It took a bit longer than most expected, but Roberto Luongo finally recorded his 448th career win, and he did so in an impressive fashion with a 3-0 shutout to sweep the season series against the New Jersey Devils.
After some up and down efforts over the past several games, the Panthers were able to put together a solid outing on Monday night. Reilly Smith’s power play goal with 3:05 left in the 1st period was enough until Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen potted an empty-net goal each in the final 1:05 of the 3rd to send the Panthers off victorious.
As if Trocheck’s workload wasn’t large enough with injuries to Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov, he had even more responsibilities added to his plate after Denis Malgin was boarded by Pavel Zacha in the opening frame.
Trocheck finished the night with a goal and an assist while going 13-for-20 in the face-off circle. His regular season career-high 25:48 of ice time led both teams with Kyle Quincey coming the closest at 23:09. Jokinen’s 4th goal and 6th assist gave him his first multi-point effort of the season while Smith’s goal was his first in 5 games.
The hit was questionable, but not intentional, and it did leave Malgin on the ice in some distress for a while before skating off the ice and not returning.
The Panthers lost Greg McKegg on Saturday and Seth Griffith about a week, and they’ve had to make do with a depth chart that seems to be shortening by the day. McKegg could return Wednesday when the Panthers face the Islanders, but Griffith will be out until at least Friday as he’s not eligible to be activated off the injured reserve until Thursday.
Barkov, Huberdeau, and Petrovic all skated on their own following the Panthers’ morning skate on Monday but won’t be returning to the lineup just yet. Barkov and Petrovic are said to be out for the next couple of weeks at least and Huberdeau won’t be back until February.
Despite being without those key players and more, the Panthers were able to keep the Devils off the scoresheet with some help from Luongo in net, who stopped all 28 shots he faced en route to his 73rd career shutout, and 34th as a member of the franchise.
He was supposed to start on Friday against the Predators, but an injury suffered during pre-game warm-ups forced him out until Monday night. Sam Brittain, who was recalled to back up James Reimer on Saturday against the Bruins, was returned to the Manchester Monarchs of the ECHL earlier in the day.
Most of the Devils’ chances came from the perimeter, and even though Luongo was in the zone, he wasn’t forced to make many show-stopping saves despite some pushback towards the end. Special teams were partially working in the Panthers’ favor as they went 1-for-6 on the power play, with the lone goal coming after Malgin hit, and a perfect 2-for-2 on the penalty kill.
The shutout is also the first for the Panthers this season, and the win improves their record when scoring 3 or more goals in regulation to 13-0-4.
After having their annual team dinner with owner Vincent Viola on Tuesday, the Panthers will travel to New York to take on the Islanders in the first game of a home-and-home series. The Islanders have lost their last 2 games to the bottom-feeding Coyotes and Avalanche, so it’s sure to be a game that the Panthers will want to take control of early.
The two teams last met on November 12th when late goals from Kyle Rau and Jonathan Marchessault made possible a Denis Malgin overtime winner in Sunrise, Florida.