Defensive struggles hurt Panthers in 8-5 loss to Lightning

It was a quiet, frustrating scene in the Panthers’ locker room after Monday night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

After a win, one can hear the the howls, claps, and loud music emanating from it. There’s laughs and sometimes congratulations and fist-bumps from coaches, management, and ownership.

A New Zealand All Black jersey and rugby ball is handed out to the team-annointed player of the game.

There certainly wasn’t any of that on Monday.

Instead, silence drowned out what few sounds there were, and words somehow spoke louder than the actions on the ice less than a few hours ago.

“They were a hell of a lot better than us,” said a visible upset Aaron Ekblad. “We didn’t do the right things to win.”

Something about this loss felt different.

The Panthers scored five goals on a season-low 23 shots while allowing eight into their own net to drop their second straight game and fall to 4-6-1, including 1-1-1 through three games of a 5-game homestand.

The defense was porous – their mistakes glaring and effort not-so-much – and the offensive attack was more like a one-line show.

The Panthers were subjugated in shot attempts and scoring chances at 5v5, as well as the high-danger variety of both.

Two goals in the first five minutes of the game, the second of which came from the Nikita Kucherov, who now leads the NHL in goals with 13, quickly put the Panthers into an early hole.

From there, they tried to play catch-up.

Three of the next four goals went the Panthers’ way, but a 3-3 tie was as close as they’d get to a lead.

“We accepted too much from a real good team,” said head coach Bob Boughner. “We know they’re one of the best teams, if not the best team, offensively in the NHL. We didn’t come out with enough urgency. We didn’t have enough guys going tonight.”

Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Evgenii Dadonov – a trio emerging as one of the most dangerous and underrated in the league – continued their electric play, factoring into four of the Panthers’ five goals as the rest of the team skated through for 60 minutes.

Huberdeau and Dadonov extended their point streaks to six and three games respectively as each tallied a goal and two assists on the night. Barkov added a goal and three assists, the most helpers he’s recorded in a game thus far in his five-season NHL career.

The three are in a three-way tie for the team lead in points with 14. Dadonov, who the Panthers draft back in 2007 and signed as a free-agent out of the KHL this off-season, also leads the team in goals with six.

We scored a couple goals, but that doesn’t matter right now,” said Barkov. “We let them score eight goals. This is a team game. We got zero points. That’s all that matters.”

Aaron Ekblad and Jamie McGinn each notched their third goal of the season while waiver-wire pickup Antti Niemi replaced James Reimer after the fifth Lightning goal.

The bottom-6 was missing three players once again as Colton Sceviour, Connor Brickley, and Jared McCann sat out with injuries, and it certainly showed against a well-balanced Lightning lineup.

“We’re not as deep as other teams and that’s why we need everybody,” said Boughner.

But the story for the Panthers is has really been their defensive play, or lack thereof.

Through eleven games this season, the Panthers average the second-most goals per game at 3.91 and the most shots against per game at 36.5, which is nearly two more shots than the next highest team.

They’re also tied for the third-most goals allowed – 43 – despite playing one or two fewer games than the teams who have allowed more.

“A little bit of passion,” said Ekblad when asked what the Panthers were missing on Monday.

“Every time Steven Stamkos touches the puck, I want to be better than him. Every time [Nikita] Kucherov touches the puck, you’ve gotta make their lives miserable.”

The Panthers will have an off-day on Tuesday.

The league’s fourth-best team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, comes to town on Thursday to face the Panthers for the first time this season.

Game notes:

  • Alex Petrovic sat out as a healthy scratch for the third time in the last five games.
  • Jamie McGinn and Aaron Ekblad each recorded four shots on goal.
  • The Panthers went 0/3 on the power play while the Lightning went 2/5.
  • The Panthers have allowed 4 or more goals in 7 of their 11 games played.
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