Just when the Panthers appear to be trending in the right direction, there always seems to be a minor setback. On Saturday afternoon, that setback was the Los Angeles Kings.
In the second game of a three-game California road-trip, the Panthers came up empty against the Kings, who scored three times before adding an empty-netter to snap a four-game losing streak.
The Panthers ended their brief two-game winning streak, which just their second of the season.
“It’s definitely pretty frustrating,” said a audibly subdued Mike Matheson, who logged his third-highest ice-time total of the season at 21:32.
“The second half [of the game] we started trying to do too much, especially through the neutral zone we were turning the puck over too much, and there’s no excuse for that.”
Fresh off a 2-0 shutout of the San Jose Sharks on Thursday – during which they added to their recent string of solid defensive efforts – the Panthers had plenty of chances to get on the scoreboard early on.
A quick rush through the neutral zone and a shifty move inside the offensive zone blue-line by Aleksander Barkov in the first period led on a shot on goal.
The rebound came into the high slot for Evgenii Dadonov, whose ensuing one-timer was stopped by goaltender Darcy Kuemper, starting in place of a resting Jonathan Quick.
Shortly after, Keith Yandle had a point-blank chance from between the face-off circles, but again, Kuemper stopped him with his glove.
Kuemper, making his first appearance in two weeks and and just his fourth start of the season, finished with 24 saves en route to his eighth career shutout.
The Kings got their first goal on their second shot of the game during a delayed penalty. With a sixth attacker on the ice, Drew Doughty was left free in the left corner to feather a pass to the top of the crease where it was tapped in by Tyler Toffoli.
Their second marker came two periods later – after stingy, back-and-forth action – as Jonny Brodzinski, a former high-school hockey teammate of Nick Bjugstad at Minnesota’s Blaine High, notched his first NHL goal.
He curled into the slot and unleashed a backhander into the top shelf, making the uphill climb even more treacherous for the Panthers despite 18:37 remaining on the game clock.
“It’s tough to try to climb back against these guys because they play the right way,” said Bjugstad. “They’re tough to play against in situations like that when they’re up one and two.”
Twelve minutes later, Andy Andreoff was left all alone at the front of the net where he deked James Reimer for his first goal of the season.
Trevor Lewis iced it with an empty-net goal 2:53 left in the third period.
Reimer, wearing a fresh set of white pads and making his first start in three games, stopped 16 of the 19 shots he faced. He has been tagged with the loss in each of his last five appearances.
“It wasn’t a bad road game by us at all, in a tough building against a desperate team that hasn’t won in a while,” said head coach Bob Boughner. “I thought we held our own, we did a good job, we just needed a bounce.”
Radim Vrbata left the game in the first period after taking a puck to the face during his first shift, leaving the Panthers shorthanded up front for just about the entire afternoon.
“We’re crossing our fingers that he can play, but if not we’re gonna have to make some changes again,” he said.
Boughner says he’ll be reevaluated on Sunday prior to the Panthers’ 8:00 PM game against the Anaheim Ducks.
It will be the second and final meeting of the regular season between the two teams after the Panthers won 8-3 back on October 26th in Florida.
Vrbata scored a hat-trick in that game.
- Jared McCann was activated off the injured reserve and Derek MacKenzie was placed on it prior to the game on Saturday, although McCann did not play.
- In addition to McCann, Curtis Valk and Alex Petrovic sat out as healthy scratches. Petrovic has been a scratch in eight games this season, including each of the last five.
- Evgenii Dadonov recorded a team-high five shots on goal.
- Aleksander Barkov won 12 of the 19 (63%) face-offs he took.