 overtime loss after one of their best overall efforts of the season.
For the first time in 5 games, the Panthers scored first. This time, it was Aleksander Barkov who put the puck in the back of the net, and it was a really nice set up, too. He gave the puck to Mark Pysyk, drove through the slot, got the puck back on a cross-ice feed, and put a one-timer wrist shot past Steve Mason.
The next two goals went to the Flyers as Wayne Simmonds scored on a wrist shot from the blue-line that dipped at the last second and then off a net-front deflection at the front of the net on the power play. Before Simmonds’ 2nd goal, the Panthers penalty kill, which went 1-for-4 tonight, had neutralized 18 straight opposing man-advantages.
The Panthers absolutely dominated the 3rd period with 33 shots attempts at 5v5 – more than the Flyers had in the entire game – and had tons of scoring chances to tie it up, 14 in fact. Jussi Jokinen finally broke through with under 5 minutes remaining on the Panthers’ 40th shot by redirecting home a great pass to the slot from Mike Matheson.
In overtime, the Flyers had the better of the puck possession, and the Panthers nearly escaped unscathed before Claude Giroux knocked down Matheson’s clearing attempt, placing it in front of the net for Jakub Voracek for a shot that went 5-hole on James Reimer, who finished the night with 22 saves on 25 shots.
Tuesday night’s matchup was probably one of the Panthers’ most complete efforts in a while. They thoroughly controlled the game with 55 shot attempts to the Flyers’ 19 at 5v5, giving them the 3rd-best differential in among all games dating back to October 1, 2007. In that same period, the Panthers’ 24 scoring attempts at 5v5 ranks 2nd-best while their Scoring Chances For per 60 minutes is the 6th-best.
Of course, that doesn’t make a loss OK, but the idea is that if they give this same effort night in and night out, they’ll end up on the winning side more often than not. It’s difficult to consistently out-chance and out-shoot the opponent and continue to lose games; it just doesn’t really happen.
Also, we’re seeing signs of the Panthers’ offense possibly beginning to come alive. Barkov now has 3 goals in the last 4 games after not scoring since the opening weekend of the season, Jussi Jokinen scored for the first time since November 19th, and Jaromir Jagr has 3 goals in his last 7 games.
Reilly Smith has gotten a few opportunities since being put with Barkov on Monday, and he nearly scored on an open net with a shot that went wide by inches. Vincent Trocheck has had some good offensive moments as well. The chances have been there for the Panthers, they just need to bear down and bury them. The Panthers currently have the 6th-lowest shooting percentage in the entire league at 7.7 percent, and that’s a number that’s bound to change as time goes on, especially with the talent they possess.
As has before, things have been better defensively as well. After a rough night in their own zone on Monday, the Panthers cleaned things up when it comes to coverage and awareness around the front of the net, and once again, they really didn’t allow any odd-man breaks the other way, which is a good sign.
It appears as though everyone is buying into the zone coverage system, and that bodes well for the Panthers who have now allowed 2 or fewer regulation goals in 4 out of the 5 games since Tom Rowe took over as head coach on November 28th.
In other news, Keith Yandle suited up for his 578th consecutive game after his status was in doubt leading up to pre-game warmups. He took an Aaron Ekblad shot off his foot in Boston on Monday night and left the game early. Rowe said post-game that Yandle would be out “a while” and wouldn’t play Tuesday, but he had treatment all day on Tuesday and felt good to play.
The Panthers will play their next two games at home with the first being on Thursday against the defending Stanley Cup champions. The Penguins defeated the Senators 8-5 on Monday, so they’ll have had some time off before their matchup against the Panthers. Bryan Rust recorded hat-trick in the victory while Marc-Andre Fleury was replaced by Matt Murray who made 17 saves on 18 shots the rest of the way.
Florida and Pittsburgh last met on October 25th when Reilly Smith and Mark Pysyk put the Panthers ahead 2-0 before the Penguins scored 3 straight to win in regulation.