Early lead, late push not enough for Panthers in loss to Penguins

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
The Panthers skated hard out of the gate on Saturday night against the Penguins in an effort to stop the bleeding in the standings, but the wound was a bit larger by the time the final horn sounded. 

After not converting on a power play opportunity handed to them seven seconds into game,  things looked to be trending up for the Panthers. They got on the board first for the first time this season at the 4:15 mark thanks to a goal by Jamie McGinn.

A pass from center ice by Vincent Trocheck redirected off the stick of Radim Vrbata at the offensive zone blue line, fell out of the air, and bounced in front of the net, where McGinn put it behind goaltender Matt Murray for his second marker of the season.

The Panthers continued to attack the offensive zone, and a minute and 34 seconds later, Aleksander Barkov rifled a wrist shot top shelf past Murray for his first goal of the year, extending the early lead to two.

Three straight goals by the Penguins in the 2nd period – the first two of which came within 27 seconds of each other – just about brought back memories of the four goals allowed to the Flyers in Tuesday’s loss.

Mackenzie Weegar, skating in his first game of the season after fourth overall in the NHL, scored his first career goal at 9:19 of the 3rd period to tie the game for the Panthers, but not before Roberto Luongo exited the game with an apparent hand injury.

“I’m obviously pretty happy,” said Weegar of his goal. “I think this is the only time you’ll see me smile after a loss. I’m happy to get my first goal.”

The 38-year old’s right hand became trapped between the post and Conor Sheary, who collided with the net. He attempted to flex his fingers and thumb to remain in the game but was unable to do so.

Head coach Bob Boughner offered no update post-game on Luongo’s status, but did say he was being evaluated and that the team would know more on Saturday.

“Still getting evaluated right now,” he said. “We’ll know more, probably, tomorrow morning. It’s unfortunate, obviously. He played well and made some big saves for us tonight.”

James Reimer took over for Luongo – who made 33 saves on 36 shots, included several bigs ones early in the game – and allowed the Penguins’ fourth goal and eventual game-winner to Sheary on the power play with 2:53 remaining in the 3rd period.

The Penguins scored on three of their four power play opportunities while the Panthers came up empty on two chances with the man-advantage.

It’s the sixth consecutive game to start the season that the Panthers have allowed a power play goal.

The loss is the third in a row for the Panthers this season and eighth in the last nine meetings overall with the Penguins. They haven’t defeated the Penguins in any fashion since a 2-1 shootout victory at the BB&T Center on February 15, 2016.

They’ve been struggling defensively for the past three games, specifically around the net where opposing teams haven’t had to work hard to get inside positioning.

The effort has largely been there, but the defense inside their own zone, the penalty kill, and the power play have been the weak links. 

“It went sideways when we started taking penalties,” Boughner said. “We knew they had one of the best power plays; our PK is struggling right now.”

“It just seems that everything that’s coming at us is finding its way into the back of the net — some bad bounces, a couple bad reads. I thought their power play and our lack of [penalty] killing was the difference.”

Getting back on the horse to face the Washington Capitals on the road Saturday could either be a blessing or a curse for the Panthers, and they seem to be at least somewhat optimistic that it’s the former.

“Everyone’s bought into [Bob Boughner’s] system and doing the right things,” said Keith Yandle, who registered an assist on Barkov’s 1st-period goal. “We’ve proven that when we do it right we win games. Between us in here, we’re not going to let it get out of control. The good thing about hockey is that we get to come back and play, in this case tomorrow, and prove ourselves.”

Game notes:

  • Evgenii Dadonov set a new career high in ice time, logging 21:58.
  • Owen Tippett played in his second consecutive game after making his NHL debut on Tuesday night. He registered two shots on goal in 9:12 of action.
  • Denis Malgin was scratched for the sixth consecutive game while Ian McCoshen sat out for the first time this season.
  • Derek MacKenzie has been on the ice for all 8 power play goals allowed by the Panthers this season.
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