The Florida Panthers won consecutive games for the first time this season after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 on Oct. 22. That win followed their 3-2 win over the Nashville Predators in a shootout on Oct. 19. In addition, they have recorded a point in six straight games. Their recent success bodes well as they begin a challenging four-game road trip through Western Canada and to Colorado to wrap up the first month of the season.
Defensive Game Plan
Head coach Joel Quenneville’s game plan was defensive minded. He wanted to limit the opposing Penguins quality scoring chances and to know when Sidney Crosby’s line was on the ice. Quenneville’s Panthers followed the plan very well. Through the first half of the game, they allowed Pittsburgh only nine shots. In addition, the Panthers avoided being short-handed too often, as they were called for only one penalty.
The Panthers picked up a scoring boost from their third and fourth lines as players from those lines scored three of their four goals. Noel Acciari opened the scoring midway through the second period when his innocent shot from 50 feet away bounced off Penguins goalie Matt Murray’s blocker into the air, over Murray’s head, then bounced off the goalie’s back and into the net for a 1-0 Florida lead.
Third-line center Denis Malgin continued his recent streak of good play as he converted a fancy pass from Jonathan Huberdeau into his third goal of the season, which gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead late in the second period. Malgin has scored in back-to-back games and has six points in his last six since returning to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for the second and third games of the season.
Florida’s final goal came from Frank Vatrano, who sealed the 4-2 win with an empty net goal after the Penguins pulled Murray for the extra attacker. Vatrano wore number 72 last season, however, he gave it up to goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who signed as a free agent in the summer. Vatrano is now wearing number 77 and Bobrovsky recently paid Vatrano off for agreeing to change jersey numbers.
Boyle’s First Game
Brian Boyle, who signed with the Panthers on Oct. 21, played in his first game and registered three shots on goal, blocked three shots and logged over 14 minutes of ice time. Last season with the New Jersey Devils, his chronic myeloid leukemia went into remission and he scored an inspirational hat trick against these same Penguins shortly thereafter.
This was his first game action since last season’s playoffs when he was a Predator. He recorded 24 points (18 goals, six assists) in 73 games split between the Predators and Devils in 2018-19.
The Panthers had a pair of key players missing from the lineup as Aaron Ekblad and Vincent Trocheck missed the game. Ekblad suffered from an illness and Trocheck’s absence was listed as a lower-body injury. During the game, the Panthers lost the services of defenseman Mike Matheson who didn’t play a shift in the third period.
Luckily for the Panthers, their 22 giveaways to the Penguins did not result in a loss, though it’s a problem Quenneville will hopefully solve on their upcoming road trip. Florida also benefited from the Penguins missing several top players due to injury, including Evgeni Malkin, Alex Galchenyuk, former Panther Nick Bjugstad and Brian Dumoulin.
A sampling of Quenneville’s comments to the media after the 4-2 win.
“Obviously it’s a big game to win, tight first period and scoring first obviously helped. Having a lead, I thought we did some good things. ”
Quenneville’s response to the tightly played first 30 minutes and his team’s play after taking a 1-0 and 2-1 lead in the second period.
“Bob came back with a really solid win for us and we did some good things, not giving up too much.”
Bobrovsky had given up four or more goals in three of his previous four starts and Quenneville was satisfied with Bob’s performance.
“It’s an important trip for us in some really tough places. We want to make sure that we take care of business here at home. I think that was a real positive coming out of today’s game.”
The Panthers begin a four-game road trip in Calgary, so winning a home game before embarking on the trip was key for Quenneville.
“I think he did fine. Right away, you could feel him as part of the team, being one of the guys and adapting to the way we want to play.”
Boyle was signed earlier in the week and Quenneville inserted the veteran of 766 regular season games into the lineup versus the Penguins.
“They’ve been playing well, they got a really good team game. The primary focus today was to make sure you’re aware when 87’s (Crosby) line is out there.”
The Penguins’ offensive firepower has been depleted by injury. Quenneville knew if they could limit the production of Crosby’s line, chances were favorable that the Panthers would win the game.
The Panthers head to Calgary on Oct. 24 as they begin a four-game road trip. After the Flames, they take on the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 27, and the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 28, before they conclude the trip with an Oct. 30 matchup against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver. Their next home game is Nov. 2 against the Detroit Red Wings.
I have followed the NHL since the early 1980s, when offense was king. I lived in the midwest until 2013, when I relocated to south Florida.