The Florida Panthers lost their season opener to the Tampa Bay Lightning with a score of 5-2.
It's never fun losing, but what makes is worse is the response from a number of Panthers fans.
I saw many posts from people seemingly ready to throw in the towel on the entire season, citing that it's "the same old Panthers" and others placing the loss squarely on Florida's whipping boy, Mike Matheson.
Pump the brakes, folks. It's been one game.
While an opening night loss isn't ideal - especially with all the hype of the offseason - it's also not cause for alarm.
Let's look at some of the positives and negatives from what I saw, starting with the no beuno stuff...
The Not So Good
The first period was rough for both squads. They seemed to be out of sync and kind of slow - with many guys floating and out of position. There were many times that passes missed their connections and guys were all bunched up in one area.
The Cats had a number of big chances, but were either shut down by Vasilevskiy or by their own hand - either missing the net or failing to finish. The latter seemed to be the more glaring thing to me throughout the game. While the Cats put up 37 shots to the Lightnings 30, there were a number of times that Florida seemed to look for the pass, rather than taking the shot when the lane or opportunity was there. One of the plays that illustrates this best was in the second period when Connolly had a really nice opportunity to drive to the net, but, instead, chose to pull up and wait for help and then tried to force a pass that would not go. The play resulted in nothing, but had the potential to be a really high end opportunity.
The Panthers Power Play, which was so good last year, seemed to disappear this game - going 0/4. Against a team like Tampa, you need to capitalize on any chance you have wit ha man advantage.
39.0%. This faceoff percentage aided largely in the Cats loss. Struggling to win faceoffs makes for a tough game. It's even tougher when you can't win key draws (like in the offensive zone). Hopefully they tighten this up for tonight.
They need to be a bit more disciplined when the puck drops later. They took a couple bad penalties in this game, with the worst coming from Vatrano late in the third. Even though they only converted one of their three PP's, you can't give the Lightning any looks with an extra man.
What they did in the first period on the delayed penalty is a perfect example of why you can't let this happen.
Being a glass-half-full guy, I saw more positives in this game than I did negatives. One of the things that a lot of fans seem to be forgetting is that Tampa was a juggernaut last season. A legitimately outstanding team. You don't get to a 62-16-4 record by luck. No. These guys are very talented and there's a reason they're the top dogs.
That being said, it was going to be an uphill battle for our Cats.
But there was some really good things to build off...
First and foremost was the fact that all the offseason acquisitions were very visible. I thought Stralman was a bright spot defensively. He was steady on the blueline and brought a calming presence to me - meaning, I felt comfortable when he had the puck because he made smart decisions with it more often than not.
Connolly was active and engaged, even earning himself an assist on Hoffman's goal. Acciari brought his game and was like a surgeon with his stick, getting it in passing lanes and even taking the puck away a few times. I really liked what I saw from him and can already tell he's going to be a favorite of mine if he keeps up his hard effort play.
Then there was Bob...I thought he played solid in what was a about as big of a debut game as you can get. I felt the majority of goals were hard to pin on him and he played about as good as I hoped he would. I was blown away by this save on a one-timer after the Panthers coughed the puck up in their own zone.
It was nice seeing the young guys have a good outing, particularly Dryden Hunt, who was very noticeable in the first period. Honestly, he was the best player in that period in my opinion. He's a Q favorite that brings a simple North/South game that is sorely needed on this team. Vatrano (minus that penalty) played well and the oft-hated Malgin looked good to me.
I really liked seeing the guys come together and stick up for a teammate after Trocheck tangled up with Kucherov in the third. It's always good to see this kind of thing because it means they have each other's backs - they’re brothers out there.
Like Q said in the post-game interview, these two games are great as measuring sticks to help assess where the Panthers are at early in the season and where they need to get to and what they need to work on.
The Cats pick things back up tonight against the same foe on home ice at 7 ET.
I'd like to see Brown get a little bit bigger of a role tonight. I think his simple approach on the backend could counter this Tampa team nicely. Just my opinion...