It certainly wasn’t the start to the new year that the Panthers wanted. After an early offensive outburst allowed them to take a win out of the final game of 2016 against the Stars, that same offense fell flat in Wednesday’s tilt against the visiting Winnipeg Jets.
The Panthers’ forward group was left shorthanded after a borderline hit to Seth Griffith by Nikolaj Ehlers forced him out of the game with a concussion early in the 1st period.
“It was a dirty hit by Ehlers,” said head coach Tom Rowe. “He deliberately did it, I don’t care what anybody says. We watched it on video, it was a dirty hit. If the kid’s gonna play like that in the league, it’s gonna be a long season for him.”
Griffith becomes yet another victim to the injury bug that has bit the Panthers all season long. Barkov is already expected to miss the next couple of weeks and Colton Sceviour has missed the past 2 with a shoulder injury. That’s in addition to Alex Petrovic, who’s working his way back from a broken ankle and Jonathan Huberdeau, who’s slated for a February return.
Former Panther Shawn Matthias deflected a point shot past Roberto Luongo to open the scoring 5:03 into the 2nd. Patrik Laine made it 2-0 two minutes and 21 seconds later with his rookie-leading 21st goal of the season after a turnover deep in the defensive zone.
Things seemed promising after Greg McKegg tallied his first goal of the season with less than 2 minutes remaining in the 2nd, but the Panthers failed to pick up Ehlers coming off the bench, and he would regain the Jets’ 2-goal lead 2:46 into the 3rd.
Mark Scheifele sealed the deal with his 11th of the season just past the halfway point of the period.
“At the end of the day, it’s the two points that matter,” said McKegg of his 1st goal of the season. “I’m just trying to find my legs and do what I can to help the team.”
Jaromir Jagr recorded his 1,136th career assist on the goal, putting him in sole possession of 5th place on the league’s all-time list. Roberto Luongo has been looking for his 448th career victory to move past Terry Sawchuk for 5th all-time, but has come up short in each of his past 3 starts (0-1-2).
Although the Panthers have managed to record at least 30 shots in 10 of their last 11 games, it wasn’t enough once again. The Jets were coming off a 6-4 win over the Lightning on Tuesday night while the Panthers hadn’t played since Saturday.
The loss gives the Panthers a record of 2-5-0 in home games played immediately after a road game. Consistency has been a big issue for the Panthers this season and as of late, having won just 1 of their last 6 games.
“You just try to put your best foot forward,” said McKegg. “Obviously we’re short-manned right now, but no excuses. [Winnipeg] played hard tonight and got the job done.”
Despite improved puck movement, the Panthers went 0-for-4 on the power play and were unable to get many high quality scoring chances the entire tonight, with and without the man-advantage.
“It’s frustrating,” said Keith Yandle in a mostly empty Panthers locker room. “[Winnipeg] played, obviously, really well. When you give good players like that opportunities, especially as many as we gave them, it’s going to come back to bite. It’s not going to go the right way for you.”
The Nashville Predators will come to town on Saturday to face the Panthers for the first time this season. They’ll be without star defenseman P.K. Subban who is out for the next few weeks with a herniated disk, but they’ll still have James Neal, who leads the team with 14 goals, and Ryan Johansen, the team’s points leader with 27.
Nashville is coming off a 2-1 overtime loss on Tuesday against the Montreal Canadiens, and they’ll face the Lightning on Thursday before meeting the Panthers the next day.
The Panthers sent Dylan McIlrath to the Springfield Thunderbirds of the AHL on Wednesday for a conditioning assignment where he’ll play in 3 games before returning to the Panthers. He suited up on Wednesday night for the Thunderbirds in his first game with the team. McIlrath had a goal in 4 games played with the Panthers.