Tonight, in the Florida Panthers’ home opener, the home crowd was treated to a hard-working team that held their offensive zone for most of the night in front of a shaky goaltender — and I’m not talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning. James Reimer may have given up 4 goals, but the Panthers were able to hold on to win it, 5-4, on the strength of peppering Andrei Vasilevskiy with shots until some got through. This is likely called “having puck possession,” and it’s a concept that the Bolts would do well to learn.
Before the game started, there were some very classy home opener gestures by the Florida Panthers organization. There was a moment of silence for the Cats’ (and Dallas Stars’) announcer Dave Strader, and another moment of respect for the victims lost in the Las Vegas shootings.
A color guard came out to present the colors, and then came the national anthem. During the anthem, Tampa Bay Lightning forward JT Brown did not kneel. Instead, he raised a single fist in a historic gesture of solidarity with other minorities. Raw Charge has invited Chris (yolo_pinyato) to write another editorial about JT Brown’s actions, and it will be published on Monday. The rest of this article is about the game.
The ceremonial puck was dropped by retired Miami Heat player Ray Allen, and Game 2 began.
If the Bolts were held in for a victory by Vasilevskiy yesterday, he tried his hardest to do the same tonight. He ultimately failed, blocking “only” 43 of the 48 shots he faced, but damn. Vasilevskiy is the night’s MVP, and managed to keep the Bolts ahead by 2-1 after the first and 3-2 after the second before finally getting exhausted and giving up three more in the third.
Yesterday, the other story of the game was about the Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Yanni Gourde line. The Panthers must've been told to take care of them, because within the first few minutes of the game, Point was forced to give away the puck, resulting in two very necessary saves by Vasilevskiy on Jared McCann and Connor Brickley. It would've been three shots in a row if not for Coburn bringing his body into play and blocking Aaron Ekblad's shot.
But perhaps because Point’s line drew the hard competition, the Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov line caught fire. Shortly after a giveaway by Ekblad, Kucherov scored a goal. It’s worth noting that the goal did not come from setting up a system and slowly working toward the net — it came on a four-on-three as the line rushed together across the neutral zone to immediately attack Reimer. It’s probably good they scored right away; the defenders behind them, Braydon Coburn and Dan Girardi, lagged way behind on the play.
GeoFitz4 brought up an interesting point about the first, though:
So every shot attempt at even strength in the first period for the Lightning came while Dan Girardi was on ice.— Raw Charge (@RawCharge) October 8, 2017
Sometimes you get lucky and play behind the Stamkos line? If anyone has an explanation, I’d be glad to hear it.
The Stamkov line capitalized again in the first on a powerplay goal. This time Stamkos picked up the assist for a goal by Namestnikov, who was apparently forgotten while the Panthers were defending against Stamkos and Kucherov.
Fast forward to the last six minutes of the period, which were nothing but penalties against the Bolts. Alex Petrovic and Cedric Paquette were dinged on dual roughing calls. Stamkos and Kucherov managed to wrestle back possession for a fun Stamkos shot that would've been fantastic had it gone through -- a no-look backhand which was sadly blocked. But as soon as this 4-on-4 expired, Johnson was called for slashing on Barkov. Then Kucherov was called for tripping, and Evgeni Dadanov broke through Vasilevskiy’s defenses for a powerplay goal.
Nothing got easier for Vasilevskiy after that — the period ended with Point taking a slashing penalty, and a penalty kill would start the second. Here are the fun/horrific stats from the first.
Stats after 1st #TBLvsFLA:— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) October 8, 2017
Shots - Cats 21-8
Hits - Cats 9-7
Faceoff wins - Cats 13-9
Blocked shots - Bolts 4-1
PIM - Bolts 8-4
The second period opened with Vasilevskiy facing Cats’ powerplay pressure. After defending another few shots, the penalty expired, but Nick Bjugstad managed to get a breakaway during a Lightning change that evened the score 2-2 at the 2:46 mark. (That's Anton Stralman skating in just a little too late from the bench to slide under Bjugstad's feet.)
During first intermission, Cooper evidently fired up his his defensive players, because Vasilevskiy saw many fewer shots for the next few minutes. They were blocked by JT Brown and Dan Girardi, who managed to at least keep the pucks from seeing Vasy's glove. Jake Dotchin helped create space too by introducing a fair bit of chaos into the game. I might not always like Dotchin's techniques, but he can draw penalties and get the other team riled up, and it was very necessary after the first period.
For the rest of second period the play was much grittier too, with Stralman and Coburn blocking shots and Callahan throwing hits like his hips are made of steel, until finally the players cleared enough space on the ice for Point to attempt the team's first shot a good six minutes into the period.
The Bolts' very next shot was ten minutes later -- also by Point, who managed to get a sneaky breakaway to pick up a pass from Palat. Was Reimer bored? He was definitely not in position to deal with Point.
Do we have to talk about the rest of the period? The defensemen and Vasilevskiy either saved or blocked shots while the forwards hung out in front of Vasy’s net.
Look at the huge increase in (a) shots by Cats and (b) blocked shots and hits:
Stats after 2nd #TBLvsFLA:— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) October 8, 2017
Shots - Cats 40-15
Hits - Bolts 15-13
Faceoff wins - Bolts 23-21
Blocked shots - Bolts 11-4
Takeaways - Cats 11-4
Vasy's tiredness from playing the second night of a back-to-back showed in the third, when McCann finally snuck one past him 7 minutes into the period. Or, as I wrote in my notes, "On the 43rd shot, the Panthers tied it up." Then they pulled ahead by two more goals before I could even write down the details of the first one.
After the Panthers’ fifth goal, they took their foot off the gas and let the Bolts have more time in the offensive zone. Score effects are probably allowed when you’ve been pummeling your opponent against the ropes all night.
The one note of brightness was Tyler Johnson’s “false hope” goal with six minutes left in the period, a goal just after a powerplay expired, with assists from Gourde and Point. It was Johnson’s first goal of the season, and the Bolts lost anyway.
Stamkos, still looking for his first goal of the season (career goal 322), is racking up the assists. That is a silver lining.
Here is coach Jon Cooper’s explanation for why the game went the way it did.
“I look at these two games, we split, probably feel a little fortunate we got two points out of this because we didn’t deserve the two points tonight. The more deserving team got the two points. Ultimately in this league, if you want to be a playoff team, you can’t be giving up four goals a night, and that’s what we’re doing right now.
“And if it wasn’t for the heroic play of our goaltending, it could be worse. So, it’s just learn from this and if players want to continue to play the way they feel, it’s going to be tough for us. We know our recipe for success. It’s worked for us, and it works for us in spurts, we just have to do it consistently. We just didn’t do that tonight.
“When we had an ability to get to a loose puck, they beat us to it. We just didn’t play fast on the ice. Even defensively we didn’t play fast. We didn’t shut them down down low. We didn’t separate the man from the puck. We let them get out of corners, and once you do that with a team, eventually it’s going to end up in your net, and that’s what happened in the third.”