During a television interview following the first period of the first game of the 2017-18 season, general manager Dale Tallon was asked how long it would be before the Panthers fully grasped the systems put in place by the new coaching staff.
“It should take a little while, probably four-to-six weeks I would think before everybody’s in sync and it’s second nature,” he said.
Well, it looks like he was right.
The Panthers’ 2-0 shutout of the Sharks dipped into the wee hours of Friday morning on the east coast by the time it ended, making it six weeks to the day since Tallon’s comments.
The victory, which marked the first time they blanked the Sharks in franchise history, couldn’t have come at a better time as it allowed them to kick off a three-game road-trip through California on a good note.
It also came as new head coach Bob Boughner returned to San Jose where he served as an assistant coach for the past two seasons.
Not only that, but it gives the Panthers three wins and only six total goals allowed in their last four games as they’ve started to string together some solid efforts, especially on the defensive side of the puck.
“I think you’re seeing our system in play,” said Connor Brickley after the second period.
“We bought in, you saw more detailed hockey,” he added after the game.
Things didn’t come easy, however, and the game certainly wasn’t without its tense moments.
Deadlocked at zero, Colton Sceviour got the Panthers on the board exactly one minute into the second period as he wrapped around the side of the net and whacked the puck between goaltender Martin Jones and the post.
San Jose nearly countered, twice in fact.
Two minutes and 37 seconds later, defenseman Tim Heed stepped into a pass at the Panthers’ blue-line and put a shot clean past goaltender Roberto Luongo.
The eagle eye of video coach Ben Cooper noticed that the puck had just barely left the offensive zone before the shot was taken.
For the first time this season, the coaching staff decided to challenge the goal for offsides and came away with their 1-0 lead intact.
Just over five minutes into the third period, a loose puck sitting against the pad of Luongo was pushed into the net, and again, the Panthers opted to challenge, this time for goaltender interference.
It was determined that two San Jose players forced the puck and Luongo’s right pad over the goal line, meaning the Panthers retained their 1-0 lead for the second time.
The Panthers finally added to that lead with less than 8 minutes remaining in the third when a beautiful passing play by Radim Vrbata and Jamie McGinn ended in a top-shelf goal by Nick Bjugstad, who has now lit the lamp in two of his last three games.
On the back of Luongo, the Panthers managed to weather a late push by the Sharks.
Surprisingly, no one on the Panthers’ sizzling hot top line recorded a point, but in-game line changes in the bottom-9 generated the offense necessary to defeat the stingy San Jose club.
Luongo made 35 saves en route to his first shutout of the season, his first ever against the Sharks, and the 74th of his illustrious career.
He has won each of his last three starts and owns a 0.943 save percentage and 2.17 goals-against average in his last five games since returning from a relapse of his hip injury.
Each Panthers player recorded at least one shot on goal although the Sharks trounced them in 5v5 scoring chances and shot attempts, largely due to the offensive zone time they had in the final frame.
“Even though they pressed hard in the third, I liked our composure,” said Boughner. “We’re protecting leads the right way.”
Now, their attention will turn to their matchup on Saturday with the Los Angeles Kings, who sit atop the Pacific Division with 24 points.
The Panthers have won just three of their last 16 meetings with the Kings, including the last one on in Los Angeles on February 18th.
- Alex Petrovic sat out as a healthy scratch for the seventh time this season and the fourth straight game.
- The Panthers went 0/1 on the power play and killed off both penalties called against them.
- Colton Sceviour recorded five shots on goal.
- Mark Pysyk played in his 100th game with the Panthers.